In the U.S., there are half a million women actively looking to buy a new car at any given time.

They have a serious influence on all automotive purchases (85 percent), from the showroom to the service lane. Yet, 74 percent of women feel misunderstood by the automotive industry.

So, how as a body shop owner or manager do you cater to this significant percentage of your customer base? Shops all over the country have had great success thinking outside of the box. Many have produced series of how-to videos, sponsored networking/educational sessions at their facilities on a quarterly basis, embraced social media because women use sites such as Facebook and Instagram more than men do, and promoted community nonprofit organizations that appeal to women, such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) and Toys for Tots.

We interviewed several female body shop owners to find out how they're getting 5-star Yelp reviews from female customers and getting recommended to their female customers’ friends and colleagues.

Kathy Mello is the owner of TGIF Auto Body in Fremont, CA. She is the president of the California Autobody Association (CAA), a member of the Women’s Industry Network (WIN) and well-known for championing women who strive to enter the industry.

An incident she encountered prior to working in the collision repair industry many years ago opened her eyes and taught her a valuable lesson.

"I had the first-time experience of getting an estimate after backing into a basketball pole at my child’s school," she said. "There were no rear-view cameras on Volkswagens back then. I went to the shop that my insurance company recommended (this was prior to DRPs). I announced myself to two ladies who were sitting at their desks in a halfway-decent office. One of the ladies called an estimator, who walked out to my vehicle without a word. I swear, he grunted several times and then wrote some things on a clipboard as I followed him.

"I sat in my original waiting spot as he did his thing. The two ladies talked with each other as they worked. I was basically invisible. The estimator completed his work and handed me a copy without a word. I said thank you and exited.

"When I began playing a role in the company my husband founded, I vowed that we would never treat anyone like that, no less a woman. As a result, we have a pleasant office with unisex decor. There are fresh flowers on most days provided by a local florist and a refreshment bar. We start by asking questions right away, not only about the claim and the vehicle, but about the people involved. Another important question is, 'What is your greatest concern?' We want to remove any anxiety if we can."

Tiffany Silva, owner of Accurate Auto Body in Richmond, CA, is president of the CAA's East Bay chapter and is also on the organization's board.

"I don’t feel that we necessarily cater only to women," she said. "I feel that we cater to each customer who walks through the door. Perhaps because I am a woman, I know how important it is to make sure that each customer feels that we are providing exceptional customer service and treating everyone equally.

"My office staff asks each customer if they would like us to go over their estimate with them line by line. We strive to make sure every customer understands the repairs needed to their vehicle. We don’t just simply hand them paperwork and expect that they’ll understand the terminology in the estimate. I believe this is the most important element in providing excellent customer service. Another important thing is to take the time to explain and educate not only about the claims process, but exactly what is required to repair the vehicle properly. We make sure that no questions or concerns go unaddressed. Although these are standard procedures, they may be more pertinent with a woman, particularly if she is doing this for the first time."

Nancy Friedman, president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service, trains automotive companies on how to enhance the customer experience and cited several main ways to achieve it.

"First, we want to be listened to and valued," she said. "Making eye contact is important, so don't keep looking at your watch and other people when you're talking to me. Smile---because we’re suckers for that, and use the same handshake you do with a man. We don't want a wet fish handshake that offers three fingers; we hate that. And one last thing: Put a hook in the ladies’ room so that we can hang up our bags. It sounds like a little thing, but the little things add up.

"In short, how can you make your shop more attractive to female customers? For one, women care about the cleanliness of your facility and like shops that cater to children because they're usually in tow. If you have a little kiddie section with toys and books, that also goes a long way with the ladies."

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