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Honesty Is The Best Policy – Higher Standards Of Customer Service Wins Customers Every Time

As automotive repair shop owners, we are absolutely held to higher standards to meet customer service expectations. That’s because of the associated negative stereotype that comes with consumers having to dole out money on recommended repairs, oftentimes that are unexpected or that amounted to more than they can afford. Most customers equate honesty from a shop as good customer service, and feel it should also be an inherent practice. And, they wouldn’t be wrong about that notion.

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Tobi Klunder-Edmonds is the co-owner of Edmonds Import Auto in Palmer, AK, with her husband Kevin.The six-bay European specialist services more than 50 vehicles a week. Tobi holds the Management Success Master Elite of Shop Management designation. She is also the recipient of the 2017 WIX Driving Performance Award that recognizes shops that raise the bar in customer service and are committed to service excellence.


Our industry is big on the words “excellent customer service,” but the definition of what constitutes excellent customer service in the minds of customers varies from person to person.

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As automotive repair shop owners, we are absolutely held to higher standards to meet customer service expectations. That’s because of the associated negative stereotype that comes with consumers having to dole out money on recommended repairs, oftentimes that are unexpected or that amounted to more than they can afford. Most customers equate honesty from a shop as good customer service, and feel it should also be an inherent practice. And, they wouldn’t be wrong about that notion.

I am not at my shop all the time, which means that for my shop to run the way that I intend, I must have employees who share my same goal and vision of how customers should be treated. Case in point, this last January, I was in California for business and was in contact with my staff, but very minimally, and it was never about anything major.

Upon my return, I learned that we had incurred a comeback situation with a Honda Civic Hybrid. We had performed an oil change for a very good, regular customer and she had picked up the vehicle without any problems. Two days later, the customer noticed oil leaking from the engine and thought she could make it back to the shop to have us check it out. However, the vehicle died about a half mile away from the shop. After having the vehicle towed to the shop and inspecting it, we had discovered that the new Quick Lube technician had not tightened the drain plug properly and all the oil had slowly leaked out. As a result, we bought that customer another engine.

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We could have easily told her that it was a part that had failed, or that it was her fault for not bringing it back sooner or checking the oil when the light came on. However, I have a staff that shares my same ideals and goals for above-board honesty and they did the right thing. That customer had trusted us to do a complete oil change to professional standards and when the vehicle started leaking oil, she simply did what we want all of our customers to do — bring the vehicle back to us to inspect it.

It was our fault that the engine had lost all of its oil and we admitted that to the customer, along with the promise to make it right. I didn’t panic when they told me because I knew they had done the right thing and handled a terrible situation in the best way possible.

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Several days after I got back, the customer came in to have the oil changed on her other vehicle. I was in the parts area when she came in, and she immediately came over to where I was seated. Not too sure what to expect, I greeted her normally and asked her if my staff had taken care of the situation with the Honda to her satisfaction. She smiled and said, “If the situation had been handled any differently, I would have been disappointed. But you were honest with me and, because of that alone, I will be back.” She is still a customer and refers us to friends and family because we displayed extraordinary customer service through honesty.

Fortunately, we do not have to wait until disaster strikes to display exemplary customer service through honesty. Dealing with customers in the automotive repair industry can be exceptionally difficult because, let’s face it, usually by the time that they arrive at our door they are already having a bad day.

Here are some tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up over the years that will help ensure top-notch customer service.

1. Upselling services or repairs. Make sure you always sell to the customer in this order — address primary concern, safety, reliability, maintenance and then cosmetic issues. Trying to make a repair or service more severe or necessary than what it really is, is being dishonest, which is just as bad as not addressing the customer’s original concern first. We have all had those cars that come in for the radio not working and the technician finds a wheel that is about ready to fall off during the inspection that the customer failed to mention.

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However, addressing the concerns found with the vehicle from the customer’s perspective is paramount because it shows that you were listening and truly care about what they said. Letting a customer know that you care about their reality is one of the best ways that I’ve found to instill honesty and trust into the customer relationship.

2. Establishing a delivery time for the vehicle. We have the pressure to take in as many vehicles as we can so we can stay busy. And, in the process, we also want to promise customers their desired vehicle pick-up time because we don’t want them going to another shop. But, sometimes, it is not possible. Being honest with them about a realistic pick-up time goes a long way in establishing an emphasis on honesty in your customer service skills.

Yes, the customer may have to go to a different shop this time, but lying to a customer about an unrealistic delivery time is a really good way to make sure that they absolutely will not come back. A customer will always return to an honest shop.

3. Covering up a mistake. I have never met a technician or service advisor who didn’t make a mistake. We all do. It’s how we learn. If we are lucky, sometimes we get two lessons for the price of one. We learn not to repeat the original mistake, and we learn that being upfront with the customer is always the right tactic to take.

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Customer service is like a bank account. The more deposits you make to the account, the more money you have. When you make a mistake, you are forced to make a withdrawal from the account. But, if you make more deposits than you make withdrawals, then your account will always be flush.

Good customers understand that even the best of us make mistakes and they will appreciate your honesty above all. The difference between a good shop and a great shop is that a great shop will always own their mistakes and take responsibility for them.

There are many more lessons out there on customer service and honesty, and I learn them every day. The automotive repair industry is a tough place to exist, but if we are going to change how consumers view us, it must be with a commitment to excellent customer service through honesty.

The public has a very skewed idea about how auto repair shops work and the only way to combat that is with transparency. An honest repair industry starts with us and the team members that we choose. Make sure you train your staff on policies that are designed to create relationships with customers and never settle for being a good shop — always be a great one.

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