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Writing Automotive Repair Estimates for Profit And Fun

How to deal with price shoppers without wasting your service advisors’ time & talent.

David Rogers is the president of Auto Profit Masters and Shop4D, the industry’s first AI-driven, all-in-one shop-management system that allows each component – from the point of sale to labor guides, inspections, marketing, estimating, parts ordering and even shop management – to talk to one another, improving efficiency and saving money. Learn more and register for a free webinar at shop4d.com. Reach David via email at [email protected] or toll-free at 866-826-7911.

What’s the value of a price shopper?

In an ideal world, you take the time to build an estimate, give the customer the price over the phone, it turns out you were the cheapest option, and so they come in and buy from you. A sale, yes – but what’s the value of that customer?

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They’re not loyal. They won’t recommend their friends or family. They almost certainly viewed your transaction as a zero-sum game where they beat you. In other words, you’ll never see them again.

Which means that my question isn’t simply rhetorical, and I’m not just asking the value of a price-shopping customer as a way to make you think. I’m asking if you’re aware of the real value of a price-shopping customer?

Because it wasn’t simply that your margin was lower on that repair order. It’s also that they tied up a tech and a bay with no-value work. They wasted the service writer’s valuable time, who had to build an estimate instead of helping the customers who truly value your time. And, all of that wasted time and effort came for no profit and no hope of a return visit.

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In other words, there is no value in playing the price-shopping game. But, what if there was a way to convert that price shopper into a high-quality customer by not playing the game at all?

Price – not quite what Some Shoppers Think 

The truth is, price is the deciding factor only when everything else is equal. If you’re buying paper towels or ground beef, then shopping by price is a no-brainer. There’s no difference between the Brawny here and the Brawny down the street. Cheaper is cheaper.

But, I don’t have to tell you that auto repair isn’t a commodity. You work hard to provide excellent service and quality repairs so you can take care of your neighbors. You hire and train quality employees. You pay them well and supply them with cutting-edge tools to diagnose vehicles quickly and accurately.

You’re nothing like that shadetree quick lube down the street! Which means that you need to teach that price shopper why that is, too. 

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What sets you apart? Can your service advisors articulate why you’re different from the other places that price shoppers are calling? Is it your warranty? Your experience? What makes your best customers choose to keep coming back to your shop, year after year?

Converting price shoppers, in other words, comes down to being helpful, courteous and kind in helping them make the best decision for their family vehicle, rather than the cheapest.

Which means that converting price shoppers starts long before they ever pick up the phone to ask for a price. It starts with your marketing.

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You May Not Prevent Shoppers But You Can Prepare Them

There’s probably no way to prevent price shoppers from calling you, but the marketing messages you send – your website, your advertising pieces, your signage, everything that makes up your shop’s image – create a picture in your customers’ minds long before they ever pick up the phone to ask for a quote.

Successful marketing is about setting proper expectations and then meeting (and exceeding) them. Do new customers expect to spend money, or are you painting a picture of a discount shop? Do new customers know what makes you better than your competition, or are you just another cheap place to bring their vehicle?

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More and more, I see shops using nearly identical postcards to try to attract new customers. They’re all the same size. They all look the same. They have similar coupons, credentials, and pictures and logos. And, when there’s no other way to tell you apart from your competition, why not call around to find which of these identical shops can do the job for the cheapest?

If only it stopped there! Shop websites fall into the same trap. If your shop uses the same layout, same stock photos, literally the same text on the page as your competition, then what’s really the difference besides price?

What I’m getting at is that a lot of the price-shopping calls that shops get are a result of marketing that attracts price-shopping customers!

In my shop, we send marketing that builds relationships. It doesn’t look like any other marketing done by shops in our area, and that’s for a reason. We want to set our shop apart, and so should you.

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Because while it’s great to teach your service advisors the proper procedures for dealing with price shoppers on the phone, it’s far more important to create better expectations long before that customer ever picks up the phone. 

By the time our new customers bring in their car for the first time, many of them feel like they know us. They trust us before we even pull the car into the bay to inspect it. As long as we follow correct procedures, inspect that vehicle thoroughly and educate that customer on what we found so they can make a good decision for their family, we’ll convert them into a loyal, trusting relationship. They’ll recommend friends and family, and bring us every car they own.

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That’s the value of setting your shop apart.

Don’t Sell Shoppers, Convert Them

The next time you get a price- shopping customer calling into the shop, try this new approach. Instead of opening the estimate and playing the cheapest price game, teach her why she’s asking the wrong question. And, then teach her what the right question should be.

But more than that, take a long, hard look at your marketing and whether you’re truly setting yourself apart. If you’re doing the same marketing as everybody else, it’s no wonder that customers are price-shopping you. 

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If that’s the case, all is not lost. All you need is a marketing company that understands what makes a quality auto repair customer, who can help you set your shop apart like it deserves to be.

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