The best free tool (not software) to accelerate business in your garage or shop.

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Posted on Oct 30th 2019


woman disappointed at mechanic


The Problem

Tell me if you’ve heard this story before: A customer goes to an auto shop for an oil change. Midway through the oil change, a repair tech walks into the lobby from the garage with a dusty air filter in hand. The tech says something like, “Ma’am, I was changing your oil and noticed your air filter here was looking pretty dirty. Would you like me to go ahead and change that out for you while I’m down there?”  The customer politely declines, and the tech goes back to work.

The customer then makes a mental note to stay on guard for upsells. For her next oil change, she may decide to look for a different shop entirely. If this happens, the auto shop loses a potential future sale, and the customer is unlikely to ever return.

It's a classic example that illustrates one of the dilemmas of being an auto shop owner: "how can I ensure my business makes a profit, while at the same time not scaring away customers?"


trust icon


The Solution

The answer can be found in the following: mechanics, auto shops, and garage owners all have one major, free tool at their disposal to help drive customers to their business: building trust

Note that we said building trust, and not just “trust”. That’s intentional. While trust is just a belief or an idea, building trust is when your business takes proactive steps towards establishing trust with customers. More on that later.

If you work in the auto repair business, then the reality is that you also work in the trust business. When a new customer walks through your doors, they are taking a leap of faith. They are saying “I believe in you to take care of my auto repair needs.” With few exceptions, the only evidence they have to confirm or deny their belief in your work is the word of your past customers. Your average customer won’t be able to look at repair work after-the-fact to confirm whether or not you did a good job. At the end of the day, customers are exhibiting blind trust that you’re looking out for their best interests and that you’ll do the work you say you’ll do. So why not make it as easy as possible for them to trust you?


Mechanics have extra work to do.

Let’s face it; folks in the auto repair business don’t always have the best reputation. A recent survey by AAA said that two out of three U.S. drivers do not generally trust auto repair shops. We’ve all heard stories from people outside of the industry who were taken advantage of by an unscrupulous mechanic. Examples of this include relentless upsells, needless repairs, and temporary fixes that didn’t resolve the underlying issue.

Studies have shown that occupations like doctors, lawyers, and mechanics all have an inherent conflict of interest: all of these jobs require experts to diagnose and provide their services to uninformed customers.  In other words, even if you run an honest shop, there will always be other dishonest shops out there. So you're already at a disadvantage.  

If you’re a shop owner, you may be thinking "Trust is great and all, but it's not a priority for me. At the end of the day I’m running a business. I’ve got bills and employees to pay. I’m going to run my business like normal, do good work, and because I’m a trustworthy person, that will eventually rub off on my customers."

But what if that isn’t enough? Customers choose to work with untrustworthy mechanics all the time.  Instead, what if actively focusing on building trust with your customers actually led to more business for you? 

It can. And here’s why.


growing money through investment


Reasons why you should focus on building customer trust:

1. Building trust directly leads to more repeat customers.

Every auto shop knows that repeat and recurring customers are the lifeblood of a sustainable business. These are your regulars. These are also the folks whose first instinct is to come to you for each and every issue with their car, regardless of the issue. When building trust, It makes sense to target these people. Economically, it’s far cheaper to maintain an existing customer base than trying to drum up new business. According to the Harvard Business Review, it's anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive to retain an existing customer over acquiring a new one.

2. Building trust leads to referrals and reviews.

The folks in #1 above are also the ones who are most likely to tell their family, friends, co-workers, etc. about your work too. This is free marketing for your business. Additionally, online reviews on Yelp or Google Reviews are also free marketing channels that drive new business your way. Rather than spend money on paid ads, billboards, or print media, why not tap into the best free sales resource: your customers that already trust you?

3. Building trust is within your control.

Working in an auto shop, there are many different external factors that can affect your business that are outside of your control. For example: the economy, the next recession, your vendors and parts manufacturers, and the types of repairs you need to work on today.  Ask yourself, what percentage of your day do you spend worrying about the things that you can’t directly control? Instead, why not focus on something you can control: building trust? 

So how do you actually go about building trust with customers? Here are some actionable, practical steps to take:


trustworthy mechanic


How to build customer trust:

1. Treat your conversations with customers as consultations. 

Rather than giving a one single “take it or leave it” solution, whenever possible, give customers options. For example, instead of saying:

 “The cost of the fix is X number of dollars.”  

...try saying something like this: 

“I could do this fix for X dollars that should resolve the issue because [offer an explanation]. But just so you have another option, I could also do this other fix for Y dollars which is cheaper, but it may not 100% fix the issue long-term. Also, I know you drive an older car, so it may not be worth your time or money to get this fixed at all right now. If you’ve recently been thinking about buying a new car, now may be a good time to consider it.”

This accomplishes 2 things that benefit you as a shop owner: 

- It empowers the customer and makes them take ownership of their decision.

- It puts you in a position of being their trusted advisor. 

When presented with options, many times customers will respond to you by asking “what would you recommend?” That’s a good thing. It means that the customer is deferring to your expertise, and once again, you become ingrained in the position of being a trusted advisor. Or if a customer does choose an option by themselves, then they’ve taken ownership of situation. Since they’re making the decision for themselves, they know that you’re not trying to steer them to an option that solely benefits your auto shop. This in turn builds trust.

But wait, you say. What if a customer chooses the cheapest option that I present? How am I supposed to make a profit? And here’s the part that takes discipline: sometimes, your shop won’t make as much money as it could have for that particular customer, at that specific time. However in the long-run, building trust will always payoff, and through referrals and repeat customers, will eventually multiply your revenue. Ask yourself: am I truly working to grow my business?  If the answer is yes, think of building trust as an investment towards the future.


2. Use upsells sparingly. 

Merriam-Webster defines an upsell as the following: 

v. to try to convince (a customer) to purchase something additional or at a higher cost

A poorly-done upsell is one of the fastest ways to erode customer trust. A good upsell requires tact so as not to come across as sleazy or salesy. Rather than having shop workers try to balance the line between a good vs.poor upsell, why not try something else instead: build a business model based on profitable processes and systems.

What do we mean? As an example, let’s look back at our oil change example. Since cheap oil changes generally tend to offer little-to-no profit margin, the repair tech in our example scenario tried to upsell the customer to a more profitable repair (air filter replacement). However, this sacrificed the customer's trust.

What if instead, the shop used oil changes as an opportunity to build trust by offering a free impromptu inspection with each oil change? The above scenario with the oil change would look more like this:

A customer goes to an auto shop for an oil change. The customer waits in the lobby as the repair tech completes his work. After the work is complete, the repair tech comes into the lobby and speaks to the customer: “Your oil change is done! I know this wasn’t advertised, but since you were a little low, we went ahead and topped of your fluids, free-of-charge. We also cleaned out a bit of the pine straw that was stuck between your hood and the windshield, it only took a few seconds so it’s no problem. Finally, just a heads up, it looks like the tread on your tires is getting a little thin. It’s nothing to worry about today, you’ll be fine to drive on it for at least a few months. And we don’t actually sell tires here, but we just wanted to put that on your radar.”

Notice that the extra time and effort required by the repair tech is minimal, possibly 5 minutes of extra labor and a dollar or two worth of fluids. But what is the likelihood of the customer returning to that shop the next time a major repair issue comes up? Much higher. (And of course, if you can throw in trivial stuff for free, people are going to feel more positive about their overall experience.)

In other words, instead of using oil changes as profit-drivers via upsells, use oil changes as a marketing opportunity to land high-margin repairs later down the road. Your shop then has a sustainable system for acquiring future business. But the key with creating a system or process like this is to first get everyone in your shop on board. In our next blog post, we'll discuss this further.


Interested in learning more? Keep an eye out, we'll be posting Part 2 of this blog post soon. 

Update: Part 2 of our series is out!


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