Running a Shop Customer Service

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Most customers dread hearing the words “you're going to need some extra repairs” after pulling in for a quick oil change.

Meineke Car Care owner Russell Blake has found a way to share this important information in a way that eases the customer.


The Challenge

Like most auto repair pros, Blake is well-acquainted with the prospect of many customers who are skeptical when they're informed that a $50 oil change has suddenly ballooned into a larger repair or service job.

"Transparency is huge," Blake says.  

One of his main goals is to convince customers that the recommended repairs are needed.

This is especially the case, Blake says, when customers don’t know how vehicles work as much as a professional, including what might be a mild service need versus a critical repair.

Even worse: Many of these same customers see little difference between spending extra time waiting for an unexpected repair at an auto shop and doing hard time in prison.


The Solution

During the 14 years that Blake has been a Meineke franchise owner, he's come up with a few tactics that work wonders on customers who are skittish about unanticipated repairs.

The first course of action is informing every customer who walks through his doors that his techs will be performing an 8– to 20-point inspection on their vehicle, regardless of the original reason they showed up in his shop.

It's a heads-up that prepares customers for the possibility that their car may need additional repairs. And it begins to cushion the blow, should an inspection turn-up unwelcome news, Blake says.

Next, Blake has also gone to great lengths to ensure his shop's clean waiting room is as inviting as possible. It shows customers that if extra repairs are needed, they won't be stranded in a no man's land of ripped upholstery and sticky floor tiles.

In fact, Blake moved his Meineke to a larger facility about a year ago, in part so that he could offer his customers a new, 1,000-square-foot waiting room. An oasis amidst the grease and sweat, the waiting room includes free coffee, tea, computers and WiFi.

But Blake says his ace-in-the-hole in cushioning customers against unexpected repairs was his recent decision to upgrade his shop with a service that improves the digital vehicle inspection service. It's a video-based service recommendation system, which enables customers to view images of extra work needed on their car on a smartphone or computer—before they decide to approve or disapprove suggested repairs.

Service techs now use a computer tablet to take video or images of one or more repairs needed for a vehicle. If a tech finds a car needs a new air filter, for example, they can shoot images and video of the dirty filter that's currently plaguing the car and show that to the customer. 

Plus, simple editing tools can be used to add arrows pointing to their air filter, circle specific trouble spots on the filter—and even crop images of the air filter for a closer look at what's going on.

The software also allows the tech to add text to the imaging to further explain to the customer why a new air filter, or other part, is sorely needed. Seconds after creation, the completed report can be presented by the service tech to the customer for approval. Or, a service writer working the waiting room counter can do the honors, calling up the report on a tablet and going over the particulars with the customer. Even customers who are off-site are easily kept in the loop: The program sends a copy of the report to the customer's smartphone or computer for review.

"If they're out hiking or they're out at the supermarket, their phone goes off," says Blake, and it's all there for them, waiting for their approval.

Instead of dealing with a rushed verbal description of why their cars need a repair, Blake's customers get to carefully examine images and video of their own car proving why a repair is needed.

And if they prefer, they can opt to watch a supplementary, informative video about why a clean air filter, or another other service, is critical to the optimum performance of their vehicles.

Moreover, each report comes with a complete breakdown on the repair cost—parts, labor, and other line items—for the customer's approval. If more than one repair is indicated, customers have the option to approve say one repair that's critical and hold off approving another repair until a later date.

Altogether, Blake says the system allows the customer to be involved in more steps of the service and gather more information for the purchase decision.


The Aftermath 

The result is that customers at Blake's Meineke know from the get-go that one of his service techs will be taking a close look at their vehicle, regardless of the original reason they stopped by.

And they know that the tech may discover some repair problems that need addressing.

Customers also know that should extra repairs be needed, they'll have free coffee, free tea, free computers and free WiFi waiting for them.

And with DVIs, they get to see with their own eyes what repairs are needed and watch an optional stock video if they want a technical explanation on why those repairs are so vital.


The Takeaway

By anticipating customers' understandably emotional reactions to unexpected repairs, Blake has made it much easier for his customers to say "yes" to critical repairs—with confidence.

Instead of feeling ambushed, customers are greeted with a reassuring ambiance of transparency from the moment they enter Blake's Meineke, an ambiance that stays with them long after they drive out, convinced that extra repairs were needed.


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