Great communication is what can set your shop above the rest. We have seen the customer that shows up at a repair shop and asks for a transmission service or an alignment. After the customer picks up the car, they quickly return to report that the car still has a delayed first-to-second gear shift or the vibration at 55 mph is a bad as it was! Some service writers just take orders from customers. Effective service advisers fully evaluate the customer’s needs and give them the best possible advice based on all the information available. The difference between the two can be the difference between success and failure for your repair shop.

Understanding your customer will help a great deal in providing them with the service they need. Customers can do some strange things when they come into your shop. They want to direct the repair, like telling the service adviser to do an alignment or a transmission service. Other customers want to provide their own parts. Sometimes customers will call every shop within 50 miles to get a price for the repair they think is needed. The reason customers act this way is because they fear the unknown. This is a basic human condition. Their reaction to the fear is to begin investigating the situation by talking to people whom they trust or looking around on the internet. They also might go to the local parts store and get a “free diagnostic” and a bag of parts based on the codes that were retrieved. This behavior all boils down to a lack of trust. After all, if they trusted you, they would walk in and hand the keys to you and say, “Hey Bob, the check-engine light is on. Call me at work when it’s done.” It is the service adviser’s job to take every customer from fear to completely trusting your shop with all things automotive.

Service advisers are the hub of communication in any shop. They have to gather all the information possible about the customer’s vehicle and craft it into a problem statement so that the technician can quickly and efficiently find the root cause of the customer’s concern. Good communication builds trust and relationships. The more interest you show your customers, the better the relationship will become. As your relationship improves with your customers so will the quality of your communications. This is true with your customers, technicians, and your vendors.

Asking quality open-ended questions

The first step in improving trust is to demonstrate your genuine interest in others. Ask open-ended questions. Asking these types of questions will get accurate answers and the type of information that will help your technician diagnose the vehicle as quickly as possible. Asking questions in this way does not leave a simple yes or no option. It causes the customer to think about the question and the result is a quality answer that is valuable.

A quality question could be: “Bill, could you share with me why your car needs an alignment?” What follows will be the beginning of discovering the root cause of Bill’s concern. Notice the question is phrased in a way that does not dismiss Bill’s opinion or his concern. We have to discover a customer’s motivation for bringing their vehicle to us. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I’m going to get an alignment today.” There is always a reason why they think they need one. If you visited your doctor and said, “Could you schedule me for an appendectomy next week?” Would you doctor ask any questions? Of course he would. We have a professional responsibility to drill down and get the root cause information so we can truly help our customers. There are several effective communication skills that can make this task much easier, once you get the ball rolling with some great open-ended questions.

Effective pauses

Having effective pauses during the conversation ensures that you do not interrupt the customer. No one likes to be interrupted. Interrupting customers when they are speaking sends a negative message. It says, “I really do not care what you have to say.” We all know people who talk at us, and continually interrupt. No one likes trying to have a conversation with them. After your customer completes their thought, wait about two or three seconds. This serves two purposes. It lets the idea sink in and it gives them a moment in case they need to add something. Remember, we are not listening to answer them; we are listening to learn and build trust.

Minimal encouragers

Once the communication is moving, it is a good idea to keep it moving. An easy skill to implement is to use minimal encouragers. It sends the message that you are interested and listening. The biggest benefit is that it gets the customer to continue. At the end of an informative statement, say, “So what happened then?” Or, “What did that sound like?” You are encouraging your customer to continue with their statement and demonstrating genuine interest. This establishes trust.

Reflecting

To improve comprehension and promote more understanding, use reflecting. Repeat what the customer said back to them in either their words, which is mirroring, or in your words, which is paraphrasing. We often tend to hear what we expect to hear, not necessarily what has been said. After you reflect back to your customer, ask them if you got the information correct.

Summarize

Once you have gathered all the information from your customer, read the problem statement to them. Ask again if you have captured all the information. This is a good time to tell your customer that you will call them once the evaluation or diagnosis is complete and that you will not proceed without their authorization.
Non-verbal skills

Being a good communicator also requires some listening skills. Always face the customer and maintain eye contact. Focus on not just what they are saying, but how they are saying it. Listen with your entire body. Make sure you are not distracted or interrupted while listening to them. Try to pace your customer’s mood and speed of speech. Did you know that 80% of communication is non-verbal? Remember to use their name, speak in a friendly tone and focus on them only. Ignore distractions in the environment. Stay mentally engaged and don’t let your mind wander. Remain completely present in the conversation at all times. Tune out everything else that is going on around you.

These skills are effective and easily mastered with some practice. You will find these skills just as useful in your personal life. Become a better communicator with your spouse, kids, friends, and others. It’s all about working these skills to improve communication. John Powell said, “Communication works for those that work at it.” You will be amazed at how honing your communication skills will accelerate your success both personally and professionally.