Most (retail) businesses say they are customer-focused or customer-centric; it’s on their websites and probably in their marketing. That phrase has been around for decades. It’s been updated. It has gone from customer-centric to life-centric.
Auto repair shops today need to take a broader view of their customers—seeing their full lives and priorities—without viewing them as car owners, or worse, wallets.
To work toward life-centricity, service advisors (and shop owners) need to see their customers as multifaceted and appreciate the external forces that impact them. Some of your customers have babies on the way, aging parents at home, and some have kids in college who have to drive to and from home and campus. Some have downturns in their businesses. Some have competing objectives, such as keeping their cars or sell them, keeping the old car or upgrading to a newer model, selling it or keeping it as a spare, keeping the car or giving to their teen driver.
Your customers don’t make decisions in a vacuum. They aren’t always simple yes or no answers. They have the above concerns that affect those decisions. This is a way to connect with your customers in a deeper way.
For example, I asked an older, good customer why he hasn’t retired. He said he had to take care of an ailing mother-in-law; an external force I didn’t know about. Now I do.
There is a lot more to life-centricity than an understanding of what your customer is dealing with, such as sustainability, shop values, environmental concerns, social issues, and more. However, for this column, we’ll deal with the direct customer issues.
A life-centric approach involves the reality of the external forces that impact modern life—economic, social, cultural—and dealing accordingly. Big financial outlays like car repair don’t make for simple, functional decisions: people’s emotions are involved. Shops taking a narrow view of their role in their customer’s lives risk losing customers to shops that take a holistic approach. To put it another way, shops that don’t expand their view put their relevance at risk.
Shop owners and advisors have been using simple ways to define consumers. It’s because they’re used to working with cars, not people. People aren’t that simple. Cars typically respond the same way to the same stimuli. Not so with people.
Abandon the “One-Size-Fits-All” Mentality
One coaching tip is to look at the previous invoices of customers to find their buying style. But people don’t want to be exploited for their buying tendencies. Not to mention the manipulation. Customers want relevant options that fit their unique needs and address their circumstances. Customers already deal with the hassles of everyday life. They want to make easy purchasing decisions with simple explanations versus “Your car needs $1,800 worth of work. What do you want to do?” That is not guiding them.
So how do you learn what your customers are dealing with? You have to listen. Ask questions and listen. Show a real interest in your customer’s lives. You’ll most likely have to open up and volunteer something you’re dealing with or have dealt with—some of your (personal) struggles. It’s a reciprocity thing, which goes both ways. Once you’ve learned about them, and they about you, your job becomes much easier. There’s no manipulation and less selling needed. You’ve both shared stuff and built up trust.
All this is an upgrade from the business-as-usual approach. This life-centric approach has the potential to change the face of our industry.
There’s another bonus to all of this. A few articles have said that repair shops should create a great experience but didn’t tell you how. This is how. It’s not quite the bar Cheers, where everyone knows your name, nor is it the “third place” between home and work like Starbucks came up with. But it can be the place where you know your customers and they know you. Maybe we could be their fourth place.
Final thought: a life-centric approach doesn’t mean we should forget everything we know about customer-centricity. Instead, we can use life-centricity to build on how we understand customers.