Making the Recommendation

April 18, 2022

Arm employees with product knowledge to better approach upsell and add-on products and services.

As consumers now face record inflation, some may be wary of recommendations for higher-priced services or products. However, there are ways to stress to the customer that a higher-quality product will offer better performance and reliability, and it could lead to savings in the long run. Offering the “upsell” can also build trust rather than skepticism, when done right. 

Customers will appreciate the service and performance and the experience will lay the foundation for a valuable relationship. 

Elaine Dumler, communication expert and founder of Frankly Speaking, Inc., coaches business owners to host rewarding customer interactions and build connections that will reward customers and businesses alike. 

Step 1: Initiate the conversation (then listen).

Greeting your customer when they enter the shop is key to being welcoming, but then it's time to listen. 

"When engaging a customer who comes in, you have to listen," Dumler says. "My experience with many shops is that the customer doesn't have the inside knowledge of what they need, and they rely on the sales person or mechanic to educate them. To that end, you need to find out how to help best, and how to establish that trust right away."

Step 2: Educate employees.

Listening is an important skill, but has little power without product education, and the ability to know how to apply it. Having product knowledge can also prepare your employees for add-on and upsell transactions. The more product knowledge you can arm your employees with, the more resources they have to make suggestions for the sale and to offer the customer the best experience each time they walk in the door. 

"Basically, every sale is like selling a baked potato, which is what they came in for," Dumler says. "The key is for the salesperson to know their product line well enough that they can add on the sour cream, butter, chives and cheese."

Step 3: Cater recommendations to each customer.

If there was ever suspicion over upsells, it was probably because the same offer was given to each customer. It isn't sincere and communicates that the cash register is more important than the customer. A successful upsell can benefit both the customer and the cash register when it is customized to the client and that particular interaction.

"I can't stress listening enough… especially when working with a higher-ticket item like mechanical services," Dumler says. 

One approach is to address a customer profile, and suggest products and services that work with the maintenance routines of each customer.

"Is your customer a person who schedules regular maintenance because they want everything to always be running right? Are they someone who is frustrated because they have to get things fixed? Or maybe someone whose priority is to keep that car going for 200,000 miles?" Dumler says. 

These are different types of customers, and they will not all respond to the same upsell suggestions. 

"Each of those people requires a different approach," Dumler says. "I'm a believer in understanding the underlying message of what someone truly wants."

That understanding means addressing customers who are cost sensitive with an offer that relates to the bill. 

"A conversation might educate the customer on how one or two small additional services at this time will save money later because it could give more lead time until the next needed service," Dumler says.

Alternately, a safety-conscious customer may respond best to services that will enhance the car's protection. Staff may take cues for this type of customer if they notice a car seat or if a customer talks about kids when they come in for service. 

"Then focus on the additional services that will increase the vehicle's safety," Dumler says. "This can work just as well for a smaller sale such as suggesting the higher-tier motor oil and added windshield wipers."

Step 4: Practice the sale.

Product and service knowledge is one thing, helping staff at your shop learn how to put that knowledge to best use might require a different type of training, and practice on the sales pitch.

"I'm a fan of in-shop role-playing for product knowledge and listening skills, or a secret shopper for that same purpose," Dumler says. 

Just as you have to ease into selling to the customer in the right way, you might have to approach role-playing with kid gloves. The valuable training session is meant to increase a staffer's ease and confidence in working with customers, not to show them they're wrong or don't know how to handle customers. 

A training session with role-playing is "not to embarrass or reprimand a sales person, but rather to debrief the interaction as a learning experience," says Dumler. "This can't be an intimidating exercise for it to work best."

Dumler suggests that role-playing is a valuable training tool, but might not work for every shop, "It needs to be determined if this is a shop that would benefit from it."

Whether training involves role-playing or simply educating the staff on all products and services the shop offers, it will be a valuable tool in the box for working with customers and customizing interactions that will turn into profitable sales and loyal customers who trust your business for its value-added service.

About the Author

Enid Burns

Enid Burns is a writer and editor living in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and is a freelance contributor to NOLN. She has covered a wide range of topics from video games and consumer electronics to online advertising and business. When living in Manhattan for 20 years she did not own a car, and is often mistaken for that woman who brings her car to the shop and knows nothing. She has learned a great deal from writing for NOLN, but also learns from those shop owners who try to educate her on their services. Enid is a news junkie who spends evenings streaming TV shows and time off on long walks, bike rides, and fiber arts.