How To Be a Customer Liaison

Sept. 1, 2023
An informed customer will keep coming back.

Some customers who drive into the shop for an oil change or other maintenance will have read their vehicle's service manual cover-to-cover. Most likely haven't been as thorough, yet still understand the basics, and then there will likely even be some who forgot the manual was ever in the glove compartment in the first place. 

The Challenge 

As the level of knowledge about an automobile can vary among a shop's clientele, this makes the role of a "customer liaison" all the more important today. There will be the customers who are self-confessed gearheads, those who think they know it all from YouTube videos, and still others who know practically nothing about their cars except how to drive them. The latter variety may even be driving their vehicles into the ground from not knowing the essentials. 

Regardless of the customers' knowledge, it is important that the customer understands the importance of maintenance. Handling this can make a business stand out and turn the next customer into a regular client who will return time and time again. However, this presents unique challenges to a shop, and some customers may need to be educated a bit more, while others may think they understand the problem better than those in the shop, says Daniel Wilson, regional manager of Big Ray's Express Lube locations in Northern Illinois. 

"One issue is that there are a lot of YouTube videos that can provide just enough information that the client may think they know more than they do," Wilson tells NOLN. 

Shops will have to face customers who are as diverse as the cars they drive. 

The Solution 

It would be easy to suggest that the solution is to tell a customer, "Don't worry, leave it to us," but in fact that is actually the worst thing you can do, says Wilson. Instead, shops need to have an open line of dialog. 

"After talking to our mechanics, and techs, I was told what is most important when it comes to being a good liaison with the customer, and it is simply being honest," Wilson, who tells NOLN that he makes it to all eight of his locations across Illinois at least once a week, explains that the shop needs to be as informative with the customer as possible. 

Just as a picture will tell a thousand words, showing customers where there is an issue or potential problem with their car be an easier way to build confidence. 

"If a car comes in and has something out of the ordinary, it is our job to explain why this is an issue, how it can be resolved, and if necessary physically show the customer," says Wilson. "We can tell them, but I'll say that nine out of ten times it ends up with us physically showing them." 

The result is often a "light bulb" moment for the customer. 

From here, the customer liaison can be honest and upfront about the severity of the problem. Is it something that needs immediate service, or is it something that can be watched and dealt with later? 

"It would be easy not to alert a customer to a future problem," suggests Wilson. "But that would be a mistake. If we don't tell the customer, we look like we don't care. At the same time, we don't want to make it seem like we're pressuring them into work that may not need to be done. This is where talking to, and if necessary showing, the customer what we're dealing with, they're more informed." 

Wilson says this is what he describes as preventative maintenance, which he tells customers can help ensure that they don't have problems down the road – proverbial or actual. 

"We let customers know what is due, and we don't pressure them," says Wilson. "We give them the information, and tell them to consult the manual, and look it up if they need further proof." 

Shops also need to make sure they're staying up to date with recalls and other issues. 

"I recommend that you start with the right website, including those from the OEM. That way we can turn to the customer and know what we're talking about. This can include looking at past recalls," says Wilson, who says that at his weekly meetings with the shops, he makes sure the teams know about any product recalls, problems they've encountered, and even new offerings. 

"We also make sure that we're familiar with the vehicle manuals," says Wilson. "These were produced by the car makers, so it is from the definitive experts." 

The Aftermath 

By informing the customer of any issues, and conveying these facts honestly, the shop can build a potentially long and lasting relationship. 

"Absolutely 100% it is all about transparency, truth, and trust," he adds. 

"We're in a low-trust industry, and that is why I make sure with my crews that we go further to build that trust with our clientele," Wilson continues. "Our job isn't just to make money – we all need to pay the bills and put food on the table – but we have to understand our customers are in the same boat. So we need to inform the customer of issues so they can keep driving and doing what they do in their lives." 

Of course, there will still be times when some people aren't going to let the "truth" get in the way of their opinions. Wilson suggests with those customers, you can explain the facts and may have to leave it at that. The same is true with reviews. The bad ones need to be addressed, but it can absolutely never get confrontational. 

"We make sure that our bad reviews get a response," Wilson tells NOLN. "But if you come at us hard, and it is clear that you don't want to listen, then you will get the truth and nothing else. We don't argue. There is no point. We also know that you can't make everyone happy – it just isn't possible. But I'm proud to say we have 700 plus reviews and only a dozen bad ones." 

The Takeaway 

In some businesses, there is a fear that if the customer knows too much they may not need to come back. Wilson maintains that is the opposite with the quick lube business. People know how to change their oil, but they're coming to the shop because they are willing to pay for the service and save time. 

There is no magic to it, and thus there shouldn't be unnecessary drama. 

"I believe in an informed customer, as you have less drama and less misunderstanding, simply put," says Wilson. "I do this job with a clear conscience. So do my guys, who are like family to me. We operate on a very basic principle, 'How would you want your mother or grandmother treated if they drove up?' We take it from there."