We teach our team members that at Atlantic Motorcar we don't fix cars; we provide transportation solutions to our clients. Be it a loaner car, valet service, shuttle, alternative financing, etc. In other words, we solve problems.
And in life, the more complex the problem, the greater the reward for solving it. Neurosurgeons vs. ditch diggers? Both are honorable professions, but one takes home a lot more green.
Part of that problem-solving is understanding what the new customer really wants when they come into your store.
A widespread perception is they "want a price," but we've boiled it down to a different paradigm over the years.
New Customer Priorities/Questions/Answers
- Trust – Can I trust them to treat me fairly? (Reviews, show and tell, DVI, being respectful)
- Knowledge – Do they know my car type? (Explain/show shop experience and background)
- When – When will my car be complete? (Give firm times you will call with updates, honor those times)
- Warranty – How long will this repair last? (3 Years/36,000 Miles make it exceptional, studies show that folks will pay more for quality and quality is associated with a longer warranty)
- How – How do I get home and to work? (Loaner cars, shuttle, pick up and delivery; make it easy for them to do business with you)
- Pay – How will I pay for this? (Alternative financing, credit cards, check, set this up before the client arrives to pick up the car, ideally at the first service presentation to help overcome objections)
- Cost – How much will this cost? (Build value, explain how your repairs will save them money in the long run and assure reliability and value for their vehicle)
The easier and quicker your team can answer these customer priorities, the quicker and easier the sale. You'll close more sales if you can answer these questions before they're even asked. If you can provide a solution before a "No," then you're rocking. It's much more difficult to overcome a "No," so prevent them by anticipating.
Ask Questions to Understand
This is why we're big fans of a lightly structured client "intake" word track, engaging new clients about how they found out about you, past service history, goals with the vehicle, how it's used, and how we can best serve them. On larger jobs, we’ll also inquire about a budget that might be set.
Along the way, you'll discover why they called you, not your competition (which is essential), if they are a "repair or maintenance" client, the expected timeframe and transportation and payment needs. Active listening, repeating back client words or answering in the positive and the affirmative will go a long way to building client rapport.
Be sure to share what you can do for them rather than what you can't. Avoid using the word "No." Instead, focus on "How." New clients not yet familiar with your scope of service may make demands or requests that could be outside of what you can reasonably provide. By that, I mean a client may make a point of their need to be in and out for service in a very short timeframe, so offer them a complimentary loaner car. Or they may share about a break in trust with a previous shop. Pay attention and explain how your "Digital Vehicle Inspection with photos and video sent to their phone" makes them "a partner in the service process."
Some might argue that this level of interaction takes time, which it does, averaging about 10 minutes for each new client, but we find it dramatically increases new client affinity to our business and allows us to understand, meet, and ideally exceed client needs. We enjoy a close rate of close to 80%, so we know that the system works, and I believe you will enjoy the same.
Focusing on people, not just cars. Offering solutions. It's also a welcome change from what most clients have experienced at other repair facilities. Showing genuine interest in the client and their car is often the exception rather than the rule.
Celebrate With Our New Client
It's also a great time to hear and understand why that client may have chosen that vehicle. Cars are often much more than transportation. We've found that many vehicles we service are "rewards," marking an achievement or special time in a client's life, or a statement of a person’s interests.
For instance, one may have bought their first Porsche after they made a partner in a law firm. Or perhaps a BMW convertible for an empty nester. Or a reliable Honda for a daughter going off to college. Or a Land Rover for offroad use. Share in that client's excitement, affirm their selection, and be part of their joy. They'll appreciate it. And it feels good too!
It's All About Trust
Every sale is, therefore, not just about fixing cars. It's the promise and an agreement to solve a problem based on a specific set of terms in exchange for money. In other words, it's an economic and trust agreement.
All the customer has to do is pay, and they have kept their side of the agreement.
Our job is a tad more complex, which is why we get to charge for it. If we're very good, we can charge more.
Remember when I said we entered a "trust agreement" with the customer? People get emotional when trust is broken, some more so than others.
So, when we can't keep our side of the deal, regardless of the reason, we must re-solve that customer problem all over again. If we fail to re-solve that customer's problem again, then the customer feels violated. They feel that we've taken their money and not held up our side of the bargain. It’s critical then, to keep your client in the loop on parts delays, additional service findings or anything that might derail the process.
Invariably, from time to time, the proverbial ball is going to get dropped. Yes, despite our best intentions, we've violated trust by not keeping our side of the bargain. However, we can mitigate that by reaching out early, don’t wait for the client to call you, and providing a new solution.
We can and should mitigate any anger and frustration by empathetically listening to the customer's frustrations. Not arguing, not making excuses, but acknowledging the frustration or disappointment.
Solving Problems - Listen First
The easiest and quickest way to end a customer "bending your ear" is to listen and say, "Mr. Jones, you're absolutely right. I can see how this problem is for you, and I'm sorry this occurred."
Then pause for the moment, because the customer just told you exactly how to solve their problem. You were listening. Not only does that make the customer feel "heard" and defuse the situation, but the customer will also likely get you the answer on how to solve the problem and, if we really listen, regain their trust.
Now you know the answer: "Mr. Jones, since you missed your ride, I'm going to have my team bring your car right to your house when completed."
Here's the good part: "And because we want to make this right, they're going to do a quick detail on the car for you (or fill the gas tank, anything of value to that particular customer). Will that work for you?"
All we have to do is listen, then “re-solve” the problem using the solution the customer just came to you for, be it a loaner car, shuttle, Uber, cash discount, or home delivery. It's not only ethical; it's smart business.
Sealing The Deal: Give Back In Abundance
Likewise, a personal phone call from you a few days later to "follow up and make sure everything is OK" goes a long way toward building that relationship and showing you care.
Gift them. We're big fans of small gifts (less than $10 shipped) at Atlantic Motorcar. Our CRM sends our clients small gifts from a Maine artisan after service. These are rotated quarterly, and we’ve used cookies, brownies, candles, Maine Maple syrup and natural skin care products. The key thing is that we're supporting local Maine businesses, which appeals to our clients. Our mission and values then align with theirs, engendering affinity, making a connection.
For clients with children, we have teddy bears with a special message about trust, but I’m always surprised how many adults like these as well. These are quite inexpensive when purchased in bulk and create a memorable experience.
For an over-the-top client, folks who refer multiple new clients (whom we call “AMC Evangelists”), or just someone to whom we need to say a special “thanks” to we have the Atlantic Motorcar branded Yeti mugs.
Yes, all these little things cost, and some, like the Yeti mugs, are expensive but with each new client worth about $15,000 over their service lifetime, we feel it’s a reasonable investment.
Under promise and over-deliver both in time and dollars.
When a problem arises, listen to the customer's solution, do it and you've not only saved the customer, but you've also shown your business is honorable. Understand that problems will happen. Solved correctly, we lock in customer loyalty, often for a lifetime. Unsolved, we damage the reputation of our business and our industry.
When a customer proposes a solution, listen, and then give graciously, in abundance and exceed their expectations. You'll win every time. In short, invest in your customers just like you'd invest in your employees or team members. Don't forget that personal card, gift and a personal follow-up call. They make all the difference.
Remember, at the end of the day, "Fixing Cars Is Our Job. Helping People Is Our Business."