Auto repair shop invoicing basics: The ultimate guide to quoting customers over the phone
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Posted on Jan 6th 2020
To all of the auto shop owners out there: think of the tools in your auto repair shop that are critical to your shop’s success. Most likely, you thought about some of the tools in your garage used to fix vehicles. However, did you consider adding your shop’s telephone to that list? If not, that would be a mistake. Ask yourself, what percentage of your new business comes through an inbound call on your phone? If you’re not sure of the answer, then we’d highly recommend measuring this data (more on that later).
The telephone is still the number 1 way that potential customers interact with a repair shop’s staff. Because of this, it’s critical that shop owners use the phone to their advantage to build their business. Having strong soft skills, answering the phone in a timely manner, and having consistently good customer service will go a long way in converting those inbound phone leads into paying customers down the road.
The phone is often the very first touchpoint a customer has with your shop. If you care at all about creating a great customer experience, then you should be investing thought and time into a dedicated phone process. If done improperly, the phone can be a surefire way to create a poor customer experience and drive negative reviews to your shop.
So how can you use your shop’s phone as a tool to close potential customers and create the best possible customer experience? How will your employees know how to handle inbound calls? What should you do if a customer just wants a pricing quote on a specific fix? And should you have a dedicated person manning the phone, or should your whole team be responsible?
All of these questions and more will be answered below. Read on to learn more!
Understanding today’s customer
Nowadays, thanks to the internet, customers are more informed than ever. Your customers have more power at their fingertips with 15 minutes of online research than their parents and grandparents did generations ago. Consider this: today, a customer can look on Youtube to find instructions on simple repairs, or look on online forums to get a rough idea of potential diagnoses on their vehicle’s issues before they even walk into your shop. A customer can also ask their social network, friends, and family for referrals on local repair shops. And after they visit your garage, if they don’t have a great customer experience, they can accordingly leave a poor review on Yelp and Google Reviews. They can also Tweet and post to Facebook to warn their circle of friends and acquaintances about the poor experience they had, which further damages your shop’s reputation. Whether you like it or not, your customers are more empowered than ever.
Whether you like it or not, your customers are more empowered than ever.
Because of this, your focus should be on creating the best possible customer experience possible. This will ultimately be your best competitive advantage and the biggest draw for getting customers to continue visiting your business. If a customer calls you to price shop, it’s no longer adequate to say it’s against shop policy to not quote over the phone and leave it at that. We live in an age where transparency and customer experience hold more value than ever.
From a customer’s perspective:
Let’s get in the customer’s head for a second. Here’s a quick summary of what a potential customer is looking for when they call in your shop:
- “I want to make sure I have work done by a professional, someone who knows what they’re talking about.”
- “I want to make sure the person I’m leaving my car with is someone I trust.”
- “I want to make sure I pay what I perceive is a fair price for the work that’s being done.”
- “I don’t want to feel like I’m a burden or nuisance; I’m paying this repair shop for their service after all.”
Important general phone tips
Before we get into specific customer scenarios, here are some general guidelines for any auto shop employee who answers the phone:
- Be friendly, fast, and courteous. Everyone has had at least one experience with a repair shop employee that seemed pushy, unfriendly, and generally disinterested in being helpful. One simple tip: tell the customer explicitly that you’d like to help them when you start off your call. You’d be surprised at how much this sets the tone for the rest of the conversation.
- Be a professional. Remember that you and your shop’s employees are the experts. This means that it’s your job to build credibility and help educate the customer to illustrate that you are a professional in your field of work. This does not mean that you should be condescending to the customer, as that is a surefire way to lose business. However, customers often call you because they simply don’t have the information to diagnose an issue themselves. They’re looking for a seasoned expert to help them.
- Consider recording your calls to gather data. This is helpful because if you get a bad review later on, you’ll have the recorded call to look back on and improve upon. Remember, you can only fix what you measure. Recording your calls, as well as the number of calls your shop received and answered, will give you data so that you can study how effective your shop is at converting inbound leads into new business. For example, do you know what percentage of people that call your phone line turn into paying customers? If you don’t know the answer to this, the first step is to record your calls so that you have the data to improve your shop.
- Missed calls and long wait times are a no-no. There’s nothing more frustrating for a potential customer than not being able to speak with someone at a shop when they call. Think about it this way: a good number of the people calling your phone are actively trying to find a way to give your shop their business. However, not answering the phone is a barrier that will likely prevent them from coming to your shop. So why wouldn’t you remove that barrier? If you have the means, we strongly recommend you hire a dedicated service advisor. If your shop is too small or this is not possible, then we recommend having a dedicated phone training to all of your staff across the board. If you’re just a one-man shop or you know you won’t always be able to answer the phone, you can add a voicemail message with clear instructions for the customer to leave a voicemail, and let them know you’ll call back within the next two hours. Having a clearly communicated process like this is far better than simply not answering the phone.
Two common scenarios for customers who call your garage:
Let’s break down the customer calls to your auto repair shop into 2 common scenarios:
- A customer is price shopping and requests an exact quote for a specific repair. I.e. “how much would a radiator replacement for my car be?”
- A customer is interested in bringing their car to your shop. They may mention symptoms of the problem, but they need further professional diagnosis to find the core issue.
We know that customers will call your shop for other reasons too, but for the sake of brevity, we’re going to ignore other less common scenarios. For example, if an existing customers calls for an update on their repair, that is not necessarily a new business opportunity for you. So to focus on the potential for new business, we’ll focus on the two scenarios above.
Scenario 1 - The price shopping customer
A customer that is calling in to price shop is going to have one of the two following motivations:
- They just want to find the cheapest possible price for their repair, regardless of which repair shop they end up using.
- They are strongly considering your shop for a potential repair and just want confirmation that you’ll charge a reasonable price.
So the age old question for mechanics: should you quote a price of a repair to a customer without seeing the vehicle first?
Our answer: yes.
For either of the two motivations above, we’d recommend giving the price if the customer asks. Why? Because the alternative is to deflect the question and not provide a price. And if a customer perceives that a straightforward question is not being responded to with a straightforward answer, this will inevitably lead to distrust. The customer that wants the lowest possible price will think you’re deflecting the question because you simply do not have a competitive price, and will assume you are dishonestly trying to persuade them into an expensive repair. Any other customer that is potentially considering your shop will also question the lack of transparency.
Customers who are looking for the cheapest price possible will eventually find it. If your shop is not the cheapest in town not you, the person calling is most likely going to transform into a loyal customers anyways. So why waste your time? Give them the quote.
Bad news: customers don’t like auto repairs
Here’s the thing; auto repairs are not fun things to purchase. The reality is that almost no one walks into an auto repair shop excited about paying for auto repairs. It’s an unexpected expense. It’s an added errand in their day and more money out of their pocket. Maybe the customer has even had to take time off work to get to your shop and drop off the car.
Because of this, some customers simply want to know that they’re not getting screwed from a pricing standpoint. As long as they are charged a fair, reasonable price, then they may be open to coming to your shop. Don’t worry if you’re not necessarily the cheapest price. Pricing is only one of the factors that customers consider when coming to your shop. Differentiators such as good customer service, trustworthy mechanics, and timely, quality work will always be your best sustainable business drivers. Any of your employees who answer the phone should already have a thorough understanding of your shop’s differentiators (other than price) that distinguishes you from your competition.
How to quote a customer
When you actually quote the customer, we strongly recommend giving a range above your estimate. For example, if your estimate for the final price of a repair is actually $100, quote the customer $115-$130. Put another way, follow the old adage “underpromise and over deliver”.
Providing a range of prices will accomplish 2 things: first, it will help the customer understand that the final price may depend on factors that you simply won’t know about until you see the vehicle and diagnose the issue. Secondly, providing a range will give some wiggle room in case there are any minor, unexpected expenses that arise during the repair. If the range is on the high side of your estimate and your final invoice is lower, the customer will also be pleasantly surprised to be paying less than expected and you’ll have earned their trust that you are not simply trying to squeeze every penny out of the transaction.
Scenario 2 - The customer who is interested in bringing their car to your shop
Your goals when speaking on the phone with customers who are potentially interested in bringing their car to your shop should be simple:
- Get the customer’s vehicle into the shop to properly diagnose the issue.
- Build trust and credibility.
That’s it! The reason for getting them in the shop should be obvious: you’ll need to see the car in order to properly diagnose the issue and give an accurate quote. This makes for the best possible customer experience. If your shop charges a diagnostic fee, then this would also be the time to mention this in conversation. However, your goal should be to build trust with the customer and assure them that the fee is there only if they choose not to repair their car after receiving the quote. Mention that the fee is not a way to nickel and dime the customer, and that you’re happy to waive the fee if it ends up being a minor issue.
If a customer objects by saying something like “I already know what’s wrong with my car, it’s the radiator” then this is the perfect time for you to share your expertise and build more trust. Ask the customer questions to explore other possibilities: “have you checked X, Y, or Z to know for sure that it’s the radiator?” or “Any chance it could be just a cracked radiator hose instead?” The point of asking questions like this is A) to illustrate your knowledge and expertise and B) to help the customer understand that diagnosing issues may not be straightforward, and thus requires a professional’s assistance.
So what’s a good phone process look like?
To summarize the information we’ve shared in this article, here’s a quick outline for easy future reference:
- Train your shop’s employees who will be answering the phone
- Emphasize to your employees that their job is customer service, not fixing cars.
- Everyone should know your auto shop’s differentiators - i.e. you have certified technicians, strong customer service as evidenced by reviews, affordable pricing, etc.
- If at all possible, hire a full-time service advisor to answer phones.
- If you’re a small shop and it’s not possible to have a full-time person answering the phones, have a clear voicemail prompt for customers with precise followup instructions.
- When the customer calls, be patient and friendly.
- In addition to gathering details about the issue itself, use the call as an opportunity to build trust.
- Establish your shop’s credibility.
- Educate the customer to show that you know what you’re talking about.
- Get the customer to come in.
- Be transparent about your service fee, if any.
- Record the call to improve in the future.