How to Get Your Customers to Trust You in a Skeptical World

John Stuef
John Stuef, industry consultant, life coach and author, said if you can establish five truisms with a new customer, they will trust you completely.

Do your customers trust you? If so, how and if not---why?

People want to trust their financial advisors, teachers, lawyers, doctors, politicians and, yes, the people who work on their cars. But many consumers entering any business transaction are often skeptical at the outset, and that’s why trust has to be established and reinforced over time. Every business wants its customers to trust them and feel comfortable enough to use their services again and refer them to others. A body shop is being judged every day---by its customers, insurance partners and vendors, and in a world of instant transparency, trust is more important.

Throw in the pandemic and a full year of uncertainty, and people are more skeptical about everything now. One body shop owner told me recently he doesn’t even ask what’s next, he just puts his head down and gets the work done, in order to maintain his sanity. "20/20," "60 Minutes," "Fight Back! With David Horowitz," "CBC Marketplace," "Project Bumper" and "The Investigators" have produced multiple TV episodes about body shops ripping off customers. I recently saw a news segment produced by CBS Chicago designed to protect consumers, but they also scare them.

As a result, many vehicle owners are wary before they even enter any repair facility for the first time. In the old days, these types of reports appeared on TV once or twice, but now they’re available on YouTube 24/7. Bad press illustrates the importance of building trust with your customers.

In general, American drivers don't trust auto mechanics, according to a AAA survey. It found 66% of drivers do not trust car repair shops in general, though 64% indicated they do take their car currently to a repair shop with a reliable mechanic whom they can trust.

The AAA survey also shows 33%---75 million motorists in total---are still trying to find a trusted service department, which leaves them vulnerable for when their car breaks down.

Here are the top reasons why American drivers mistrust automotive repair shops, both mechanical and collision:

  • Recommends unnecessary services (76%)
  • Overcharges (73%)
  • A negative experience (53%)
  • Sub-quality work (49%)

Other main offenders include charging for OE parts that are either aftermarket parts, phantom repairs, lapses in communication and bait-and-switch tactics.

Interestingly, older vehicle owners from the Baby Boomer generation are most likely to trust car repair facilities, compared to Millennials and Gen-Xers. Twenty percent of Boomers surveyed for the AAA study say they “totally trust” the auto repair industry.

In addition, Boomers are also more likely to have a car repair shop they trust (76%), compared with 55% of Millennials and 56% of Gen-Xers.

Philip Reed, a reporter for Edmunds, interviewed a handful of body shop owners for a blog, “Confessions from the Auto Body Shop, Get Your Car Fixed Right Without Getting Ripped Off." He interviewed shop owners off the record, so he got truly candid reactions.

Reed heard things like, "I don't care what state you live in, for every 10 body shops, three of them are unethical and five of them do mediocre work at best;" “The last thing we want is a bad reputation or reports of poor customer service;” "Most body shop owners are very concerned about getting good feedback and building a list of customers who'll come back next time work is needed.”

So, if indeed 30% of all the shops out there are shady, how do you convince the public you are a member of that 70% category? How do you build trust with customers who are not in a positive space after an accident has added a bunch of drama to their lives?

Collision repair is one of those industries where the average customer is already disgruntled, so the goal is to both placate them and get them to trust you---and that’s not easy.

In most cases, your customer is in a rush and wants everything done yesterday. No one ever says, “Hey---let’s have some fun and get our car serviced!” Vehicle repairs rank right up there with trips to the dentist.

John Stuef is an industry consultant, life coach and the author of “From Doing to Leading: Your Guide for Inspiring People on the Front Lines.” He has managed MSO shops for decades and dealt with literally thousands of customers, so the topic of trust is a subject Stuef has been studying for decades and developing techniques to address it.

“Trust is built when people see that your actions line up with the words you say," Stuef said. "I often talk about the five truisms and how important they are to establish trust with your customer. Point them out when they show up to your shop for an estimate, almost like a checklist, because studies prove that when you show someone five truths, they feel you are trustworthy.”

Here is an example of five truths communicated during the first 10 minutes interacting with the customer for the first time: the appearance of your shop/reception area; the way your people dress and speak; the plaques on your walls showing I-CAR, training and OE certifications; the overall attitude in the shop; and the thoroughness of the estimate.

Stuef claims you can’t build rapport until you establish trust, and the best way is with the five truisms.

One way to build trust is by using technology to provide a better experience for your clients. By using today’s tools, you can enable them to make their lives easier and drama-free.

Now they can eliminate phone calls and paperwork; they can communicate instantly via text or email. If they want photos of the repair, it’s a snap, and they are kept in the loop during every stage of the process. By writing estimates that are fast, easy and, most importantly, accurate, there are never surprises along the way.

By bringing more to the table with new technology and cutting-edge techniques, vehicle repairers are building trusting relationships with their customers. By continually pursuing cutting-edge tools, these forward-thinkers will continue to excel in a market that’s already more knowledgeable, skeptical and more discerning than ever.

You can tell people great things about your business all day long, but folks want to see it, and the five truisms described by Stuef will always speak louder than words. The underlying message is if you run a good shop that produces quality work, trust is the byproduct and good things will happen as a result.

Ed Attanasio

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

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