The Repair Customer Paradox

Sept. 7, 2021
Who really defines a great customer experience?

Things were a lot different when I started my business back in the early 1980s. Cars were not as reliable and there was always an abundance of broken cars to repair. Today, cars are built better, last longer, and need fewer major repairs. Shops today also have to compete with intense competition, all fighting for a slice of the repair pie. Back then, the customer experience simply meant that you fixed the car right and got it back to the customer in a timely manner. 

Repair shops today focus a lot on customer service and the customer experience. Give a bad experience and your customer may not return. Even worse, a customer may log onto the “all-knowing and powerful Google” and post a negative review. While delivering an amazing experience is crucial, do we really know what that is?

In the end, the only person who truly decides a great experience is the customer. That fancy cappuccino machine that leaves hearts in the foam may be a nice touch, but it’s not why your customers come back. Amenities are great but they don’t create loyal customers.

We need to first understand the difference between customer service and the customer experience. Customer service means handling a particular concern, such as a request for an appointment, or handling a complaint. The customer experience is the entire customer process, from the initial appointment booking and vehicle drop off to the sales, delivery, and follow up process. These steps are touch points and each is an opportunity to deliver a positive feeling or a negative feeling. Any negative feelings won’t sit well in your customer’s mind, so shops need to focus on the entire customer process.  

Let’s talk about your competition for a moment. Your competition does not define your business or what you need to offer your customers. Competing for customer loyalty by trying to mimic other companies is a sure way to disaster. Study your competition and learn from them, but don’t copy them. In the end, customers will judge you by how they feel as they drive away from your shop, not the loaner car or the bottled water you offered them.  

What about the quality of your parts or the equipment you use? Do they define the customer experience? Nope, sorry. If that were true, you would choose your doctor by the brand of X-Ray machine they use. Don’t mistake what I am saying. You must have the best equipment and use quality parts. It’s just that in the eyes of the average consumer, it’s assumed you are using the best parts, that your employees are trained properly, and that you have the best equipment. 

Customers leave a business, more often than not, because it failed to deliver on what they perceive as a poor overall experience. While the customer will ultimately judge the experience, there are ways to help create an experience that will promote trust in your company and build a loyal following. 

First, focus on the relationship, not the transaction. People do business with people, not companies. Make sure your service advisors spend time with their customers. Have them listen and learn about the customer’s particular needs. Find solutions to their problems and concerns, and never forget that the customer’s perspective is their reality.  

Second, create a happy and healthy work environment for your employees. We all know this one undeniable fact: Happy employees create happy customers! Enough said on this point.

Next, understand your true profile customer and build your business model and marketing strategy around those customers. Don’t try to be all things to everyone. It just doesn’t work. The top 20 percent of your customers are the ones that support your economic engine. Take care of them and make them feel extremely special.

Finally, take the time to understand the entire customer process. Discuss each customer touch point with your entire staff.The customer experience is determined by the quality of the entire customer process. Don’t forget that the sale does not end when the customer leaves the shop.  Following up with your customers after the customer leaves is crucial to keeping your shop top of mind.

The bottom line is this; your customer will decide if the experience was great or just OK. Help shape their decision by focusing on the relationship and understanding their perspective from the get-go. 

About the Author

Joe Marconi

Joe Marconi has more than four decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide, and co-founder of

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