The Best Body Shops’ Tips: How To Increase CSI, Encourage Repeat Business and Differentiate Your Shop

Nick Schoolcraft, president of Phoenix Solutions Group
Nick Schoolcraft, president of Phoenix Solutions Group

During a recent webinar, Nick Schoolcraft explored the three most common causes behind unfavorable customer interactions at collision repair facilities. He also shared tactics and tools to help attendees overcome these obstacles to enhance their businesses.

With more than 15 years of customer experience and marketing consulting, Schoolcraft, president of Phoenix Solutions Group, said that by having a deeper understanding of your shops customer’s needs, above what is constituted as standard industry CSI, a shop can begin to develop a better overall experience for its customer. He said detailed research and a customer-first mindset should be the first thing a shop does when looking to improve satisfaction, increase sales and differentiate itself from the competition.

“Shops that focus on the customer and exhibit empathy see an increase in repeat rates up to 30 percent,” said Schoolcraft during Dave Luehr’s Elite Body Shop Solutions webinar held in May, titled ”What is Driving Poor Collision Experiences.” “Seventy percent of repeat customers choose a shop based on how they feel they were treated in the past; however, what’s more interesting is that nearly 65 percent of collision customers are lost because of indifference from the repair facility.”

Eight years ago, Schoolcraft was hired by Accenture, a global consulting company, where he worked with major automotive brands, insurance companies and multinational brands to help them develop better customer and employee experiences.

In 2017, he joined his father’s company, Phoenix Solutions Group, a marketing firm dedicated exclusively to the collision repair industry. Founded in 1988 by Steve Schoolcraft, the company focuses on developing data-driven marketing and customer experience strategies that help auto body shops grow collision sales while increasing their customer and employee satisfaction.

The insights he shared during the webinar were based on research gathered from 30 years of PSG research as well as his work at Accenture.

“Most in the industry would agree that customer expectations are changing at a rapid pace,” he said. “Customer expectations have become less ‘siloed’ in that they no longer differentiate between you and the retail store down the street.”

He said this is why it’s imperative that collision facilities focus on enhancing their overall experience, from accident to post-repair.

Q: Why do body shops have these issues?

Schoolcraft: It’s important to understand that customers are stressed out when they are involved in an accident. When people are in stressful situations, they tend to glom on to experiences that are very comfortable and familiar to them while seeking out people they trust for advice.

This is incredibly important because we’re facing an era where you aren’t just measured against your competition anymore; instead, you’re stacked up against brands that might not even be seen as a competitor. It has been shown that 87 percent of consumers measure all brands based on the interactions they have with companies like Amazon, Netflix and Starbucks. Therefore, it’s important to pay close attention to how these brands interact with their customers and make sure that every interaction you have mirrors those of these customer experience leaders, which are typically simple, effective and satisfying.

A great example of how this is starting to impact our industry is with manufacturers looking to take control of the entire vehicle experience by introducing things like subscription leasing. Cadillac, Porsche, Mercedes and even Lincoln are using this subscription model to provide customers with flexibility in the type of vehicles they drive, simplified interactions by providing complete insurance coverage and other benefits like concierge services. Most importantly, they provide a personalized experience through a deep understanding of their customers’ needs.

That is why it’s more critical today than ever before to truly understand your customers’ needs. The concern for a lot of people is how the collision industry measures customer interactions and satisfaction, which today is incomplete. Standard industry benchmarks don’t reveal how well you deliver on the customer’s expectations of the entire repair experience, which are more driven by emotion than simply your shop’s ability to meet the delivery date. Most shops are missing out on vital insights like how well the shop sets expectations, what would have improved the experience or why the customer chose them in the first place. Not having these details limits your shop’s ability to differentiate itself, resulting in stagnant sales growth.

In a survey conducted by Phoenix Solutions Group, it showed that 67 percent of customers mention average experiences as a reason for not returning to a shop; however, only one out of 26 customers complain about the experience, which inflates everyone’s CSI. This is why our research methods take a much more direct approach at answering the question: What does exceptional look like, and how do certain elements throughout the repair impact the overall perception?

Having a really strong understanding of how everyone in your organization is interacting with customers, as well as where the experience falls short, will deliver better overall value for your shop---all of which are left out of today’s standard industry CSI.

Our voice of customer research provides shops with a 360-degree view of how their customer feels about the overall experience and why they chose the shop, ultimately enabling us to align sales strategies that fit the customer needs better---resulting in greater customer retention and increased sales.

Q: How can a collision repair business really grow?

Schoolcraft: It starts with understanding if your shop is exceptional or average. Do you know what is needed over and above the general expectations of the repair experience? It should start with understanding why people choose your shop, then developing your sales tactics and marketing to match that need. Align your shop’s value proposition with what the customer wants and accept that it isn’t just quality or a DRP that sells.

Shops should recognize that marketing your shop should begin the moment a customer picks up their repaired vehicle. Sadly, the industry’s answer to this is to elicit online reviews followed by generic emails two or three months after the repair. It needs to be much more than that, and it should be centered around delivering a personalized message that is unique.

Consumers live in an incredibly loud and fragmented world full of advertising messages. They receive thousands of messages every day from advertisers, mostly through digital platforms. Only about 2 percent of consumers view or take action on those. Think about how much smaller that percentage is for a niche product like collision repair. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The messages that tend to rise to the top are the ones that are personalized, unique and relevant to the customer. The reason for this is because consumers are seeking out companies that connect with them on a deeper level than just trying to get them to buy something. The returns and benefits of personalized marketing tactics (letters, relevant social media posts, community events, etc.) typically outweigh the benefits of standard marketing (email, SEO, text messages, etc.) 10 to 1. This is because personalized marketing allows you to address what is often called the “emotional motivators” of the purchase decision. These motivators are typically questions like: How simple will this shop make it for me? Will I be satisfied working with this shop versus the shop next door? Do they seem to care?

Your customer wants to find somebody they can trust and who they believe has their best interests at heart. Again, this is an emotional event and not something they do often. Finding comfort is a critical part of their purchase decision. This is further validated by our research, which shows that when you align with your customers’ emotional motivators, you can remove the weight the customer puts on questions like ‘What happens if you are not on my insurance’s preferred list?’ or ‘Why is your estimate higher than the estimate from the other shop?’ The reason why connecting the emotional motivators is so critical is because everybody wants to buy from people they like. Understanding these motivators requires a shop to take a different approach than relying on standard industry CSI.

Unfortunately, shops focus solely on things like online reviews to help solve this problem. What should be considered with this strategy is that online reviews become obsolete when everyone in the market has four stars or higher. While online reviews do play a part in the collision purchase journey, our research shows that less than 1 percent of collision customers use online reviews solely as the reason to choose a shop. Generally, we have found that people will consult a trusted resource first, then do research online and use Facebook or online reviews as a validating factor for their decision.

This purchase behavior is why understanding what customers desire from the experience is so critical. These insights allow you to apply logic across your initiatives to make sure you are differentiating your shop and not wasting precious marketing dollars on perceived silver bullets.

Q: What are the top customer issues in regard to the repair experience?

Schoolcraft: From our research, there are three: customers feel their interactions are transactional, the delivery experience is rushed or transaction-focused and overall poor customer service driven by poorly engaged employees.

How to break the “transactional” mindset:

Customers feel processed. Think about what a customer goes through after an accident; they talk to a police officer, then the insurance company and finally end up at a shop to get an estimate---all of which have their own processes. Body shops can be the biggest offenders of the process mindset, mostly because shop processes are typically defined by an insurance partner, not by the shop itself. These requirements become increasingly apparent with the lack of continuity shops exhibit with customers, followed by their overall poor communication scores. This alone puts shops in a tough situation of developing a deeper bond with the customer.

The goal should always be to find a way to develop a seamless interaction throughout all four parts of the collision experience: collision, estimate, repair, and post-repair. When you do so, you can drive incremental gains for your business and be seen more as a trusted partner rather than a service vendor.

Some tactics that we offer our customers to overcome process are:

1) Make it easy for customers: Connect as frequently as possible to keep customers updated; help them understand the expectations up front and provide service options, such as better hours. Consider implementing technology to help triage their situation before they arrive at your shop.

2) Give customers control: Educate customers about what is about to occur throughout the process and validate their preferred method of communication. We often suggest incorporating visuals to help customers fully digest the repair experience.

3) Personalize the experience whenever possible: Ensure team members know what is going on with the repair; simulate other personal experiences the customer might have such as the check-in/check-out process at a hotel and understand their needs and incorporate them into every conversation you have with them.

4) Never automate support: Technology should complement human interaction, NOT replace it. It has been shown that 83 percent of consumers in the U.S. prefer dealing with a human when going through an emotional event. Automated support requires a deeper understanding of the customer to be effective.

5) Communicate with care: Be customer-first and communicate issues quickly; focus on the outcome, not the problem; be consistent and show compassion. Customers will be more emphatic toward the approach than the resolution if you communicate throughout the entire experience.

How to improve the delivery experience

The second issue we often see is a poor delivery experience, which in PSG's philosophy is the most critical part after the sale of the job because it is the last chance you have to make an impression on the customer. The delivery of the repaired vehicle is the shop’s last chance to solidify a relationship with them and/or to redeem yourself for any issues that happened during the experience.

Unfortunately, most shops believe they have this locked down. What we have found is that the opposite is true. In a recent study of customers who had a repair six months prior, only 20 percent could remember the shop’s name. While that stat is scary, it further validates that most shops fall into the ‘average’ category and haven’t done anything to really differentiate themselves. This research is why we believe the delivery process is one of the most critical parts of the repair experience. Typically, a customer is greeted, the shop reviews the paperwork, asks for the deductible and after all of that they ask the customer if they want to see the repaired vehicle. The missing piece is shops don’t put the customer into a familiar experience that allows them to feel more at ease. Think about how you purchase most items; do you typically pay before you see the goods? Would you pay for a meal before it was served? Your customer mindset is no different. Ignoring this is what can lead to low engagement and poor repeat and referral business. What PSG suggests is to resell the vehicle first and then finalize the transaction.

Phoenix Solutions Groups’ tips for a better delivery experience:

1) Prepare: Be ready for the customer. Always quality-check the car to ensure it is clean, ensure staff is available and familiarize yourself with the customer file.

2) Greet and review job: Don’t make customers wait for more than five minutes. The first thing should always be to walk them out to their vehicle and resell the job with enthusiasm while pointing out your craftsmanship!

3) Review paperwork and transact: Go over the warranty coverage and any additional paperwork before collecting the funds; ask if they have questions; thank them for their business and explain how the survey information will help your shop become better.

4) Stay in touch: Rather than relying on online reviews and digital communication, the more personalized the interaction is, the more connected the customers feel.

With 42 percent of customers returning to a shop based on the impact left on them, a better delivery process will not only help a customer remember your shop---it will also help with repeat and referral business. This should always be the focus of any shop because it is incredibly expensive to acquire new customers---five to 12 times more than it does to retain existing customers.

How to enhance your customer service through better employee engagement:

Money is a critical component to employment. Everyone works to get paid, but it’s not what drives great employee engagement. A recent study showed that appreciation for the work people do and good relationships with their colleagues are critical elements to delivering great employee engagement.

What this means is that it comes down to the shops' culture. Culture is a defining factor of great organizations that deliver great customer experiences. According to John Hopkins University in 2015, 95 percent of employees value culture over salary. What’s important to note is there’s not just one thing that creates culture---it’s many things working together. You want to have people working with you who understand the industry, but also have a clear view of how their job affects the business as a whole.

We’ve found that shops that centralize the employee with the customer will see higher productivity, higher profitability, an increase in collision sales and higher referral rates. We’ve also seen better employee engagement leading to better business metrics---like 17 percent higher productivity.

Phoenix Solutions Groups’ tips to enhance your employee experience:

1) Empower your people: Ensure employees feel essential to what they are doing every day and inspire them; employees need to feel trusted so they can come to you with questions and feedback. We work with shops to redefine their mission statements to incorporate the employee’s voice, as well as utilize customer comments and research to help empower the employee base.

2) Teach the “why,” not the how: Provide your team tools and solutions to help solve the issues they face by understanding what is occurring in your shop; invest in consistent coaching and training and lead rather than mandating actions to achieve a better outcome. Using an employee engagement survey like the one we use with our customers helps determine the needs of your employees, which is critical in developing a better strategy and training curriculum.

3) Reward and recognize regularity: Acknowledge employee contributions and utilize customer feedback to appreciate good work; ensure your team is unified to help them thrive; provide opportunities for fun during and after work; and support staff with tools and resources. Remember, recognition and rewards do not always have to be money---people like to be treated fairly and recognized by their peers.

4) Create a transparent world where you foster growth, collaboration and trust: Keep staff informed about the business and inspire collaboration; ensure they are aware of how their role aligns with goals of a body shop; and encourage them to be transparent to customers during the repair process. The more the customers are informed and the employees are aware of what’s happening, the more encouraged they are going to feel in their interactions with customers. This strategy can be easily implemented through the development of a more robust surveying and research solution.

Q: How can shops make this repeatable and part of their organizations?

Schoolcraft: It starts with understanding your customers and how your different segments are looking at your business. Once that is done, you can then better address training challenges that are critically important to your shop, which will help you drive a seamless experience. Once you find a way to incorporate that into your daily operations, there is tremendous business value to be unlocked. You’ll drive greater retention, increase advocacy and most importantly you’ll enrich the lives of your employees because they are indeed the foundation of any successful business. The more you can improve their lives, the better your overall metrics will be---top line and bottom line.

To watch a replay of this webinar, visit

For more information about Elite Body Shop Solutions and to sign up for the next monthly webinar, email

For more information about Phoenix Solutions Group, contact Schoolcraft at 847-764-8079 or visit

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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