Make a Difference While Building Your Bottom Line

Aug. 1, 2016
How to incorporate customer education into your brand

Making a positive difference in the lives of others is a key driver of my business and all of my efforts in the auto repair realm. Consumer education, in particular, has become a big part of what I do, and it has paid off beyond the satisfaction of helping someone in need.

One example that was particularly inspiring to me was an interaction in 2010 with a customer named Jane. My service advisor pulled her car into the shop, looked for a moment, and pulled the car out. When Jane started to drive away, I asked the service advisor what happened. The response: “She’s got problems that were caused by a previous repair, so I recommended going back to the other shop.”

Determined not to let her take her business elsewhere, I ran to her car before she could pull off my lot, and started a conversation. The poor woman was so scared that she was trembling. She pulled a few receipts from several different shops out of her glove box. We opened the hood so we could investigate the situation. The problem was clear.

Another shop put the wrong fluid into her power steering. I’m glad I caught her before she left. Since so many shops were involved, they could easily play the blame game. They might say, “I didn’t do that,” or, “Sorry, that job wasn’t guaranteed.” Then she would be left with no resolution and a car that wasn’t fit to drive. I took the opportunity to educate her about the benefits of being loyal to a single auto shop. We fixed Jane’s car and she is still a loyal customer to this day.

To help customers understand the importance of a one-shop relationship, I use the example of going to a quick care every time you get sick—you will never build a relationship with a doctor that way. It’s no good to be just a number. Your health is affected by so many variables: stress, sleep quality, family medical history, etc. No one is smart enough to digest that much information in one appointment. Even the best doctors need time to understand your body’s unique quirks.

I tell customers that cars are the same way. Some engines burn oil faster than others. Some vehicles have leaks that develop in certain places. When the same crew works on the same vehicle for an extended period of time, they will be able to provide guidance and reduce problems, not create them.

Consistency pays off. Jane appreciated my advice and asked if I was a teacher—then she asked if she could bring some friends to the shop to learn more.

“You don’t have to create a workshop out of thin air. Involve your customers in the process. Place a survey in your lobby or simply ask simple questions.”
—Audra Fordin, owner, Great Bear Auto Repair

My interactions with Jane, and those she referred to my shop, helped motivate the auto-aware workshops I discussed in last month’s column (“Desperation is the Mother of Invention”). I shared some of the fundamentals of starting a workshop in that piece, but just as important is how you let customers know about the events and their importance. When I decided to go down this path, I was committed to making the effort successful and sustainable, and it has since become a part of my identity, my brand.

If you share my commitment to helping and educating customers, as I know many in this industry do, and you want to organize workshops of your own, here’s some further advice on how to make them successful:

Collect feedback from at least 20 customers. You don’t have to create a workshop out of thin air. Involve your customers in the process. Place a survey in your lobby or simply ask simple questions that get at common auto frustrations, what they want to know, how frequently they pop the hood, etc. Ask what’s pertinent to your workshop—I’m only sharing these for inspiration.

The goal is to find out what topics are of interest to people. Ask the right questions and your presentation will write itself.

Take pictures and share them on social media. Ask a friend, employee, or professional photographer to document your workshop. Share the photos on social media and tag everybody who showed up. Hopefully they will share the status and/or talk about how much fun they had in the comments portion. If you want to make a big splash, you can entice participants to post to social media in exchange for a service coupon.

Notify newspapers and TV stations of your event. A lot of automotive professionals are afraid of speaking to the media. It might be because our profession is often highlighted in a negative way.

But the reality is that media outlets are happy to hear and share about interesting stories or events in your community. The fact that your shop is “bucking common perceptions” about the industry alone might get you some attention.

Hosting a workshop can help you make a difference and build a positive brand image at the same time. If you have any questions, or want to know more about organizing a workshop, ask me at [email protected] or leave a comment at

About the Author

Audra Fordin

Audra Fordin is the fourth-generation owner of Great Bear Auto Repair in Flushing, N.Y., founder of consumer advocacy initiative Women Auto Know/Drivers Auto Know (, and author of “End Auto Anxiety: No Fear Car Repair and Maintenance for Busy Women.” Reach Fordin at [email protected].

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