A person has been in an accident, which means they're either 1.) Embarrassed or 2.) Just plain mad. If they caused the accident, they're probably the former and if they were the victim of one, they are justifiably the latter. There aren't very many industries out there where your customer is already annoyed before the process even begins.
So the $60,000 question is this--how do you get the customer from the street to the shop without losing them along the way? It's not an easy thing to retain a potential customer with so many other forces out there working against you, and every body shop knows it all too well. There are three main ways to lose a potential customer between the street and the shop: 1.) Steering by the insurance company 2.) Sold by another shop or 3.) Fumbling the initial call and turning off the customer.
You've put a ton of work into getting that customer to call you in the first place, through marketing, networking and more importantly, doing a good job, which leads to that coveted word-of-mouth. Large MSOs and savvy independents see the value in doing whatever it takes to attract and retain that prospective client by establishing large departments to make it happen. So why do too many shops fail to put a major emphasis on snagging that prospective customer during that initial call?
For sage advice about anything that has to deal with the telephone, many experts call upon Nancy Friedman, "The Telephone Doctor" who is a nationally-recognized expert and speaker on this topic. "When I did my very first presentation for a large collision repairer several years ago, they told me that their biggest concern was how to convert a potential customer to an actual RO," Friedman explained. "So that is when we started focusing more intently on the process and began devising best practices to achieve their goals."
Too many shops don't have a plan or a strategy for when potential customers call, and that's where Friedman steps in, she said. "When someone who has been in a collision is calling you, it likely means that they are doing their due diligence and they aren't happy to be making that call. That is when you need to have your 'arm around their shoulder' mentality and then ask them if are they okay. A car can be replaced, but people cannot. We want to acquire that customer, but we also want to be compassionate."
Reading the caller's attitude and surmising their state-of-mind quickly is essential, so asking questions is just as important as providing information, Friedman explained. "You can't see their face or read their body language, so asking questions about the individual and the accident is an ideal approach to take. Most people enjoy talking about their lives, even if the news is not exactly positive. So listen carefully and act accordingly. If the person is willing to talk, let them talk, but if they're more interested in finding out about you and your shop, that's fine too. When you talk, you teach, and when you listen, you learn. Either method can work in this scenario, but you have to determine the other person's mood to be effective."
There is a lot of money on the line when the customer calls and the clock is running. "That initial phone call and the repair that will hopefully result from it is important to both parties, so you need to treat it that way, Friedman said. "Rapport-building is not always easy, especially if you need to do it in a tight timeframe," she said. "You're not going to get a second call. Establishing a bond with this individual is key and good phone customer service professionals do it naturally. I call it the 'care gene' and you can learn it, but it's easier if it's already in your personality."
Customers are skeptical just by nature and especially wary after getting into a car accident, whether it's a serious collision or just a small fender bender. "You have to leave them thinking, 'Wow, these people really do care,' which is what they're ultimately looking for," she said. "Everyone has had a bad experience in some type of retail interaction; so of course, they're going to doubt you initially. That's why you have to build a relationship with them and get them to talk about their feelings and their current situation."
Giving the caller some good-old fashioned sympathy while mixing in some education along the way is a winning formula for body shops, according to Friedman. "Consumer education in every aspect of automotive repair is essential and a great way to further connect with the customer. Many people don't know what the difference between aftermarket and OE parts or realize that every shop will warranty their repair for as long as they own the vehicle. By taking a transparent approach and giving them all of the details and answers to all their questions, the trust builds and the customer feels more comfortable with your shop."
And that's when you get that new customer from the street to the shop!