INVESTMENTS IN CONSUMER EDUCATION PAY HIGH INTEREST Do your customers understand what’s involved with repairing a vehicle and running a shop? Do they know how heavily shops invest their time, energy and funds into training, tools and equipment? They may appreciate having safe, reliable transportation, but do they actually recognize the complexity of today’s vehicles? Last month, AASP-MN News talked to consumers to find out exactly what they know…and the initial results were underwhelming to say the least (check it out at bit.ly/AASPconsumer). Yet, after a brief educational session, many consumers developed a better grasp of how much training, effort and expense goes into automotive and collision repair. Education really is key. When repairers invest the time into educating their customers, those vehicle owners better understand what is happening when they take their car in for repairs. How are Minnesota shops instilling this knowledge in customers? A few industry professionals shared their strategies and successes. “The majority of our educational efforts occur shoulder to shoulder with the customer,” disclosed Will Latuff (Latuff Brothers Auto Body; St. Paul). “Whether we conduct an e-estimate or if we talk to the vehicle owner in person, we engage in a dialogue about the car, what we’ll need to do to fix it, what steps we’ll take and why it’s important to conduct the repair. We also explain the value and quality we offer as a certified shop.” AASP-MN Board member Dan Gleason (Pro-Tech Auto Repair; Corcoran) agrees that a well-informed consumer becomes a customer who is equipped to make a good decision. “We adopted digital inspection about three years ago, and going from a paper checklist to the digital version which includes pictures and videos has been a huge benefit. We can mark up the inspection, show them where a component is broken or no longer connected and explain why it’s important to fix. They don’t necessarily understand what that part does, but they can see it looks bad, and they know they don’t want it on their car. Without making that connection, it goes over their head and doesn’t make sense.” Collision repair facilities contend with an additional
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aspect of the repair process that they must explain to customers. “With us, education about the repairs is conducted during the estimating process, one-on-one at the shop; all in all, 99 percent of our education takes place directly with the consumer,” Dawn Weitzel (Bodywerks Auto Body Repair; Elko) noted. “If customers later call the office with questions, they mainly ask about the insurance process, which is more confusing to them. Some have even called in tears after being treated rudely by insurance company reps. It’s my job to try to reduce their stress, so I do what it takes to help them.” Knowledge is power…and sometimes the consumers’ knowledge empowers shops. Latuff shared an anecdote: “My brother, our front estimator, walked a customer through an estimate to explain what we would do and why it needed to be done. That conversation reinforced that we’re the experts, and as a result, the customer became an ally – they know we’re on their side, so they’re on ours when it comes to simple discrepancies like labor rate disagreements. Educated consumers go to bat for us.” Social media tends to be an important tool for both mechanical and collision shops to attract, retain and educate consumers. “Everyone is on social media, constantly walking around with a phone in their hands,” Gleason acknowledged. “We publish blogs and articles on our website about the types of repairs we do, things to look for and industry trends. To educate consumers, we have to find out where they are and meet them there in a way that’s attractive enough for them to want to learn more.” “The best way to educate customers is to find the most effective means to deliver what consumers need to know to make a good decision,” Latuff agreed. “We use social media to attract customers and educate them upfront by creating awareness related to our OEM certifications and other repair considerations, drawing them into the shop to ask more questions.” Today’s consumers may have a lot of questions – a phenomenon Gleason blames on a cultural and generational shift.