Keeping Customers Happy

What does it take to keep customers happy, or at least satisfied enough with your service that they will come back to you next time, and maybe even refer their friends? The basic rules are simple: 1) Fix the car right the first time and 2) Treat the customers fairly. But there are other important steps in making sure your customers are happy.

First, to figure out how to keep your customers happy, you have to think like a customer. Though most repair shop owners and employees are not consumers of vehicle repair services, they are consumers of other goods and services. Ask yourself what you look for when you pay for some kind of service. When you purchase something, what do you expect of the product and from the company that sold it to you?

Good customer relations start with knowing what your customers need and want from you. Have you ever surveyed your customers to find out what they really think about your business and about auto repair in general? It can be deadly to operate a business without knowing for sure what your customers think and what they need and want. Simply assuming you already know can cost you a lot of money. So go ahead and conduct a simple customer survey. You might have an eye-opening experience.

Surprisingly, recent customer surveys done by Management Success!, a company that specializes in training and consulting independent repair shop owners, show price is not the No. 1 concern of most auto repair consumers. Their No. 1 concern is getting the problem with their vehicle fixed completely; their No. 2 concern is paying for unneeded parts or services.

Since most of your customers know very little about their vehicles, they need to know the auto repair business they deal with can be trusted. The key to earning their trust is consistently good service supported by good communication. This means you have to pay attention to your customer and not have your mind on 40 different things when he or she is talking to you. When you really listen to your customers, you are showing a high degree of care, which is one of the leading reasons people bring their vehicles to the independent shop in the first place.

Next, you have to answer questions with words customers will understand. Don't try to impress people with how much you know by using technical and industry jargon. Your customers won't understand what you're talking about and will actually start to dislike you! For an example of how this works, watch a foreign language movie without subtitles and see how long it takes you to start feeling uncomfortable.

Explain to each customer what repairs his or her vehicle needs and what your procedures are to accomplish these repairs, step by step. Make sure the customer understands what you say. Be clear about what you can do and what you cannot do. Have the customer sign a written estimate, give him a copy, and assure him that you will let him know if there will be any changes or additional work that needs to be done before you perform that additional work. Customers hate “the 5 o'clock surprise,” i.e., charges for service to which they did not agree.

It's a wise service writer who makes it a regular practice to check the status of each repair job throughout the day. By doing this, he can reassure the customer who calls for an update that things are under control, and, if his vehicle isn't going to be finished that day, he can give the customer plenty of notice.

Doing Complete Vehicle Inspections

One of the last things a shop owner wants to hear from a customer is the infamous “eversincha.” “Ever since you worked on my car I am no longer able to get Radio Moscow on my radio!” “Ever since you worked on my car, every dog in the neighborhood chases my car!” You try to explain how changing the fan belt has nothing to do with these problems, but your pleading falls on deaf ears. Because there's just no winning some of these arguments, avoid the “eversincha” by doing a complete vehicle inspection and then going over your findings with the customer, regardless of the problem the vehicle was brought in for in the first place.

Prioritize for your customer the various repairs his vehicle needs. This is your opportunity to be the professional you are, guiding your customer into good vehicle maintenance. It is time well spent. Your customers will notice and appreciate your care.

Quality Assurance

Have you ever had a customer come in at the end of the day to pick up a car, only to find the problem they brought it in for still isn't handled? That's a “special” experience for a shop owner, especially when it's late and you're the only one there. To avoid such special moments, you must have a system in place that checks each completed vehicle against the repair order to ensure the repair has been fully done, before the customer gets there. If your shop fails to do this kind of quality assurance on the vehicles it repairs, your customers become your Quality Assurance department rather than becoming loyal customers! Sometimes quality assurance is just the simple task of walking around the vehicle to make sure there are no flat or low tires, no grease smudges, that the fluid levels are correct, nothing is leaking, and most important, that the problem the vehicle was brought in for is handled!

Going the Extra Mile

The secret to success in business is to exceed your customers' expectations. Most shops do a lot of little things for their customers that the customer isn't made aware of. These are lost public relations opportunities for the shop. There are several effective ways to make sure your customers know about the little extra things you do. 1) Tell them when you have done something extra for them. 2) Write it on the repair order with a “No Charge” in the price column. 3) Create a good-looking brochure that outlines the extra special services that you provide and give one to every customer.

It really doesn't take that much to make a customer feel special and well taken care of; simple things like a shuttle service or fresh coffee can make a big, lasting impression. You might also be surprised at the effect friendly “service-with-a-smile” has on your customers and, ultimately, on your sales figures.


Keeping good customers happy isn't difficult if you pay attention to the details and take the time to make sure your customers' questions and concerns are handled professionally. But above all, strive always to fix the car right the first time and to treat the customer fairly.

Good luck on your road to success!


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