From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Have We Handcuffed Employees from Providing Extraordinary Customer Service?

free of handcuffs

I’m concerned some of you may read the first paragraphs of this column, and presume it’s about customer satisfaction indexing (CSI)---it’s not---and decide to move on.

Or you may think it’s about online reviews---it’s not, really---and decide to move on.

So please stick with me here. I’m going to talk about CSI and online reviews, but only as an introduction.

It’s no secret for years many insurance companies have conducted---or asked their direct repair shops to conduct---CSI surveys. Many body shops track CSI on their own, regardless of whether a job is done under a DRP or not. And in recent years, more automakers have added CSI requirements for the shops in their certification programs.

It all makes sense. Insurers and automakers want to make sure the mutual customers they refer to shops are being kept informed during repairs, are receiving their repaired vehicle back in a timely manner, etc. They want to make sure their brand is being protected.

For shop owners, CSI makes good sense as well, particularly as a shop’s volume or location count increases. When I owned multiple shops, I used CSI to help identify “blind spots” in my business. Since I couldn’t touch every single car, CSI results helped me ensure my employees were providing the same quality of repairs and customer service I would personally.

So to be clear: CSI is useful and valuable. It’s helped our industry reach “net-promoter” scores that are better than those found in so many other industries.

But I believe online reviews are becoming equally important for shops. Consumers increasingly have a “trust but verify” mentality.

In a column I wrote a couple years ago, I shared a story about the time my friend Greg’s son and daughter-in-law didn’t go to a restaurant Greg had highly recommended, because that restaurant’s online reviews weren’t as good as others the son looked up. Greg’s son used online reviews to verify whether his own father’s referral could be trusted.

Given that, do you think consumers are going to trust a shop referral from an insurance company or an automaker without verifying by checking the shop’s online reviews? Maybe my 84-year-old father isn’t going to do check those reviews, but my niece in her 30s definitely will. So that makes online reviews increasingly important as these generational shifts continue.

Part of what this brings to mind is something I learned from Ryan Taylor at Bodyshop Booster: “People are more afraid of making a wrong decision than they are of spending money.”

Think about it: Have you ever passed over a lower-priced option for something you were buying because you were leery the cheaper one could be a mistake? Have you ever sorted your search results on Amazon based on average customer reviews rather than price? I know I have.

And think about this: How much are online customer reviews influencing your ranking in search results?

State Farm is among the insurance companies using a shop locator that now includes online review scores. Some of the automakers have done this as well.

Anyone who Googles “best auto body shop near me” is going to see only shops with a four-star rating or better---even if others are closer. That search may bring up four or five shops, but if the consumer conducts a voice-activated search, their device is likely to suggest only the one shop---the one with the best online reviews.

I think connected cars are only going to accelerate the use of voice-activated search. Try it yourself: Ask your phone something like, “Hey, Siri, what’s the best auto body shop near me?” Is your shop the one that’s suggested?

But as I said at the start, my message here is about something bigger than CSI scores and online reviews. It’s about figuring out how you can differentiate yourself by providing exceptional customer service, creating a memorable or---not to sound like Disney---a magical experience for your customers.

Why? I think as an industry, most shops have developed ways to ensure customers will answer the three or four basic CSI questions positively. We’ve found ways to keep them informed, to ensure their vehicle is returned on time, etc.

That’s part of how CSI has made us better as an industry. And of course those things are, and will continue to be, very important elements to our business. But as we’ve crafted our customer service around just those things, I think we may have handcuffed our team, limiting how much they think outside the box in terms of providing exceptional, memorable service.

That’s why I think the additional power of open-ended online customer reviews will open new opportunities for your business to set itself apart.

What does that memorable or magical customer experience look like? I’ll be honest: I don’t know.

In talking about this with my good friend Ray Chew at CCC Information Services, he told me he thinks it has to start from that first point of contact, when we first get that assignment or referral. From that point on, we need to be looking for opportunities to wow that customer, to turn what they might perceive as a bad situation into a great experience.

An example: How often have we had a customer call to say they left their sunglasses or phone charger in their car when they dropped it at the shop? Once you locate the item in the car, do you just tell them how late you are open if they want to pick it up---or does someone offer to drop it off at their home or work? It’s a little thing, but a kind, convenient gesture customers may well mention as part of a five-star online review.

I can point to something similar in my own life recently. I had groceries delivered to my home, and in trying to pick up more of the bags than I should have, I managed to drop one, cracking open a watermelon and most of a dozen eggs---the equivalent of “one-time-use parts” in the world of groceries.

About 20 minutes later, there was a knock at my door. There was the young grocery delivery guy with another watermelon and carton of eggs for me. He wasn’t the person responsible for the busted groceries. He didn’t even work for the grocery store; he was a subcontractor who did this on his own. You better believe that turned an otherwise mundane transaction into a memorable experience to share in an online review.

That’s the sort of thing your employees need to be empowered to do. It will be key to helping your business thrive as online reviews expand the customer experience beyond the basic building blocks of CSI.

Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson is a columnist for Autobody News and president of Collision Advice, a consulting company for the auto body/collision repair industry.

AkzoNobel Beta web graphic v2 600px

Shop & Product Showcase