Top 5 Service Tips for Auto Repair Shop Business Owners

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Auto Repair Shop Business Owner

As an auto repair shop owner, it can sometimes feel like no matter what you say, nobody believes you.

It’s a tricky field; you know a lot more about what’s wrong with a car than the owner. But because some in the car industry abuse that knowledge, customers have become conditioned to think you’re trying to rip them off.

While many auto repair shops (yours, to be certain) are ethical, the lousy few have ruined it for the rest. And now getting additional business has become as much a game of defending yourself as it is explaining your suggestions. To help you get the message through to your customers, and build a reputation for honesty, here are some strategies for communicating additional auto repairs.

Offer a Genuine Guarantee at Your Auto Repair Shop

It isn’t going to be enough to guarantee auto repairs. Yes, it’s a necessary step to stand behind everything you do, but customers need more than an assurance their car isn’t going to explode because of a mistake you made.

Go a step further and post a code of ethics. This might seem a like overkill, and maybe just lip service, but subconsciously customers will see that you make honesty a first-line issue, and it will bolster your reputation. State that you will never suggest unnecessary auto repairs, and guarantee reliable, effective service. Post it prominently, then make sure everyone in your company understands that’s how you operate.

Listen to Your Customers

You will always have customers who took a semester of auto shop in high school and think they can explain the intricacies of an on-board computer. And even though you might know better, you absolutely have to listen. First, it can give you a better idea of what the underlying causes might be. But more importantly it gives customers the feeling that they had a say in the repairs that were made. If your insurance policy allows, even go so far as to investigate what the customer believes is wrong right in front of them. That way if their diagnosis is incorrect, they’ll be more apt to buy into yours. And when it really does turn out they need their A/C overhauled and not just a freon charge, they’ll know it’s not you trying to upsell.

Break Down Auto Repairs in Layman’s Terms

A woman I know was once told by an auto mechanic that she needed a new flux capacitor for her car. She of course immediately took her car without getting any repairs, and told everyone she knew about her horrible experience. And while you may not use terms from “Back to the Future” to try and swindle your customers, auto novices can be just as confused by “rear differential” as they are by “flux capacitor.”

You may not want to teach auto repair 101, but explaining what a rear differential is, how it works, and why it needs to be repaired will go a long way to earning your customers’ trust. Showing them visually is even more impactful. If you can illustrate what’s wrong with the car, do it. Or take pictures, or even pull them out on the floor and show them. If the customer isn’t in the shop, take pictures with your mobile device and send it to them.

Many good auto mechanics also give the defective or worn out parts to the customers after the repairs to show that the work was really done. This can also be a huge step in building that relationship.

Separate Auto Repair Shop Service from Customer Service

Just because somebody is a whiz as fixing transmissions doesn’t mean he can explain any of it to a customer. We get it, you’re an automotive small business and you may not have the resources to employ service reps and technicians. But if you can, having a team devoted to educating and interacting with customers, and another for doing repairs, will put customers at ease when you explain what needs to be fixed.

The key is ensuring your service people know everything about the job. Some large dealers have auto repair shop service departments where the service advisers never see the vehicle, and don’t get much from the mechanics other than a list of what’s wrong. So advisers have little if any knowledge of auto repair, and can only pass along information like “The mechanic says you need to replace your entire transmission.” Which is kind of like saying “this doctor I know said your cough is probably tuberculosis.” You don’t need skilled auto repair technicians at your service desk, but you do at least need people who know enough to educate your customers.

Don’t Pressure Your Customers

Car repairs are often a disruptive expense, and in your efforts to get more business you don’t want to put anyone in financial hardship. If you have customers who can’t afford every suggested auto repair, let them know honestly how long some of it can wait until it becomes a serious problem. Repairs aren’t like sales: they need to be done eventually, no matter what. And if your customer trusts you, he or she will be back when they can afford to have it done.

Also, never, ever, use scare tactics to coerce a customer into a repair. Nothing repels a savvy consumer faster than a mechanic explaining some doomsday scenario where his air filter gives out in the middle of the freeway and it somehow results in him running a school bus full of orphans into a puppy farm. If a repair is in fact hazardous, and deems the car unsafe, tell them. Otherwise, don’t use fear as a sales tool. It ultimately does more harm than good.

Building trust as an auto mechanic isn’t just an uphill climb, it’s an uphill climb on black ice on a road full of potholes. But if you take the time to listen to your customers, talk them through the process, prove it with pictures and be honest about what needs to be done, you can develop lifelong relationships. And make yourself stand out from the shops who are just out for the cash.


Matt Meltzer

Matt Meltzer is a professor of business communication at the University of Miami. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and holds a bachelors degree in business administration from UM, as well as a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of Florida.