Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2012   by Murray Voth

Hello, May I Help You!

It is very easy to get caught up in the latest technology, marketing and management fads. Many small businesses, including automotive service providers, get distracted from the fundamentals that brought them their original success....

It is very easy to get caught up in the latest technology, marketing and management fads. Many small businesses, including automotive service providers, get distracted from the fundamentals that brought them their original success. ‘Social Media’ is one of these buzzwords/phrases.

Many shop owners think, or are convinced by the purveyors of these products and technologies, that this will be the silver bullet that will save their business. I am not against these technologies, or any technology for that matter. However, I see technology, as a way to enhance my skills, traits, and strengths, not replace me or the fundamental hard work and principles that apply to life, relationships, work and business.

Why Social Media?

What triggered these thoughts is an experience I had where I needed to make a series of phone calls to a large number of shop owners. Yes, actual phone calls; no emails, text messages or Facebook posts. What I found was that in over half of the phone calls, the person answering the phone did not give their name or the name of the business. Half of these were the actual shop owners. Business phone etiquette for decades has always been, “Good Morning, Peninsula Motors. Murray speaking. How may I help you?”

I actually only got a full phrase like that less than 10 per cent of the time. In addition, when an employee answered the phone and I asked to speak with the owner — Yes, I did tell them who was calling — most of the owners themselves, answered with: “Hello” “Yup” and in several cases with a “Yeah” that had a tone that said, “What do you want? Why are you are bugging me?”

My point here is that if you cannot make the effort, take the time or even feel like answering the telephone professionally, then what in the world is social media going to do

for you? Are you going to be as anti-social electronically as you are on the telephone? Social media is not magic. It is just a different way for people to interact with each other; and if you are unkind, rude, or indifferent with social media, people will be just as uninterested in your business as they would be if they were on the phone or in person with you. Word gets around no matter what the medium. A friendly greeting and a sincere offer to help goes a long way, regardless of whether it is a Tweet, or phone call, or the acknowledgment of a customer when they walk in the door of your establishment.

Why do customers come to you?

What causes a customer or client to choose your business in the first place or return to your business for a repeat visit? I know that this is a multi faceted question, but we are going to focus on two facets. As a customer, do I feel welcome, wanted and appreciated; and do I feel like you have taken the time to listen to my concerns and that you clearly understand them.

What makes a customer feel welcome, wanted and appreciated? This would include a new customer and a repeat customer. First of all, how do you acknowledge them either in person or on the phone? Do you greet them in a way that they feel you are engaged with them, or are they just another hassle or interruption in your day? Are you organized enough to take the time with them when they drop their car off? What kind of a waiting area and bathrooms do you have?

I know that this topic has come up in this industry countless times, but I still see countless shops that seem to be unaware of how poor the image of their business is. I heard a great story this week about a shop in Toronto. They had their fair share of female customers, but wanted to grow that aspect of their business. They painted their waiting area and replace the floor tiles and got some new waiting area furniture. Their current female customers started asking for business cards in order to refer their friends who had not used this shop yet. Think about this: you all have customers that come to you because they trust you, like you, see value with your service; yet, they will not refer some of their friends and family because they don’t want to look bad. They can tolerate the less than modern waiting area, but their friends are strangers to you and they don’t want to introduce you to them till you have on your Sunday best.

I believe that one of the challenges facing our industry is that fact that we are technical people. As technical people we understand how things work, in particular, the automobile. We understand all the large and small intricacies of how a vehicle functions, how it wears, how it breaks and how to service and repair it. However, because we think that all people are like us and we think that most people understand vehicles. This can’t be further from the truth. As the vehicle has become more complex and as we have become more specialized as individuals in our own professions, less and less people understand the technology that we as shop owners and technicians deal with on a daily basis and take for granted. So when we are speaking with customers, we have a disconnect as wide as the Grand Canyon. In many cases, when a customer starts talking about price, it is because they have nothing else to talk about. Price will always be a stumbling block in any industry if the customer does not feel like they have been heard and if they do not understand how their money is being spent.

My challenge to you in this article is to reconsider your process of making appointments and receiving customers at your shop. Ask your customer, “How may I help you? What is your concern with your vehicle?” Then listen carefully. Don’t worry if they don’t use technical language, coach them through what they are trying to communicate, try to duplicate the noises with your own voice or encourage them to do the same, but above all, look them in the eye and give them your full attention. Make sure that before they leave after dropping off their car that you fully understand their concern and that they feel like you have listened. After the whole conversation is over, ask them one more time, “Do you have any other concerns with your vehicle?” Not all customers write lists when they bring their cars in and need to be prompted to think about their concerns. How many times have they phoned back right after you have finished their car and taken it off the hoist and said, “By the way….?” Now you have to scramble and things get organized.

It is easy for us as technical people to jump to conclusions about how a customer’s car is malfunctioning or performing poorly based on the limited questions we ask them and the little time we take with them at the write up process. Many of us are rushing them out the door as soon as possible so that we can talk to the next person in line. Just think of all the “comebacks” that have happened at your shop that could have been prevented by just taking more time and asking more questions.

In many consumer surveys, the biggest reason customers do not return to a business, is that they did not feel like their concerns were addressed. Take a look through your database and see how many people have not been back in the last year or two. Then look up their history and compare the two. I guarantee that you will find that there was a communication breakdown in the repair process the last time they were in and that is why they are not back. We always assume someone does not return because of price. People do not return if they do not receive value. Value and price are very different things. There is a lot of value in listening well.

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