“This is how you separate yourself from being a pushy salesperson with a sales agenda to really providing value for your customer,” Mr. O'Neal said. “Every customer has a timeline. It starts the day they got the car, and as they go through their timeline, there are certain repairs and maintenance they're going to do to properly maintain the car.”
For example, how long the customer plans to keep the vehicle will determine what product quality and length of product warranty they want.
“This is selling on the customer's agenda rather than on my own personal agenda,” he said.
Picture a sale
He contended that pictures can sell a repair, but make sure photos are formatted for mobile devices. If the shop is printing an inspection report or converting them into a pdf, make sure it is limited to one page for the customer's convenience.
Mr. O'Neal said his company conducted a study of 400 repair shops and noted that without visual evidence, digital pictures or physically showing the customer what they need on their car, an average repair was $285; with visual evidence the average repair rose to $460.
A visual inspection documented with photos “does the sales presentation for you,” he said.
An accurate time frame for service work is critical for time-conscious customers, he said.
“If a customer calls you inquiring about the status of an order, do you realize you just took that transaction from a positively reviewable, referable moment and dropped it down to a one-star transaction? Because you didn't educate me properly on the time targets of delivery of information or when the car's going to be done or the processes.
“It takes less time to set up a system that will automatically text your client when you move the vehicle through the repair process and create a five-star reviewable moment than it does to pick up the phone and try to call them with updates,” Mr. O'Neal said.
Service writers should ask customers about their preferred mode of communication during the service process. Mr. O'Neal suggested asking customers:
What is their preferred method of contact “today?”
What type of cell phone do they have to determine if the shop can engage in Facetime or video chat or send videos to their phone. There may be the opportunity to send them a video with the tech explaining a repair or replacement need on their vehicle.
When customers can't see what's being done, they feel like they are being “sold,” Mr. O'Neal said. Providing visual communication of a problem can convince a customer that a repair is needed.
Do they want the shop to send pictures or videos of the service?
Do they prefer a sales presentation via text, call, email or in person? Some customers today still want face-to-face communication, he said.
The service shop's goal is to match their client's style and preferred method of communication and deliver all information in this rapport-matching manner, Mr. O'Neal said.
Most customers today prefer text messages. Text messages have a 98- percent open rate, while email has only an open rate of 20 percent, said Mr. O'Neal, citing a Mobile Marketing Watch study.
But Mr. O'Neal stressed that shops should obtain permission from the client before sending text messages.
He warned shops to not abuse the privilege of texting after the service visit. “If you have permission to send text messages during a transaction, this does not give you the unilateral right to continue texting your client after the transaction,” he said.
Shops should obtain their customers' approval to send future text reminders so they don't annoy the customer and get relegated to the spam file.
Shops should also ensure that their inspection reports are responsive across all devices, and they should test a file on different devices to emulate the end-user experience.
When emailing an estimate or inspection report, err on the side of brevity, Mr. O'Neal said, noting if the customers want more information, they can text, email or call for a detailed explanation.
He noted customers are likely to research the part or service on the Internet prior to responding to the shop.
Even more productive than waiting for a response is for the shop to include an “add to cart” button to an email so the customer can approve and pay for repairs online, he said.
Focus on benefits
Mr. O'Neal noted that service writers often speak in technical terms instead of how a service will benefit the customer. So he urged shops to mention the benefits of the service so the clients understand what's in it for them.
These transitional phrases can help deliver the impact of the benefit, he said:
“So what that means to you is....”
“By taking care of these concerns today you'll enjoy....”
“This service will give you....”
The service writers should end the sales presentation by presenting the final, out-the-door price and ask for the sale. Then reaffirm that the customer made a good decision, what the next steps will be, and that the shop will ensure a quality job.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6127; Twitter: @ kmccar.