Customer Sales 101: Don’t Forget the Basics
By Becky Witt, AAM
Make sure to get the entire picture before recommending service options to customers.
My Dad was an avid fisherman. I always hated fishing. I mean I never understood why anyone would put a small, slimy thing on a hook to catch a large slimy thing. I figured if you wanted fresh fish, you’d go to McDonalds.
We would go to Minnesota for two weeks every summer for vacation. It was great. We would rent a small cabin at a “resort” (with eight cabins) on a lake. Dad got to fish, and we kids got to swim all day, build sand castles and catch frogs. You couldn’t have had a better childhood than that.
There was a local fishing guide, an Indian named Hans. I accepted that he was an Indian, and it stands to reason that who would know more about fishing than a local Indian guide? (I guessed later in my life that Hans was probably Swedish or Norwegian, but who cares if you catch fish?)
Hans knew everything about catching fish, and Dad would book two days every summer to be in Hans’ boat. Hans probably wasn’t cheap or Dad would have been in his boat every day. Dad always said that if Hans didn’t catch any fish, no one caught any fish that day. Hans was a true fishing deity.
Dad became a fishing pro with Hans’ expert tutoring. If Hans said to buy a certain rod or reel, or use a certain bait, Dad would buy it in a heartbeat. After all, who knew better than Hans?
Hans provided what every fisherman wanted: a day catching fish. It became well known (among the locals) that Hans did a better job of helping people catch fish than anyone. If you paid what Hans asked, and did what Hans said, you’d catch fish.
Hans had mastered the first rule of sales: Find out what people want, then figure out a way to provide that, at a price they are willing to pay. Why is this so hard?
The No. 1 rule of selling anything – find out what the customer wants first. Rule No. 2 – figure out how you can do the best job of providing that to them.
First, it’s appropriate
to ask people what
they want, how the
car will be used and
how long they expect
to keep it. Try to give
appropriate options for
them to choose from.
that, while our actions
may make sales,
they may also cost
us sales as well.
Have you ever been in this situation? A customer brings a van into your shop. He says his son was on a trip with it, and it pulled to the left. You drive it, and it barely pulls. The tires are a cheap brand, but there’s still good tread on them. After careful analysis, you call him up and tell him, “It’s not that bad.” (It really isn’t that bad, but it does have a slight pull). I mean, you could quote him a new set of Michelins and an alignment, but that’s a lot of money. It would solve the problem, but hey, it’s an old van.
He accepts your conclusion and picks up the van. “No charge,” you tell him, and he says he appreciates that.
A woman calls up with a complaint of squeaky brakes. You quote her a brake inspection, and she brings it in. Fortunately, there’s plenty of pad left, and it stops fine. It does squeal slightly when you road test it, but not very much. You note that it doesn’t have factory-style brake pads on it.
You also notice a slight corrosion on the battery cables and the battery looks a little old. You perform a free battery test; it passes with flying colors, so you don’t need to even say anything about the battery. It’s good.
She says she really doesn’t like the noise, and wants it to be quiet. You tell her that she doesn’t need to worry, the brakes are good. You inform her that, when these wear out, you’ll put factory-brand pads on it, and it should be quiet then. In the meantime, she doesn’t need to spend money or worry about her brakes. She pays for the brake inspection, thanks you and leaves.
You just violated Rule of Selling No. 1: Find out what the customer wants. In the case of the dad and the van, he really and truly wanted it to not pull when driving. He was ready, willing and able to buy new tires and have it aligned to fix the pull.
Understanding that a pull to the left could put an inexperienced driver over the center line and result in a fatal collision should be a situation that many parents can understand. That never occurred to you, nor did it dawn on you how utterly fatiguing it can be to drive all day in a vehicle that pulls to one side.
You saw this through the lens of money – the tires were good, the pull wasn’t that bad, keep your money. If you had driven this van on a long trip, you might have different ideas.
You repeated this vision with the noisy brakes. Yes, the brakes were a little noisy, but they worked and there was a lot of usable friction material remaining. Yes, every time this woman hears those noisy brakes, she will experience friction in her head. You went a step further when you tested a battery that appeared old and never offered her a choice regarding continuing to use it or replacing it. After all, batteries that are still working are still good, right?
Every single one of us has done this in our careers: Made decisions about other people’s vehicles that really weren’t ours to make. Yes, we are the experts, the professionals, and our experience is valuable. We need to take a step back and realize that we do give advice, but we are not the gatekeepers of automotive service. It is not up to us to approve what gets done, either by telling people “not to worry about it” or “it’s still good,” if there are things that can be done to rectify a concern that a customer has.
Even if the concern is pricey, isn’t it really our duty to give our customers some options when it’s appropriate? I don’t mean to drive everyone nuts with too many choices, but we should always seek to give reasonable information and solutions that enable them to make good decisions.
Even if you hired Hans for a day of fishing, how would you feel if Hans announced that today was fishing for bluegill, when you really wanted to go bass fishing? Hey, it’s fishing, right? You should be happy with that. The style of fishing is totally different and a bass fisherman would never be content with bluegill.
So, remember two things as you’re offering repair solutions for your customers. First, it’s appropriate to ask people what they want, how the car will be used and how long they expect to keep it. Try to give appropriate options for them to choose from.
Second, remember that, while our actions may make sales, they may also cost us sales as well. There’s an old saying in the sales business – “Many a sale has been lost by the same weapon that Samson used to defeat the Philistines – the jawbone of an ass.” This means there’s a time to be quiet and there’s a time to quit talking people out of spending money that they want to spend. There’s a very good chance that both vehicles above were taken to another shop for the repairs the customers wanted to buy.
Editor's Note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. In 2012, AMI's knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today's service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org. AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program.
Becky Witt, AAM, is nationally recognized as a leading industry expert. She is a real repair shop owner, who talks to customers every day. She is an approved instructor for the Automotive Management Institute (AMI) and has earned ratings as one of their most popular instructors. Her innovative solutions to complex problems make real-world sense and are easily learned and implemented. She is best known for being very entertaining and throwing donuts.