What’s the key to growing your shop?
(Besides doing good work—good work is always a major, if not the biggest factor. So set that aside for now.)
It’s not how many bays you have. It’s not how much coffee you offer to your customers. No, friends, your shop growth is tied to…
Wait, wait, don’t close out the blog just yet. Sales has become something of a four-letter word, and you’re possibly picturing a group of suits cackling over martinis and million-dollar expense accounts. When we talk about sales in the context of commercial repair, though, we’re referring to finding and closing business. Bringing in customers. Showing a potential client why they should hire your shop instead of the guy down the street.
You know, all the stuff any business has to do to stay afloat.
So, with that in mind, what’s the secret to strong sales?
Talk to your customers.
All right, guys! That’s a wrap. This article is done.
(Nah, it isn’t, because my editor would feed me to a sarlacc if I didn’t write something substantial.)
The meat of this article comes from a long, fascinating conversation our Director of Marketing, Aaron Treguboff, had with Brian Still, Executive Vice President of TDI Fleet Services. We’ve talked to him before about how a shop can secure PM work, and we were thrilled to take a deeper dive into why communication really is the name of the game in the repair world.
BUILD YOUR RELATIONSHIPS AROUND COMMUNICATION
Raise your hand if you’ve ever told a customer, “We’ll let you know when we’re done.”
Or maybe don’t. See, that’s where the trouble begins.
When thinking about communication, and why it’s so critical, Brian says, you’ve gotta understand who you’re talking to.
“The only thing you’re guaranteed to find is a customer who has had a bad experience with a shop,” he says, “and the majority of the time the bad experience that stands out in their mind was not a bad repair, but a lack of communication.”
So, sure, maybe that experience didn’t end horribly—the customer got their truck back—but it had twists and turns and gaping plot holes. Shops that don’t communicate also generally don’t:
- Tell customers if something else is discovered during diagnostics or work
- Tell customers how long a repair is going to take
- Tell customers how expensive it will ultimately be
On some level, this reluctance to communicate probably stems from just not wanting to give someone bad news. No one likes hearing they’re going to have to pay more, or that their truck will be out of commission longer. But these are the conversations shops absolutely need to have.
Brian keeps the communication experiences in mind when he talks to new customers about bringing their fleets to TDI. He says he communicates about communicating. We put that in bold because it’s so important—and it sets your baseline if you and the customer work together. Before anything else—before you sign any contracts, even!—talk to your potential customer about your communication habits.
Why is this part of the negotiation so important? Brian breaks it down this way:
- Brian makes this clear to all potential customers: “We are people, and people make mistakes. It will happen at some point.” If you’re concerned that this will give a potential customer pause…that’s kind of the point. What kind of crazy person admits they might screw up?
- But by communicating that you don’t shy away from addressing these issues, you’re showing your customer that you’re upfront. It shows them how you react to a mess-up. Laying it out early acknowledges that you have a process in place for when a mistake does happen.
- “Probably more than half of the reason people give us a shot is because we talk more about communicating during the repair than anyone else.” This includes timeline, cost changes, additional work, and recommendations.”
Okay. So you’ve set the expectation that you will communicate everything with your customers. This is the very beginning of the trust you and your customer will build on and hopefully share for a long and lucrative relationship.
But how does this look in practice?
We have one not-so-easy thing you can do to really start practicing what you preach.
BAD NEWS COMES FIRST
If you only take away two things from this article, we hope it’s the following:
One, always be upfront with your customers.
Two, always tell your customers when something has changed.
Brian has a rule to that effect: “The first call you make in the morning is the one you least want to make.” Or more specifically, if you have three people with bad news, the one that’s borderline devastating needs to be the one you call first.
That means you get into the shop and you take a look at the vehicles that are in your bays or waiting for a bay. If a tech turned up a half-dozen problems on a particular truck that will keep it out of action until it’s repaired, well, that’s the customer you’re going to be talking to.
It’s probably not going to be a fun conversation, but that person needs to know now, first thing, how badly their unit is damaged so they can make accommodations.
Getting the bad news out of the way early serves two purposes. It lets your customer start planning ahead, and it lets you get the unpleasantness out of the way early. The calls you make after the bad ones are much easier—a lot of “Hey, your truck is done!” or “Yo, we finished up early!”
You know, the calls we all like to get.
BE PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE
If you’ve read this entire article and are kind of rolling your eyes, saying, Fullbay, I would NEVER just ignore a customer, then congratulations! You’re already ahead of the game. But communication itself is constantly evolving—almost everyone, even great communicators, can improve.
With that said, even if you are a picture-perfect communicator, we can pretty much promise that all of them have dealt with shops that weren’t like you, and didn’t maintain open lines of communication.
We’ll leave you with one last piece of advice from Brian:
Be proactive, not reactive.
Your customers want to know what’s going on. Their businesses hinge on their equipment—whether it’s a truck, a tractor, or one of these things—functioning. They absolutely know that sometimes you’ll need to hold a truck longer while you’re waiting for parts, figuring out a tricky fix, and so on.
Leaving your customer in the dark puts both of you on the defensive. The customer needs to know where their vehicle is and what the timeline is for getting it back. If they need to start harassing you to find out its status, well, that’s strike one and two right there.
Being proactive puts you in control of the situation. “Hey, your truck’s in the bay but you’ve got XYZ going on,” you say. You are keeping them up to date. They may not be thrilled about it, but they’d rather know it so they can make proper arrangements.
Lest we go a few blogs without a plug, Brian credits Fullbay with making communication much easier. “We’re constantly using the notes to tell the customer where we’re at on part delivery time, where they’re at in line, if something is approved but they’re two back, or one back. Or we tell them it’s in the bay now and here’s the estimated time of completion.”
Proactivity, instead of reactivity, is how you gain customers that will stick with you in the long term—and build a reputation for great work in general.
(And let’s be clear, you do still need the mechanical prowess to back up what you’re communicating. If you’re a terrible communicator and a terrible mechanic…uh…may we suggest another field?)
But if you can master communication and pair it with the skill of good technicians, you’re no longer just looking for new business—you’re looking for a new space to take over as you expand.