A World Class Customer Experience

Customer Experience

Even if your collision repair shop is currently busier than it ever has been before, now is the most important time to turn your attention towards creating a positive, memorable experience for every one of your customers.

During the pandemic, one valuable lesson became apparent. While all body shops suffered massive downturns in volume, those who historically focused on creating exceptional customer experiences fared much better than those focused primarily on insurance direct repair programs. Yes, loyal customers pulled many shops through a very difficult time, and they always will, but only if shops earn that loyalty.

A Cautionary Tale…

Years ago, I consulted with a body shop that once had a great reputation in its market but lost that reputation due to short-sighted greed when the shop’s market area experienced an epic hail event. The hail was so large that the damage couldn’t be removed using paintless dent repair methods. The shop owner couldn’t believe his great fortune, as his insurance partners loaded him with enough work to keep him busy for well over a year!

The employees at this body shop soon began treating each customer in a transactional manner losing the empathetic customer focus it once had, to the point of alienating faithful collision customers in favor of the urgent and profitable insurance directed hail repairs. The shop owner hired many new people to keep up with the demand without the usual due diligence, thereby negatively affecting his carefully crafted culture. Long story short, when the hail work was gone, so too were his loyal customers. Even the insurers, who fed him all the work, bailed out due to the poor performance of the shop. In only one year, this company put a lot of money in the bank but lost something much more valuable – and it never recovered.

Your Biggest Opportunity

When people ask me what the biggest opportunity in the collision repair business is, I say, “Easy… the person across the counter from you!” What business leaders need to understand is that their reputation is everything, and the beautiful thing is, it doesn’t cost you anything to provide world class customer service.

During a recent Elite Mastermind meeting our members were given an exercise to make a written declaration to be the best at one thing. We asked, “if you could be known for one thing, as the best in the communities you serve, what would it be?” A majority of the members answered that they would want to be known as the best in their markets at providing a world class customer experience.

The next question was, “Name a business you have visited that, in your opinion, has the best customer service you have ever experienced.” Many members mentioned the usual names like Disney or Nordstrom and some mentioned local restaurants that provide incredible service and quality meals. Talking through this was important because collision customers are comparing body shops against these companies who are known for their amazing service, and it can give us insight on how to improve.

What Does Great Service Look Like?

It’s interesting to me that everyone recognizes when they have received great service but are still a little unsure of what the exact factors are that make it up. In fact, it’s a little frustrating how deep in denial body shop owners are about the actual loyalty of their customers and why they feel that way. Often people rely on metrics such as a customer satisfaction index (CSI) survey to determine if they are providing great service or not. The reality is that the standard CSI question, “Would you refer the shop to friends and family?” is a very unreliable tool for measuring the respondent’s actual feelings about their experience with the body shop. The emotional factors that dictate loyalty and even a customer’s willingness to refer the shop are more difficult to measure, but it can be done.

You hear me talk a lot about the research and services provided by our friends at Phoenix Solutions Group and that is because they are the only company I know of that specifically measures the emotional factors of collision repair customers. Sadly, many body shops score very badly on these surveys; even the ones with a very high CSI score!

So, what should a collision repair shop do if they are unsure of the factors that lead to a fully engaged, loyal customer? We turned to Tina Biancalana, the authority on this subject from Phoenix Solutions Group. We asked Tina, “What are the best practices of the best customer focused body shops you work with?”

Here is what Tina had to say…

First, it’s a shop that is OPEN to feedback. They don’t make decisions from assumptions, they ask; and then they listen.

Second, they understand that the customer’s experience matters as much or more as the quality of the repair they deliver. They take the time to set the right expectations so the shop and customer are on the same page. They ask the customer what their preferred method of communication is and abide by it. They don’t rely on technology to replace human interaction. Collision repair is infrequent and generally traumatic and expensive. It should not be handled as a “transaction”.

They have employees handling their customers who truly like people. Training is important but starting with a service minded individual increases the chances of connecting with their customers on an emotional level and creating the trust they need to build loyalty. You would be surprised how much customers are willing to forgive or overlook when they feel they have been treated well and respected.

They have an active delivery process. They take time with each customer, as often as possible, to review what was done to the customer’s vehicle. They don’t just hand them the keys and ask if they have any questions. Customers generally don’t know what they should be looking for or what to ask. These body shops know they are the experts, and they act like it.

They resolve problems. Yes, quickly if possible, but it’s more important that they do it at all. Some issues may not be identified until after the repair. That doesn’t mean they can be ignored. These body shops respond to all issues, whenever they arise, with care and respect.

Basically, our best performing body shops take their customers seriously. I’ve seen them go from processing customers to providing experiences and watched their metrics skyrocket! These are some of the areas that I’ve seen make the most dramatic difference.


What You Can Do Right Now.

Right now is a great time (yes, while you are busy!) to focus on delivering the best possible experience for your auto body shop customers. Outside of the obvious benefits of having an army of loyal, raving fans out in the marketplace advocating your collision repair facility, there are many other factors you should consider…

  • The customer service “bar” in most markets is set incredibly low and your shop can easily dominate!
  • You may find it easier to wean yourself off of insurance direct repair programs and organically grow your business.
  • You may be able to charge more and possibly find it easier to collect insurance short-pays from customers who trust you and wouldn’t dream of going to a different shop.
  • Companies with outstanding customer service also have more profitable customer pay work.
  • Your loyal customers will help carry you through slow times.

All of these are compelling enough reasons to focus on making your own declaration of being known for being the best in your market at the customer experience, but also consider how meaningful it will be for you, your family, and employees to be a part of building something that positively affects so many people through one of the most potentially stressful experiences of their lives. You’ve got this, my friend!

Ready to level up your customer’s experience? Become a member of of Elite Body Shop Solutions’ online body shop management training community for updated, ongoing support to become the best! Here you’ll find hours of world-class training, including information about turning customers into raving fans, creating an accurate repair plan, body shop scheduling, and more. With a very affordable OML subscription, you can join me live for an hour each month, where you will learn a new, relevant topic and be able to ask questions while interacting with many of North America’s best collision operators. A recent lesson has been added to the Operations Monthly Live library called “Elite Level Customer Service,” where independent repairers can learn how to increase the growth of their businesses with little or no money.

To learn more, subscribe to the Dave Luehr YouTube channel and visit the Elite Body Shop Academy at elitebodyshopsolutions.com/academy.

About the Author:

Dave shares his experience from over 30 years as a collision repair industry leader in leadership, lean and Theory of Constraints. Once the owner of a body shop himself, Dave draws on the realities of a real world collision repair shop in his consulting, writing and keynote speeches.

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