Auto Service World
Feature   December 26, 2011   by CARS Magazine

Letting your invoice be heard

A professional-looking repair bill is your opportunity to reinforce the buying decision, and prevent post-purchase disappointment.


Your best sales tool?  


By Bruce Eccles

When you make a large purchase do you read the invoice? Sure you do. You wouldn’t buy a house without reviewing the deed. You wouldn’t buy a car without checking out the fine print. You wouldn’t even buy a refrigerator without being sure the warranty was clearly marked on the bill.

I would say vehicle service and repairs generally qualify as large purchases. So, what kind of invoice are you handing to your clients?

If you don’t think that matters very much, consider this: once that invoice is paid and leaves your shop, it will probably get read again, more closely, at your customer’s home… and if your customer doesn’t like what he sees, it could quite possibly be reviewed by your peers.

As an emissions testing facility for the province of Ontario, we see many vehicles that do not belong to our regular clients.

Last week, as I brought a vehicle into the shop for a test, I couldn’t help but notice an invoice on the passenger seat. Now, I never touch personal belongings in my customers’ cars, and my staff is instructed likewise. But even a casual look revealed the nature of this piece of paper because I could read the words “Pads, Rotors & Lab.”

OK. So now it had my interest… and I broke my own rule. I read the invoice, and was dismayed by what I saw. It is one of the reasons our industry has struggled to be recognized as a true profession.

This document (and I use the term loosely) was hand-written on a generic invoice. The customer was indicated by first name only. Her vehicle just by the brand. As for details of the work done, it had almost none of the items mandated in Ontario by consumer protection laws.

It was embarrassing!

There are many good reasons to offer a detailed bill to your customer. Most notably, customers expect it.

It should cover all the basics like consumer’s name and contact information; repairer’s name and contact information; vehicle identification and odometer reading; dates of authorization and completion of work; detailed list of parts, shop supplies, services and fees; breakdown of costs (including labour noted separately); list of any returned parts; notes for future services if required; total amount due; and terms of payment.

All of this information should be laid out in a way that it is easy to understand. Work should be described fully, clearly and accurately, without techno-babble or abbreviations like “Re- and Re-“ or “LOF.” And no acronyms like EHF for “environmental handling fee.”

Most importantly, it should answer all of your customer’s questions and prevent a breakdown in communication that could lead to problems.

Why, just today a consumer asked me to interpret an invoice from another shop. This invoice was correct in everyway but the labour description was so vague, she didn’t know if she’d been ripped off. Happily, the answer was no. Everything was above board. I felt good about telling her the other shop had done a good job. She was charged fairly but the lack of detail made it impossible for her to judge for herself.

I’m not saying you need to write a book. Just remember that your customer does not fix cars for a living. They need a little help understanding the process.

In this day, a computer-generated invoice is absolutely a must – not only because it’s faster to generate, but because it becomes a searchable document that is valuable for future reference.

A well-written invoice is a great opportunity to reinforce the customer’s buying decision and prevent post-purchase disappointment. It can also make a statement about the kind of work you do, and how serious you take your business.

A hand-written invoice on a ratty piece of carbon paper in an old scratch pad will make you look like an amateur.

A good invoice will leave a lasting impression of professionalism and become one of the strongest marketing tools in your shop.


Bruce Eccles is the owner of Eccles Auto Service, Inc., in Dundas, Ont.


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