Auto Service World
News   December 2, 2019   by Jeff Mowatt

Grudge purchases: How to sell to a reluctant customer

How to put customers at ease when they last place they want to be is in your shop facing a big repair bill.


By Jeff Mowatt

How do you think your customers would rather spend $1,000? On a vacation to their dream destination? Or having the brakes and oil done on their six-year-old vehicle, along with a 24-point inspection?

The answer seems pretty obvious. In the auto repair and maintenance industry, people buy because they have to – not because they want to.

Customers are often
 reluctant purchasers.
The last thing they want
is to deal with staff
who are naively perky.

In some industries, that’s not the case at all. In fact, they might have a crack at some if not all of that $1,000 because they sell things people are eager to buy.

For the rest, overcoming customer reluctance to spend is a critical part of the sales job.

Perhaps one of the most common myths about customer service is that you have to be relentlessly friendly and upbeat. The truth is that customers are often reluctant purchasers. The last thing they want is to deal with staff who are naively perky. In cases like that, competence is a much more attractive quality from service providers.

After more than 25 years of advising companies that deal primarily with reluctant customers, I’ve developed four strategies to help you put customer at ease about spending money on grudge purchases.


  1. Focus on the task, not their mood

If you sense your customers are rushed or frustrated, don’t ask them how they are. That question just reminds them that they’re not having a good day. Instead, start by asking, “What can I do to make your day go a little better?” It helps keep the conversation positive, while indicating you’re aware that they have other things they’d rather be doing.

Speaking of better word choices, avoid asking reluctant customers what they “want” or what they’d “like.” Frankly they don’t want to be there at all. Instead, phrase your questions along the lines of, “Would it be useful if…?” “Would it make sense to…?” or “Would it be helpful…?”

In general, we get better results with task-oriented questions that focus on resolving the customer’s problem, than with questions that encourage customers to think about their mood.


  1. Acknowledge delays

A couple enjoying an appetizer at a fancy restaurant may not mind waiting if the main course is slightly delayed. On the other hand, a parent kept waiting past appointment time with a fidgety child in a crowded dental office needs an explanation.

Don’t brush off delays that might be upsetting your customer, or pretend they didn’t happen. Start by acknowledging it upfront. “Thanks for your patience today. We were held up for a while on another matter, but rest assured we’ll take all the time we need to take care of you properly. Now, before we go on, how’s your time? Are we OK?”

When customers agree to proceed, they feel less taken for granted, more like they’ve regained control, and become more receptive to your services.


  1. Share your intentions

Let begrudging customers know that you understand what they really want. If you’re helping someone who’s obviously pressed for time, say something like, “Let me get a few details from you now so we can start work and get you on your way as soon as possible.” If you’re dealing with a significant safety or comfort issue, stress that you’re going to fix that problem effectively, so it doesn’t worry them any more. “At least now when you step on the brake, you won’t have to worry that the car might not stop in time!”

Customers may be focused on the immediate painful purchase. You need to remind them of the more positive strategic outcome.


  1. Offer pricing perspective

By definition, people don’t enjoy spending money on grudge purchases. So with big ticket purchases, it’s helpful to break the price down into something that sounds less daunting.

Don’t lean back and say something blunt like, “With brakes, and tires, you’re looking at $1,600.” Rather, put the cost of the work into perspective with the value of their vehicle and their reliance on it. “Your vehicle is in great shape, and it’s going to last a long time. Your brakes and tires are wear items that have to be replaced from time to time. It comes to $1,600, and then you’ll be in great shape for winter.”

Often what they’ll spend on their vehicle is a fraction of what it would cost to replace it. Remind them that maintenance is a good investment in the long run, and will keep them safe on their travels.

Too often, service providers fail to realize just how uncomfortable customers are to be in a repair shop. Their vehicle has let them down, they’re facing massive inconvenience and a big bill. They’re feeling vulnerable because they don’t understand automotive technology, and they’re completely at your mercy. In short, they don’t want to be there.

Don’t be oblivious and uncaring. Don’t judge your customers for being stressed and grouchy. Walk your customers through those big-ticket purchases with patience and understanding.

It may require more empathy than you’re used to showing, and it may take practice to make it sound natural, but it will build goodwill and loyalty.

With a little training, your employees will come across as astute, competent, and helpful. That will make it a more pleasant experience for everyone.

And, most importantly for your bottom line, customers will be less resentful about sending their dollars your way.


Jeff Mowatt is a customer service strategist, and bestselling author, based in Calgary, Alta. This article is based on his book Influence with Ease. You can reach him at


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