‘CAR-diologist’ D.J. Harrington Helps Collision Repair Centers Excel in Customer Service

‘CAR-diologist’ D.J. Harrington Helps Collision Repair Centers Excel in Customer Service

D.J. Harrington is the president and CEO of Phone Logic, Inc., an international training company based in Atlanta, GA, that has helped a wide range of automotive companies.

Harrington serves as a consultant and trainer to more than 1,000 privately-owned businesses throughout the country. He trains personnel at all levels year-round, from the operators who answer the phones to customer service reps, sales staff and all the way to the president.

His years as a sales trainer and motivator for a variety of companies have provided Harrington with an outstanding background he brings---along with his energy and dynamic personality---to every clinic and seminar.

Harrington is a recipient of the Vicom Group Video Training Award. He is a motivator, entrepreneur and keynote speaker, a member of the Georgia Speakers Association and the National Speakers Association since 1993, and a recipient of the coveted award of Certified Speaking Professional, a level achieved by fewer than 3% of all national speakers.

What are some of the most common mistakes people make when talking to customers over the phone?

Negative talking is probably No. 1. Positivity is contagious and people will pick up on it. When you improve the person's performance they improve. When you improve the performance, the total business improves.

I try to tell people, when you think it’s costly to train a person and have them leave, try not training that person and having them stay.

I think that with many people who answer the phone today, it comes down to their tone of voice. Do they say good morning when it's afternoon? If you fumble it and don't even know what time of the day it is, what kind of job are you going to do when you fix the front end of their car? It's little stuff like that.

What are some other things to consider when a customer calls a collision center?

Efficiency is also very important when it comes to phone work. Routing the customer is key. You just explained everything about the accident and now I have to say it all again because you transferred me to another department? That’s inefficient and it’s not professional.

The way you finish a call is also crucial. Don’t just say, “goodbye," “cool," “see you later," “drive safely," etc. What you should say is, “Thanks for thinking of Joe’s Collision Center.” ABB---Always Be Branding.

And don’t talk a mile a minute, which seems to be a common error with younger people. Slow down and annunciate because when you talk fast you can make the customer anxious. But when you take the time, it will often relax them.

I had a client with seven locations, including a couple body shops and a car wash, and the person answering their phones was terrible. She talked so fast you could not understand her, and the company’s switchboard was their biggest bottleneck.

For some of my clients, we devise a series of codes to make the process better. When someone is transferred the first time and they can’t connect for whatever reason, the operator calls again and says there is a customer on line using a number like 332, for example. The 33 is the extension and the 2 at the end represents the fact that they are now trying the second time to connect the call---this is our second request. If we must call the third time, now we say, “service line, 333."

If they get to line 334, the business owner picks up and everyone knows they’re in trouble.

When people call a collision center, they are either upset or embarrassed, so it’s a lot more than just answering their questions, right?

Yes, that’s exactly why compassion is so important. When a customer calls to discuss an accident, one of the first things we do is ask if everyone’s OK. Was anyone injured and how are they doing now? One woman said she talked to three body shops and no one else asked that question. They were more concerned about getting their insurance company’s name and their contact information because that’s what mattered to them more than the health of the people in the collision.

We need to process people over the phone obviously, but if they feel like they’re being processed, you are losing that battle.

Back in 1983, I was working for a company that didn't care about their own customers. In 1985, I was doing seminars for American Express, and there were three Chevrolet dealers who were in the group that day. They hired me to train all their dealerships, and I would fly to Detroit once a month for years to make presentations. So, that’s how I got into working within the automotive sector.

Now I speak to groups from DuPont, NADA, ABRA, Audi, General Motors and collision centers all over the country. In 1990, I began teaching a class called “A Checkup from the Neck Up," and that is when I started calling myself the “CAR-diologist."

It’s how it’s said but it’s also the way it’s said. Do you teach people the right words to use and which ones to avoid?

Absolutely, that is probably the best question any journalist has ever asked me. The language you use is so important. Don’t call it a body shop---it’s a collision repair center. Also, never swear, talk about politics or religion, and don’t provide more information than needed.

We do a ton of mystery shopping calls to check and find out if our training is being put into practice. One receptionist told me that their owner was tied up. What does that mean? Customers might envision he’s being held hostage against his will. Answers with too much information is a no-no. We want to be personable, but we don’t need to overshare and certainly don’t want to give the caller a life story.

I teach people about OAI---Observation, Association, Imagination. There's an expression that says people don't care how much you know; they want to know how much you care. And that tells you everything about a person.

I tell people to place a mirror near your phone, so you can look at yourself before you pick up the phone. It’s acting, and people can sense whether you’re smiling or frowning. If you’re having a bad day, keep it to yourself.

And avoid using cliché phrases. “Can I be completely honest with you?” is a bad one. However, it’s used by many. When you say that, the person on the other end of the phone is probably thinking, “Were you lying to me before? Or what have you been, not honest?” Words matter and phrases like that can backfire on you.

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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