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By Joe Marconi
A few years ago, some friends and I were having dinner at a local restaurant. There were six of us enjoying the food and having a great time. A few minutes after our waiter served us our coffee and dessert, the owner of the restaurant walked over to us, introduced himself and said, “I have people waiting for this table; how much longer do you think you’ll be?” Shocked by his comment, I hesitated for a second, looked up at him and said, “No worries, we’re done.” With just a few simple words, the owner of the restaurant wiped out the pleasant experience we were all having.
As we were finishing up, we couldn’t help noticing the stares from our waiter and the owner. Their eyes were laser-focused on us. They made it obvious that they wanted our table. We didn’t say anything to our waiter, or the owner. But we told each other, “We’ll think twice about coming back to this restaurant.” None of us ever did go back to that restaurant. And I heard similar complaints from other friends about that restaurant. About a year later, that restaurant closed its doors for the last time.
As a business owner, I fully understand what each table means in terms of profit. The tables at a restaurant are no different than the service bays in our business. The more people you can process through the restaurant, the more profitable the restaurant is. The more cars we can process through our service bays, the more profitable we are.
While I don’t fault the owner of the restaurant for recognizing the need to be profitable, I do fault the owner for not understanding a basic rule in achieving success in business. And that is: You build a business one customer at a time and by developing strong, long-term relationships with those customers. And to maintain that success, a business must continuously cultivate those relationships.
The owner of this restaurant didn’t get it. All of us had dined at his establishment before. The owner didn’t see us as an opportunity to strengthen the relationships. He saw the opposite. By asking for our table, he put the emphasis on his next sale and eliminated any chance of us returning again. Losing customers, and not understanding why, is the kiss of death for any small business.
What the owner determined important was profit per table, per person. The process to get people fed and done became the primary objective, when it should have been ensuring its customers were enjoying a nice meal and having a great time. It was a mistake that eventually led to his failure. Never think that customer quantity ever outweighs the quality of the customer experience. Making a memorable experience is the essence of great customer service.
If we dig a little deeper, we find another mistake made by the restaurant owner: believing that the customer experience was over when the meal was over. The meal was prepared, it was served and we consumed it. Then, at some point during the end of that process, we became an obstacle to his next sale. He failed to comprehend that the sale is not over when the meal is over, and that everything that occurs right up to the moment when a customer drives away from his parking lot will have an influence on whether that customer will return in the future.
The lesson for us is simple: Never lose sight of the importance of creating a customer. Establish a culture in your company that cultivates long-term relationships. Build a process that always strives for world-class customer service during the entire customer experience—and especially at car delivery.
Never think that when the technician completes the repair, your job is done. The customer experience continues right up until the time the customer is picking up their car. The time you spend with the customer after the repair is done is as important as making the sale.
Value each customer. Work on those relationships. Don’t worry about short term profit gain. Remember: building long-term relationships, builds long-term profit.
By the way, that restaurant has recently opened up again. My friends and I went there for dinner last Friday night. We noticed that the new owner was walking around greeting everyone. He eventually made his way to our table, introduced himself and said, “Can I get anyone anything? It’s great to see you here tonight and hope to see you again soon. Thank you.”
Now, you tell me: Do you think we’ll go back?
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on February 1st, 2019
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By Elite Worldwide Inc.
Whenever a customer tells you they can’t afford to do the repairs, and they ask you if you can help them out “this one time’”, you need to give careful thought before you lower your price.
First of all, there is a cardinal rule in sales that says before lowering your price, you need to build more value in your service. Yet as we all know, there are going to be some occasions where no matter how good your sales skills are, the customer simply won’t have the ability to pay for the recommended services. In such cases, you and your advisors will have three options. One, you can let the customer walk; two, you can drop your price; or three, you can follow the proven path we have provided to tens of thousands of advisors over the years.
First of all, if you let them walk, both you and the customer have lost. They’ve lost the time they’ve invested in having their vehicle inspected, and when they leave your shop their problems still exist. You’ve lost the marketing dollars you invested in bringing the customer through your door, you’ve lost the time you’ve invested in inspecting the vehicle and estimating the job, and you’ve lost the opportunity to help someone in need.
The second option you have is to lower your price, and while you may close that sale, you’ll also be sending a message to your customer that if they wouldn’t have asked for a discount, they would have paid too much. If that’s not bad enough, it gets worse, because they know if they ever decide to come back they’ll need to negotiate with you, regardless of the prices you quote. The good news is, there’s a third option, and it’s one that’s used by the top shop owners in America with great success….
Putting first things first, you’ll need to see if the customer qualifies for any legitimate discounts you offer, such as Senior Citizen, AAA or Military discounts. You can also limit the number of repairs to the ones they can afford at the time. Another option (which works well in some cases), is to scale back on some of the benefits, such as the length or terms of the warranty. If you and your customer find none of those solutions to be acceptable, you can consider telling them that you will keep their vehicle at your shop (space allowing), and perform the repairs if and when your time allows (when another customer cancels their appointment at the last minute and your tech has the downtime, for example). What your customer would be sacrificing is the immediacy and convenience.
Please bear in mind that when making any decision to lower your price, you need to ask yourself who is ultimately going to pay for the discount, because the answer will inevitably be your other customers. Secondly, if you have the right advisors, with the right principles, they’ll know in their hearts it’s just not right to charge two people different prices for the same service. To put it another way, I’m sure you would not want your mom or dad walking into any business and buying a product or service when you know the customer right before them… paid less. Never forget, principles, not shell games, lead to two things: higher profits, and the ability to sleep at night knowing you are not playing games… with other people’s money.
Since 1990, Bob Cooper has been the president of Elite Worldwide Inc. (www.EliteWorldwide.com), a company that strives to help shop owners reach their goals and live happier lives, while elevating the industry at the same time. The company offers the industry’s #1 peer group of 90 successful shop owners, training and coaching from top shop owners, service advisor training, along with online and in-class sales, marketing and shop management seminars. You can contact Elite at [email protected], or by calling 800-204-3548.
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Twas the Night before Christmas (Mechanic style) Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the service bay, Not an engine was stirring, just old Santa’s sleigh. All the air hoses were hung, by the compressor with care, The mechanics had the day off, I’m the only one there. I was just an apprentice, but wanted to show St. Nick just what I knew, My boss was all for it, said it was OK if I turned a few screws. With visions of being a full time mechanic, dancing in my head I was going to give it my best shot; I’ll fix this old sled. I gave the key a twist,and listened in dismay, That little red hot rod needed service, in such a bad way Then from under the hood there arose such a clatter, That even St. Nick had to ask, “So, what’s the matter?” I flew from the driver’s seat and raised the hood in a flash, Nearly stumbling off my feet, from my quick little dash. The under hood light, glimmered onto the engine below, The fan belt had broken, and a spark plug blew out a hole. It’s something I can handle; I learned this stuff in school, I’ll have this fixed up in no time; it only takes a few tools, I started it up and all eight cylinders were firing away Just a few minor adjustments and he could be on his way That’s when I noticed, his sled was packed full of all sorts of toys… He hadn’t finished his deliveries, to all the girls… and boys. He was dressed all in red, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot Anxious he was, to finish his trip as soon as he could, With my wrenches a flyin’, he knew that he would. It was up to me, to get it fixed this very night, He still had a long way to go, before it was daylight. His eyes, how they twinkled, his dimples, how merry His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry. And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow. I knew it was Christmas Eve, so I couldn’t say no, He had a broad face and a round little belly That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself. His sled was like new, after the job was all done, Now that it’s fixed, he could get back to his run. He reached into his huge bag, and pulled a box out with a jerk, Said he knew just how to thank me, for all of my hard work, I ripped open the present, and Oh, what a sight! Snap On wrenches and sockets! Boy was he right! As he pulled from the parking lot, he held the throttle to the floor, Just to show off, he passed by the shop, once more, This guy Santa, he’s a little strange, at any rate, He had a name for every cylinder, in his little V8. I could hear him shout, so loud and clear, Naming off each cylinder, as if they could hear. "Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen! I heard the tires screech, as he caught second gear, Off to deliver those presents, some far, some near. Then, I heard him exclaim, just before he drove out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
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By Joe Marconi
I will never forget the day I met Carlos. It was 13 years ago at a small business conference in New York City. The conference drew business owners from all types of industries throughout the greater New York area. Carlos was sitting next to me at orientation. The day was lined up with guest speakers, workshops and networking opportunities. By the third networking break, Carlos and I were hitting it off. We traded war stories, discussed business challenges and brainstormed new ideas. Carlos owns two Italian restaurants, one in Manhattan and the other in Brooklyn. His first restaurant was founded in 1986 when he was 27 years old. I finally asked Carlos, “What’s your background? Did you go school to become a chef? Did your family own a restaurant? Do you enjoy cooking?” Carlos turned to me, smiled, and said, “Joe, I am going to let you in on a little-known secret: I have never cooked a meal in my life.”
Unlike Carlos and his business venture, most auto repair businesses are started by technicians and use their technical skills to run their companies. I was one of them. I spent years honing my technical skills from the time I graduated high school in 1973 to my first day in business, Oct. 1, 1980. I worked hard at becoming the absolute best automotive technician I could possibly become. I also spent another decade after starting my business improving those skills. That is, until one day I realized that while I may have used my technical skills to start and initially build my business, it wasn’t enough.
In the first 10 years, I grew my business primarily with my hands, my strength and my determination. At the end of that decade, I hit a wall. Thankfully, that wall knocked some sense into me. My business was largely dependent on my abilities and what I could produce. After analyzing my business and realizing that it had plateaued for a number of years, I had to make a tough choice. It was time to put down the tools. I had to learn a different set of skills—the skills of running a company. This proved to be the right choice for me.
I’m not saying I regret what I did in those early years. I didn’t know any other way. I loved the auto industry and I loved working on cars. However, when the day came that I decided to become a business owner, my life changed. And, my awareness of how to build and run a business should have changed with it.
There are shop owners that were never technicians, and do quite well. It’s argued that they have an advantage over technician-turned-shop-owners. A technician’s brain is wired to look at the problem at hand, create a solution and move on. An entrepreneur looks at business from a different perspective: always looking to the future, at growth and what other greater things can be accomplished.
I remember many years ago meeting a very successful shop owner from the west coast at a trade show. We were both standing at a booth that displayed emissions-related products. I picked up a sensor, turned to this shop owner and asked what he thought of the new air fuel ratio sensors. He replied, “I wouldn’t know an oxygen sensor from a spark plug.” I kept silent. This shop owner was, and still is, well known in the industry—and very successful.
Here’s the bottom line: As a business owner, the skills of repairing cars have little to do with the skills needed for long-term business success. For many of you with a technical background, you may have come to the same conclusion. If you have not come to this realization, please take a long hard look at your life and your business. While you may love to be in the bays, your place it a helm of the ship. Use those technical skills, but understand that those skills may have gotten you this far, but they won’t get your business to where it needs to be. It will be your business skills and people skills that builds a sustainable company that continues to grow and becomes a source of enrichment for you, your family, your employees and their families.
Carlos and I still keep in contact with each other and he still owns and operates his restaurants. Carlos called me the other day and told me that he actually had the opportunity recently to work in the kitchen at one of his restaurants. Perhaps even entrepreneurs can cross over into the world of technicians. I’m betting it did a world of good for Carlos.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on November 1st, 2018
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By Joe Marconi
Can someone truly have two personalities? A real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—the one you see, and the one everyone else sees? I had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde employee a number of years ago; we’ll call him Dr. J. He was my shop foreman and helped the manager run the daily operations. Dr. J was employed about five years before things began to change.
I first learned about Dr. J’s erratic behavior from a few of my employees. According to these employees, his behavior was destructive, disrespectful and rude. He never acted differently in front of me, so I had a hard time understanding what was going on. I talked to Dr. J about what others were saying, and he looked stunned.
“Joe, I really can’t tell you why anyone would be unhappy with me. I get along with everyone,” he told me.
I met with the employees who expressed concerns and let them know that I appreciated their feedback. I told them that Dr. J had been with us for a number of years and that I had never witnessed any unusual behavior from him. I tried to look at all sides and suggested that perhaps he was going through some personal issues, so let’s try to be a little more understanding.
Out of respect, the employees agreed—but not for long. I was away on a business trip when I got a disturbing text message from one of my technicians. The text read, “Joe, if you don’t do something about Dr. J, we’ll deal with it ourselves.” It was late when I got the text, but decided to call the tech anyway. He told me in great detail what Dr. J was saying and how he behaved. I was shocked by what the tech told me. Could this person be a real life Jekyll and Hyde?
It was early Monday morning, my first day back, when my office manager came into my office, closed the door behind her and said, “Joe, if you don’t do something about Dr. J, people are going to quit.” I knew at this point I had a real problem on my hands.
I brought Dr. J into my office and told him everything that I had heard. I told him that the employees did not like the way he treated them and that the harsh words he used was causing a problem with everyone. Again, Dr. J was defensive and denied everything. However, this time he told me his perspective of the situation.
According to Dr. J, the rest of the employees were not pulling their weight and that all he was trying to do was to motivate them. I tried to explain to him that criticism and harsh words are viewed as an attack. And if this strategy is repeated over and over, people will push back and shut down—the exact opposite of any intended good. I could tell by the look on Dr. J’s face that he really didn’t agree with what I was saying, but he told me that he would take my opinion under consideration.
After that meeting, I paid careful attention to Dr. J’s treatment of others. All seemed good. Then one day, I witnessed the Jekyll and Hyde persona for myself. Dr. J didn’t know I was in the front office as he lashed out at one of the technicians. The tone and the words that came out of his mouth were unacceptable and appalling. I saw firsthand what everyone in the shop was experiencing. After repeated attempts to correct his behavior, his conduct never improved. It was time to let him go.
I never found out what changed Dr. J, but I did feel confident that I gave him every opportunity to correct his behavior. While Dr. J may have fooled me initially, I have to admit that I did see that the mood of the shop was tense and morale was down. With Dr. J no longer employed, morale improved and everything went back to normal.
The workplace environment is a delicate balance between culture and production. It’s also filled with emotions. People want to rally together for the greater good. But, they also need to know that their leader protects them from any threats that attempts to harm the team. It’s also wise not to readily dismiss the concerns your employees express to you. Be on the lookout in your shop. You just might have a Dr. J of your own.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on December 7th, 2018
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I don’t think anyone would argue that the success of McDonald’s is not due to the delicious hamburgers and fries. So how can a business that sells fast food become such a worldwide giant? Their secret: systems, policies, consistency and convenience. I think we can all take lessons from the best franchise models.
By Joe Marconi
A few weeks back I had a problem with my refrigerator. I got a referral and called an appliance repair company. I called three times and each time I called this is what happened: "C and E appliance, please hold." I was put on hold three times for about 5 minutes. After being put on hold each time, a women would say, "What's the problem?" No engagement, no sign of interest for me the customer, no signs of caring. I gave the women a brief description of the problem and each time she told me someone would call me back. Well, no one did.
So, I called for the 4th time, and as the person answered the phone I said, "DO NOT PUT ME ON HOLD." There was silence, so I continued. I explained to her that she has spoken to me three times, I left messages three times and three times you told me that someone would call me back. She replied, "You are talking to the wrong person, if you have any complaints, write a letter to my boss, after all he won't listen to me anyway." I hung up the phone and called another company.
The lesson and takeaway here is simple: Who's answering your phone? The wrong people on the phone in your shop can kill your business. Have meetings with your people. Make sure you review your phone skills policy. If you don't have one, create one. Empower your people to people to handle issues. And make sure you log every phone call. If you feel you have a problem, start recording phone calls.
Your phone is your lifeline to future business. So, please ask yourself....Who's answering your phone?
By Ron Ipach
I'm going to go out here on a limb here and tell you -
YOUR ONLINE REVIEWS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN ATTRACTING MORE CAR COUNT!
First of all, the reviews given by your customers reveal the health of your business. If your customers aren't saying good things about you, that's a warning sign that you better get your act together right now and start providing a better experience for your customers.
Also, if you only have a few handfuls out of all the hundreds or thousands of customers you've worked saying good things - that's not a healthy sign either. They may like, or even love, doing business with you, but if they aren't telling the world (aka writing an online review), their little secret is hurting your chances to attract more car count.
You see, studies show that 92% of folks will read reviews before making a buying decision, and if you don't have a stellar reputation (4.7 or higher), they'll move on to the next shop.
In fact, I advise that you completely stay away from any form of online advertising for new customers unless your score is at least a 4.7 out of 5.0. Why? Because your prospective new customer will easily be able to compare you with everyone else and will more than likely choose the shop with the better reputation - negating all the time, money, and effort you've put into your advertising efforts.
Look, you can argue with me all you want, but we're talking human nature here. Most will always go with the higher recommended shop. Why not? If you don't have a great reputation score, all you're really doing is advertising for your competitors that do.
But your score isn't the only factor being looked at. There are actually three factors that are important about your reviews.
1. Quality (4.7 or higher overall score is needed)
2. Quantity (These days, a minimum of 75 reviews are needed, but in highly competitive areas, 150+ is needed)
3. Recency (You must be getting 1 or 2 new reviews every single week)
=== So you say you do a great job, your customers love you, but they just aren't writing those positive reviews that you need in order to let the rest of the world know how awesome you are, right? Here are three ways to get more reviews:
1. Ask. (Duh!)
2. Bribe. This has been very effective for a lot of my clients in the past, however it's also considered a no-no by the review sites and may get your account shut down if they find out.
3. Use an automated service like Soapboxx to do it for you that will email or text your customers after their service, ask if they were happy, and then send them directly to Google, Facebook, YP, or wherever you wish so they can write a quick word about their experience.
Soapboxx is the only automated review-boosting service created specifically for the auto repair industry and the beta-testing of the software has just been completed. (See just a few of the remarks from the users below) Go to www.Soapboxx.io for more details.
Check out what some of the members of the new Soapboxx platform are saying...
Whatever you choose to do, ask, bribe, or automate the whole thing - put getting more 4-5 star reviews at the top of your to-do list. It's simply the best thing you can do to help attract more car count to your shop!