Tom Ham writes:
“How do you handle it when you find that a customer had another shop take care of the things that you recommended the last time he or she was in?
“More specifically, how do you both retain the customer and make sure they do not do it again?”
An auto repair marketing specialist in Niagra Falls, N.Y., responds:
“Difficult question Tom, but one that I know is on the minds of a lot of shop owners. It can also be a difficult situation, and the last thing you want to do is start an argument over it.
“I don't want to sound bold or harsh, but if you're making the recommendation and the work is being done somewhere else, the first question I would have to ask is, ‘Are they really a customer?' (I'm sure you know that some customers are not worth a lot of effort!)
“After that, you have to look at what went wrong. Like I said, I am not trying to start an argument with anyone, but the most important issue here is how does the customer view you? Remember, perception is reality. There must be some reason they didn't want you to do the work.
“There can only be two answers: either they didn't trust and respect you or it's your pricing. If your customer doesn't trust or respect you, you're not working hard enough to earn that. Now don't fly off the handle. Remember, I am talking about how your customer sees it. It's all about their viewpoint.
“Earning respect and gaining trust is something that you have to work at. I tell shop owners that just because you fixed the car—and even if you did it on time and for the exact amount you quoted—it still means you've done nothing out of the ordinary. Isn't that pretty much what your customer expected in the first place? That's why it's so important to gain their trust with small things.
“Stand out from your competition. Add customer follow-up things like thank you cards or a phone call just to see that everything is okay. These are things that I guarantee the shop down the road isn't doing. In fact, you really have to consider that the sale starts after the job is done….
“If it's a price issue, that can be difficult. For that reason, I always suggest that shops use written quotes and offer three different solutions. If you have to compete, you may as well compete against yourself. From my first-hand experience, I found that just reading it all off becomes confusing. Remember, you're talking and they're listening, but are they hearing what you're saying? When you put it in writing, they can focus on just that.
“Using the written quote lets you tell your customer that they choose the price they want. The ‘good-better-best' solution lets you offer pricing that appeals to them. Of course, you should always consider that your ‘best' includes added warranty or protection that they pay for….
“It really boils down to those two issues. When that customer goes somewhere else, they haven't developed a trust and respect for you or it's a matter of your pricing policies—not that you're too expensive, but you didn't give them any options. Keeping the customer? Remember, people buy on emotions and then justify with logic after. When you talk to them, it's important that you always remember how you make them feel. I learned a long time ago, people will often forget what you said to them, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Either way, it's worth a conversation to try and determine what they're thinking.”
The questions and responses are posted on the Automotive Management Network website, which is operated by Deb and Tom Ham, owners of Auto Centric (formerly Ham's Automotive) in Grand Rapids, Mich. The comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.