Trust and high levels of customer service are key factors in securing customer loyalty, which translates into ongoing revenue thanks to service maintenance and repairs. Dealers seem to be making the sale, but losing out in the long-term revenue associated with a trusted shop to maintain and repair cars. Best practices today can boost service revenue by maintaining relationships with customers many years beyond the initial sale.

The auto service industry reels in $215 billion (as of 2013) and is projected to grow by 15 percent within the next three years. Despite these impressive numbers, many shops are only securing small pieces of this pie. In particular, dealers are missing out: In 2013, dealers experienced a decrease in service operations by seven percent. Additionally, the average age of cars is increasing and dealers are missing out on this as well. The average age of cars has increased by 14 percent since 2008 and more than 86 percent of vehicles were identified as out-of-warranty in 2011. Yet, one study found that 47 percent of service business is lost by dealers when cars are aged between three and six years.

According to AudaExplore, 48 percent of 1,000 U.S. adults polled mistrust repair shops.

With 260,000 auto shops in the United States with double that number of employees, how do you differentiate yourself? By creating a loyal customer base through trust. The importance of aligning with customers to ensure they’ll stay satisfied once a repair is complete is crucial to retaining a loyal customer base that will come back for future repairs. As such, it’s critical to ensure that a customer feels secure entrusting you with his or her car from the first point of contact all the way through the process from intake to delivery. Following are some recommendations to help differentiate and build trust amongst customers.

Intake 

Nothing is more frustrating for consumers than that nebulous yet beaming check engine light. The mystery behind this burning light causes angst for customers who look under the hood and see nothing but metal. Therefore, many view the people who fix their cars with skepticism—particularly women. A recent survey conducted by Harris and commissioned by RepairPal found that 77 percent of car owners think repair shops perform unnecessary repairs more for women than men and 66 percent feel that repair shops charge women more for repairs.

As such, be sure to clearly outline vehicles’ issues and address customer concerns. Be visual: Numerous studies prove that people retain information much better when data is delivered with visual aids. As such, use images, sketches and diagrams to educate customers, making them feel informed and empowered about the repair process. Be as transparent as possible, particularly with finances, and offer as much information as customers are willing to receive. Educating a customer on every repair will help eliminate skepticism and mistrust, which will pay off in loyal—and grateful—customers.

Service

When it comes to predicting timing and cost, be honest. Don’t tell customers what they want to hear if it contradicts what will actually occur. Overpromising and under-delivering is the death knell for repair shops. Of course, honest shops will terminate “gravy work” and “wallet flushing” practices.

Delivery

Establishing a formal, consistent delivery process ensures that the customer is clear on all steps of the repair process. An active and effective delivery process should involve a “walk through” during which you highlight and point out the changes that were made. Additionally, a test drive will give your customer peace of mind, proving he or she will no longer hear that random rattle within the car or that the “check engine” light has been extinguished. This optimal delivery method will elevate your expertise, build and strengthen relationships and reinforce a culture of trust and reliability around your shop. 

Maintaining control over each stage of customer interaction is a huge opportunity for repair shops to establish trusted, long-term and loyal relationships with customers by communicating honorable values and delivering service expertise about a car. 

Jill Trotta is an ASE-certified technician and consultant and a certified manager for the RepairPal Automotive Group. She has over 23 years experience in the automotive industry as a technician, service advisor, parts manager and service manager. She has both dealership and independent repair experience. She is passionate about changing the face of automotive repair through education and creating a culture of fairness for both consumers and business owners.

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