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Take the Fear Out of the Customer Experience and Bridge the Trust Gap

It’s often the case that one too many shady shops gouged prices, recommended extra repairs, or didn’t stand behind their warranty in the past

When a new customer comes into your shop, they already feel betrayed by the family vehicle that they rely on every day, the part that broke down on the road, and by the other shops that may have taken advantage of them in the past. 

And because they feel betrayed, they act out of fear. 

That’s hard to remember when your service advisor is being berated by an angry customer complaining about price or refusing to pay for a service you provided. But it’s not really anger, it’s fear. 

David Rogers

Fear that their car is damaged. Fear that they won’t be able to get to work, or the store, or home, or to pick up their kids from school. Fear that the repair will put a strain on their wallet. Fear that you will take advantage of their position and they won’t be able to do anything about it. 

Unfortunately, their fear is too often justified. It’s often the case that one too many shady shops gouged prices, recommended extra repairs, or didn’t stand behind their warranty in the past.

And if that customer hasn’t been burned before, they probably have heard of someone who has. In these cases, fear is standing between you and a long-term relationship with this customer.

You need to change their minds, show them that you’re different and overcome that fear to build trust. In essence, you need to take care of them. 

You Need a Trained Team 

I’ve preached about overcoming this fear with the shop owners I coach. The best way to grow your shop, hold employees accountable, and build long-term relationships with quality customers is through training. 

There’s a difference between being a professional and just doing the job. The new tech you hired probably already has the technical know-how and certifications to do the work you give him. But, if you don’t take the time to train him on your systems and procedures, he’ll only be able to do the job the way he knows how. 

The same is true for your service advisors. If you put them behind the counter to answer the phones and talk with customers without training them, how do you know they will build relationships and properly address the fear that every new customer has when they come into an unfamiliar auto shop? 

Overcoming customer fear takes more than a catchy marketing message. It takes quality repairs and consistent, reliable service. It also takes trust, and trust takes time. 

Building Trust 

Every interaction with a customer should help develop trust and overcome their fear — this is true from the first phone call to the follow up after their visit. 

Your shop needs to be a welcoming place. This includes ensuring the waiting room is clean, the shop smells good, and that customers are greeted at the front counter. It all comes back to the principle of image. Communication is so much more than words you exchange. It’s about the nonverbal cues, the brand you’ve built, and the image of who you are as a shop. 

Make eye contact. Even if you are on the phone or with another customer, don’t leave a walk-in standing uncomfortably in line. A simple glance and smile relieves the initial pressure and, without saying a word, conveys that you see them and will take care of them. 

When you’re having a conversation with a customer — whether you’re checking them in or explaining the results of an inspection — listening is just as important as the words that you say. But, listening and hearing are two different things.

It requires proactive effort to listen, be 100 percent with the customer, and not be distracted by other thoughts or tasks. The customer ALWAYS feels the difference when you truly listen to them. 

You’ve heard the mantra, “The customer is always right.” In my experience, that is wrong; the customer isn’t always right. But, the sentiment behind this expression is valuable, nonetheless. 

Instead, make your mantra, “The customer deserves my full respect.” Every time you interact with a customer, give them an opportunity to be heard. Let them talk, ask questions, and validate their concerns until they are finished explaining everything. Listening is an opportunity to earn their trust. 

Educate, Never Sell 

It’s important not to make assumptions. It is easy to assume that most drivers know they need an oil change, understand basic service, and look at the maintenance schedule in their manuals. 

But, when you are advising a new customer about a service they need, assume they don’t know anything about it. I don’t mean that you should talk down to them, condescend, or patronize the customer by treating them like an uneducated car owner. But, you should always explain the service in a way they can understand. 

Take brake repairs, for instance. Instead of saying, “You need new calipers, which cost $X,” help the uninformed customer understand what that part does, why it’s important, and why it needs replacement.

Think about the bicycle you rode as a kid. The simple brake system on that is easy to visualize and understand, and chances are very good your customer rode a similar bike at some point. So, compare the calipers with the “pinchy thing” that grabs your bike tire to stop it.

Without using a technical term, you can help automotive novices understand exactly what you’re talking about. Tell a story and use visuals whenever possible. 

But, don’t force your customer to ask a question. Your description should be detailed enough that you answer 90 percent of their potential concerns in the explanation. However, you can never assume that a customer understands you, so offer your expertise before they have to ask by saying, “Is there anything else you’d like to know?”

This one line can go a long way to show you are willing to spend time with them, answer all of their questions, and build trust. 

Trust Takes Time 

Fear can cause even the most valuable customers to become upset or angry, and it’s easy to respond equally as defensive. Don’t do it! After all, you didn’t buy, build or break the car. 

When a customer is upset, don’t take it personally. This is another opportunity to teach the customer and build trust. Step to the other side of the counter and empathize with your customer. 

You know what they are struggling with: You’ve been there, you’ve seen it before, and you know the solution. 

Trust takes time. It won’t happen in one phone call or even one visit. But, when your team is trained to educate, ease customer fears, and represent your shop in a consistent and professional manner, you’ll build that trust. The customer can learn what to expect. 

You’re not only teaching them about a service, you’re teaching them that you are a trustworthy resource. You’re teaching them you truly care. You’re teaching them they have nothing to fear. 

David Rogers is chief operating officer of Keller Bros. Inc., president of Auto Profit Masters, Shop4D, and the award-winning Automated Marketing Group. David has a heart for service, a mind for perfecting systems, and an expert at consumer marketing. Reach David via email at, toll-free at 1-866-826-7911, or online at

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