Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2007   by CARS Magazine

First Impressions Count

Imagine all the first impressions that go through a customer's mind as they approach your business. As they drive up to your shop their first impressions are being formed by the outside signage, the c...

Imagine all the first impressions that go through a customer’s mind as they approach your business. As they drive up to your shop their first impressions are being formed by the outside signage, the condition of your yard and driveway and the attractiveness of your building. Even before you have had a chance to introduce yourself, a first impression has already been made upon your business.

Business owners may not realize how their surroundings affect the judgment of the customer. A dirty, cluttered, disorganized business: not a good first impression. When this type of impression is left upon a customer it does not instill much faith in your abilities to repair his vehicle, leading to a profit loss. A profit gain occurs easily when a customer is first presented with probable satisfaction, professionalism, confidence and a sense of value. First impressions stick in a customer’s mind. Businesses that have made a good first impression have fewer occurrences of the customer “dickering” on the value of the work order estimate, and the customer becomes less anxious about leaving his vehicle in your hands.

The good news is that by making a few changes your stress and anxiety, along with the customers, can be replaced with greater job satisfaction and improved profits. The first step is to take a hard look at what you are offering in terms of a first impression. You may not be the best person to do this. You may want to choose several different outsiders to do this evaluation for you. After all, you may have been looking past these points for a long time.

The following is a list of points your business may be measured on. On a scale of 1 to 10 {10 being excellent} rate how your surroundings are seen through the eyes of a customer. Low scores should be seen as an opportunity for improvement.

Illuminated Signage

Bright fresh colors

Bulbs are all working

Facia free of bugs

Can be read from a block away

Painted Signage

Fresh bright colors

Free of faded or pealing areas

Lights on signs

Building Condition

Paint free of cracks, chips, or peeling

Customer entrance well distinguished

Parking lot free of potholes (a paved lot is important)

Parking space stalls identified

Interior Customer Service Area

No cardboard boxes

No vehicle parts

Walls free of clutter (old posters, etc.)

Invoices and work orders organized in work order racks

Chairs free of chips, tears, dust and fading

Counter tops free of clutter

Counter design and condition up to date

Windows clean

Paint and base boards perfect

Coffee pot clean and fresh

Floors clean and free of chips or scars

Bathrooms identified, clean, and well equipped


Look professional in their appearances

Trained in greeting customers

As marketing goes, the exterior elements are your most critical investment and as such deserve your primary focus. You can expend a lot of your resources getting people to find their way to your shop, but if the shop is in poor condition, making a sale becomes more difficult.

When the customer comes in the door have your service advisor trained to meet and greet the customer. Even if the service advisor is busy on the phone they should make eye contact and smile at the customer. There is nothing as nice as a smile to set the customer at ease. It is also extremely important that your service advisor have excellent telephone answering skills. Approximately 90 per cent of your first time customers interact with you by the telephone, not coming through the front door.

These are basic common sense business necessities we all know and often overlook. These are the things your customers are measuring in the first few minutes on your property. If you, your staff or your evaluators find anything that needs an upgrade, change it, the pay off is worth it. It is like changing the shocks on your vehicle. You did not realize how badly you needed them, until you drove with the new ones on.

Often we do not have a clear vision of the image we want to present to our customer. If you are fortunate enough to belong to an automotive focus group, you will have taken part in this type of shop evaluation. You will have had the opportunity to tour other shops and rate how you compare. Take a step back and look at your business through the customer’s eyes. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the changes needed. It is better to make several small changes then to not make any changes at all.

Take action and change your image — make your shop a profitable business it is what you always intended.

Art Wilderman, CIAA Association

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