Auto Service World
News   May 19, 2015   by Allan Janssen

SERVICE NOTES: Selling big-ticket repairs

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s part of the job if you’re going to look after your customers properly.

Do you get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when a repair bill escalates beyond what you think your customer is willing to pay?

Automotive service tends to be a grudge purchase at the best of times. When the cost of a repair enters four-digit territory, that grudge can turn into outright resentment. And while big jobs may be good for your bottom line, they can be torture on your nerves and psyche.

Take a deep breath. There are a few things you should keep in mind when you make that difficult phone call, or call your customer to the counter to present your findings.

Don’t apologize. Remember, they came to you in the first place. Obviously their problem was bad enough that they were willing to ask for help. You’ve now diagnosed the vehicle and are ready to offer a solution. A solution is in sight. If nothing else, at least now they know what they’re dealing with.

Don’t anticipate a problem. You may not get any push back. Not everyone is a price shopper. Your customer may have anticipated this and may already have rationalized the expense. Go into this with unbridled optimism that there won’t be any problem.

Say it like it is. It’s better to be frank and nonchalant about a big estimate than to act as though it’s a wild aberration from the norm. People don’t like to think that they’ve been hit with extraordinary bad luck. Don’t waffle around. Just present the facts.

Show documentation. A broken part on the counter or a computer printout will go a long way to explaining the scope of a problem, especially to customers who have little knowledge of their cars’ inner workings. It’s like third-party verification of what you’ve found. Tell them about the test equipment you used, and the repair information you had to access, and the training your technicians had to take to find the problem. All of this builds your credibility as a problem solver.

Accentuate the positive. If their vehicle has a lot of intrinsic value left, and has a potentially long life ahead of it, tell them so. Keeping a vehicle on the road is almost always cheaper than scrapping it and buying another one. A big repair bill may seem like a set-back but it’s often better than the alternative

Leave it up to them. This sounds like an obvious point, but it’s actually one of the hardest things to do. There’s a temptation to keep on talking until you get approval. But this smacks of the hard sell. It’s better to make your case, and then be quiet. Give them a chance to ponder the situation, or ask a few questions.

Never be embarrassed about what you do. You’re not the bad guy here. Cars are expensive machines with sophisticated engineering that sometimes goes wrong. Sometimes it goes painfully, and expensively wrong. You’re the hero that can fix the problem, providing a very important service along the way. You give your customers peace of mind while saving them money in the long run.

–Allan Janssen


You can reach me at 416-614-5814 or

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