The best free tool (not software) to increase your garage or shop’s business - Part 2

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Posted on Dec 13th 2019


If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 of our blog series on our #1 tip on how to increase your garage or shop’s business - for free.

In our first article, we established that building trust with customers can drive repeat business to your shop at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing methods. We also mentioned a couple specific techniques you can use to promote trust in your conversations with customers. 

In this article, we’ll talk about the flip side of trust building: what do you do when trust is broken, either by you or your customers?  And how can you prevent it from happening?

Also, what are some more practical ways you can actually implement a culture of trust-building into your current shop? Read on to learn more.


woman upset at mechanic



All shop owners know the feeling. A customer comes in for a routine fix. They drop off their car at your shop, and your team knocks out the work that afternoon. Business as usual. However, when it comes time to pay, the customer comes back and says your repair tech scratched and dented the side of her door. You’re 99% sure that the scratch was already there when they dropped off the car, however the customer refuses to believe you. Instead, they refuse to pay for the fix that was already done. 

All business owners know that this is an unfortunate reality of working in the customer service industry. The customer isn’t always right. In fact, sometimes, the customer is wrong. Whether due to ignorance, faulty memories, or greed, sometimes a customer will make a claim that breaks your trust.

As a shop owner, how should you approach these situations?


man on laptop with security camera pointed towards him


Systems and processes

The first rule of thumb is simple: prevent these situations before they ever happen.  Consider this: what if instead of getting into a case of your word vs. the customers’ word, you avoided the scenario altogether?  Because here’s the thing: by the time an argument or disagreement happens, it’s too late. Arguments never result in a win-win situation. Instead, at least one side always “loses”, and in the worst-case scenario, both sides lose. In the case above, the worst case scenario is that the customer walks away feeling that your shop has damaged her car, while you walk away thinking the customer is dead wrong and just trying to get your services for free. Lose-lose.

A better alternative is to create systems and processes early on so that you avoid awkward conversations down the line. As a simple example, imagine in the scenario above if the auto shop owner had simply had security cameras installed in the shop to record cars as they were dropped off at the shop. This would also allow him to monitor is auto techs as they worked, in case any inadvertent damage did occur. The shop owner could have simply referred to the footage on his camera to see if the car was already dented upon arrival at his shop. If the customer chose to accuse the shop of denting her car, he could simply look to the recorded video footage for the final word. 

When speaking with the customer, the conversation then becomes focused on the customer’s word versus an objective third-party: the camera footage. This is a much easier conversation to have then pitting the customer’s word versus your word. 

In other words, instead of the conversation sounding like “I believe you are wrong because X, Y, or Z”, the conversation is more like “we looked at the security camera footage, and it looks like the car had the scratch before our auto techs worked on your car.” The second statement is an objective statement, said without emotion. It is far less likely to result in a lose-lose situation; instead it lets the customer maintain a certain level of dignity (“I must’ve forgotten about that scratch”) while also allowing you to be 100% certain on the quality of work your shop provides.


trust written in sand


Gray areas

In the scenario above, let’s say that you don’t have a security camera setup in your shop. You don’t remember with 100% certainty whether the customer’s car had a scratch before your auto tech worked on it, however your auto tech tells you they’re 100% confident that the car had the scratch beforehand. What do you do? 

In some cases like this, there may be no perfect solution. You’ll need to weigh the potential cost of an angry customer with the loss to your business’s profits if you don’t get paid for the work you’ve completed. Here are some factors to think about when making a decision:

  • Is this a first-time or repeat customer? 
  • Is the customer threatening to leave a poor review online if no action is taken?
  • Is the customer requesting you fix the dent/scratch, or just requesting a refund/free fix? 
  • Does the customer live in the area? (If so, more likely to be a repeat customer in the future)

Whenever possible, we would recommend giving the customer the benefit of the doubt. In the majority of cases, the cost of a bad customer leaving a bad online review is far worse than the loss in profits your shop will take. As discussed in Part 1 of this article, good reviews and referrals are free marketing channels that drive new business to your shop. Over time, good reviews have a snowball effect that lead to a sustainable source of future traffic in new customers to your shop. Ask yourself, if my shop takes a hit to profits for one angry customer, can I view this as an investment for future marketing? 


Confused kid



If you own an auto shop, you may be doing hundreds of repairs in a given month. If so, it’s just a matter of time: eventually, you or someone that works for you will make a mistake. If and when this happens, how will your shop respond? 

Hopefully your shop has already invested in auto repair shop insurance, which should cover you financially for any liability or damages. However, what approach should you take with the customer themselves?

In these cases, we’d recommend going above and beyond to make things right. At the very least, a refund for the work done will go a long way in appeasing the customer. After all, not only are you apologizing for the mistake itself but also for the customer needing to spend additional time out of their day fixing the mistake. Additionally, many auto shop owners will offer to re-do the repair correctly. In one case, we spoke with one shop owner who brought their own tools and drove to a different state to meet the customer in order to complete the repair. While this example may be extreme, it proves a point: any actions like this that illustrate “we’re sorry, and we take responsibility for our actions” will go a long way in building trust for the future. 


Invoice with cash


A common way most auto shops break trust without knowing it

Most garages and auto shops have a little line item at the bottom of their invoices for additional charges related to supplies used during a repair job. AKA “supply charges” or “supply fees”.

Usually the price for supply charges are just a small percentage of the overall fee of the overall fix. (i.e. a few dollars) However, these little charges can have big implications on your customers’ trust and their perceptions of your shop’s integrity.

Simply put, your customers aren’t used to seeing fees on an invoice or receipt that aren’t related to either A) the product they are buying or B) taxes. 

Imagine if you walked into a burger restaurant and ordered a cheeseburger. When you receive the bill, you see line items for the cheeseburger, taxes, and then see separate line items for the burger bun, burger meat, cheese, etc. Wouldn’t you be confused? 

This is how your customers feel when viewing an invoice with a separate shop supplies fee: “Why am I being charged twice for the same thing? Am I being nickel and dimed?” 

A common argument in favor of adding a line item for supply charges: for some shop owners, having this line item is a form of honesty. Maybe you’re thinking “I want my customers to know everything they’re being charged for, with no hidden fees”. But here’s the thing: your average customer doesn’t have a thorough understanding of what they’re being charged for in the first place. If you add in supply charges, they are going to be even more confused than they already are. Why not simplify their invoice as much as possible, and prevent any more confusion?

The less potential for hidden “surprises” in an invoice the better. By the time the customer receives the invoice, they should already have realistic expectations about all charges they see in the final bill. If they have not been informed of all charges, this is a guaranteed recipe for broken trust down the road. 

Rather than adding a separate line item for supply charges, we would advocate that auto shops simply build in the cost of supplies to the cost of their Parts or Labor line items. Supply charges are then one less thing to explain to customers. For existing Autoshopinvoice customers, this means creating a single Product that includes all supply costs and fees in a single line item within the invoice. In other words, there’s no need for multiple line items when one will do. Any additional line items will only confuse the customer and obfuscate the facts.

As a side note, auto shops would be well served to quote the total prices over the phone & then draft estimates after pricing has already been discussed. When possible, quote prices over the phone on the high side. This way, when it comes time for customers to pay the bill, they are pleasantly surprised by the lower price and discount. This also gives your shop additional cushion in case any unexpected costs or expenses come up during the fix.

We hope you enjoyed this 2-part series on building trust with customers to increase your garage or auto shop’s bottom line. Questions or comments? Feel free to email us at fixnamic[at]


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