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Winning Back Consumer Trust in the Service Department

April 2011, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Brad Simmons - Also by this author


Busy dealer principals are approached daily by firms offering to generate new service leads. The technology varies – perhaps a new e-mail marketing campaign or an innovative technique for search engine optimization – but the substance remains the same. Lead generation is fundamentally about bringing new customers through the door.

Is that the key challenge facing service departments today: reaching out to new customers?

I suggest we return to first principles and ask what the real, underlying challenge is for the fixed operations community. It is simply that consumers do not trust the automotive repair process.

According to analysis of Better Business Bureau complaint data, consumers rank automotive repair providers in the bottom one percent of all service categories. Additionally, three of the top four consumer frustrations with the repair process have to do with communication (the fourth is price). Finally, approximately 70 percent of car owners will switch from dealers to independent repair shops once their vehicles are off-warranty.

In the focus groups and surveys I have overseen, trust and communication nearly always become central themes. It’s easy to see why. Car owners are asked to spend hundreds of dollars for services they cannot see and do not fully understand. “Head gaskets” and “serpentine belts” are not familiar terms to those outside the car world.

From the car owner’s standpoint, the perfect storm of distrust and poor communication is the dreaded “upsell” call. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a worse sales context than a phone call to explain unanticipated, expensive car repairs. The car owner cannot verify the repair needed without seeing a photo or returning to the service center. There is simply the assurance of the advisor.

How, then, are many service departments effective at selling expensive, technical services over the phone? According to surveys, car owners often feel they have no choice but to say yes. Service advisors have learned to emphasize that every repair or maintenance service is a safety item. Plus, many advisors know that technical speak and an air of self-confidence help close sales. The downside is that these tactics also severely undermine trust and retention.

To some degree, skepticism will always afflict the automotive repair industry. Whenever an “expert” attempts to sell a product or service to a layperson, trust issues come to the forefront. Closer to home, we see how trust issues have been tackled in the used car segment. Buyers now see real-time photos, read online reviews and consult with credible third-party resources before making a final purchasing decision.

So, is it possible for service departments to win back the trust of car owners? Yes. The perfect solution must address the people and technology in the service department. The “people” aspect of the solution is obvious; dealer principals and service managers already know this is essential. The top priorities should be educating service advisors on 1) how to explain repair jobs clearly and 2) how to interact with difficult customers in a respectful manner. One tactic used by highly-rated service advisors is letting “waiters” go out to the service bay to see the repair needed with their own eyes. Be advised—certain insurance policies disallow letting customers onto the shop floor.

The trouble is that investing the time to rehire and retrain based on customer service is often painful.

The “technology” aspect of the solution is easier and can make a meaningful difference while still allowing dealers to use existing employees and infrastructure. First, new mobile software will allow customers to view photos of defective vehicle parts that are being replaced. Leaks, cracks, wear and rust are obvious visual items that customers understand require repair. Plus, e-mailing or texting the photo to a customer replicates the same visual experience that customer would have if he or she were in the shop.

Second, high-quality illustrations and videos can help service advisors to explain repairs to the average car owner. On the maintenance side, showing customers the difference between new and worn brake pads or good and bad tread depth is an empowering experience. The process becomes more accessible and comfortable. Similarly, on the repair side, where part names are more obscure and intimidating, an advisor should try to visually explain where a part is located and how it works.

In sum, make sure the service department’s people and technology clearly explain to customers what is being paid for. No retailer can maintain a strong reputation when paying customers are confused.

Vol. 8, Issue 2


  1. 1. Derek Blake [ January 27, 2012 @ 08:55AM ]

    Excellent article, right on target in my opninion

  2. 2. James C Cherry [ February 20, 2013 @ 03:21PM ]

    I do believe that people do not trust many repair facilities. Everybody has their favorite shop or the one guy they trust work on their cars. It is a flaw that is the cause of slow shop days which is bad for technicians and is entirely the fault of management.Hidden shop fees and sales quotas push customers away. High labor rates do as well.To have a steady repair business you must be a savior in the customers eyes not like somebody who works for the IRS. You need to be one the same page as the customer to negotiate a fair price. To ensure the customer leaves happy and recommends you to their friends.

  3. 3. Steve Houston [ March 10, 2013 @ 04:42PM ]

    As important as great product and service delivery are in establishing this missing trust, don't forget that the today's sales process begins with the average consumer doing a Google search on your company to see if you even look like someone worth doing business with. 70% of all online consumers trust online customer reviews, second only to personal recommendations made by friends and family (92%). If previous customers are leaving critical reviews online about your business, you should expect to lose a lot of business right up front because of them.

    Starting there, this Know-Like-Trust process must run throughout the entire transaction cycle. From making a great first impression based on a 5-star online reputation, to delivering great service, to the post-sales wrap-up, trust is the key to keeping those happy clients coming back to your repair shop - AND recommending you to their family and friends.


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