Automotive services are selling themselves. For customers, it is not whether to service a car; it is about where to service a car. Customers have great choices about where to service their cars. Quality parts and work are no longer a rarity and most dealers offer similar pricing. Yet, when customers are shopping for a dealership, they consider where they could gain the most for their dollar. This is where meeting customers’ relational needs becomes most important. Meeting customers’ relational needs will make a service advisor different from competitive service advisors.
Service advisors and dealers that take a relational approach to sales and services processes will generate the most repeat business and referrals. A traditional negotiation style of sales and service focuses on giving a sales speech to make a sale today without thinking of consequences for tomorrow. However, a relational approach to sales and service focuses on building long lasting relationships by meeting each customer’s emotional needs. Customers come for the service but they will come back for the experience.
A relational approach to sales and service focuses on helping customers feel welcomed, understood, and safe, which is much easier said than done. Managers would ask their service advisors to smile more, walk their customers to the desired destination rather than pointing a direction, and say positive phrases like, “Thank you for your service,” and “My pleasure.” These are all great ways to introduce positive relationships. Yet, those methods are superficial because customers know right the way if you are truly glad to see them or if you are putting on a show. False excitement will only push your customers away if you and your dealership do not look ethical or trustworthy.
Customers buy from people they like. But even more, customers buy from people who can help them feel welcomed, safe, and understood. It is very difficult to put a price tag on feeling welcomed, safe, and understood. Many individuals wish to skip family reunion events because some of their family members do not seem to understand their lifestyle, or they know that the only reason they are welcomed to their parents-in-law’s house is because they are married to their daughter but those in-laws really do not want them there. For me, for example, going to the dentist is always a struggle. No matter how well I know my dentist, I just cannot feel safe and comfortable.
What does helping customers feel welcomed, safe, and understood in the service drive look like, and how can you achieve this?
- Help customers feel welcome.
Nothing helps people feel welcomed more than being present and attentive to them. And not only when customers are complaining and asking for something, but consistently. A true story: a marriage and family therapist saw a client with whom she worked on some relational challenges in the client’s life. She used different therapeutic techniques and methods to help her client and when the customer successfully declared he had achieved his goal, the therapist asked what was most helpful to him. The customer answered, “You looked me in the eye and smiled.” Yes, that is it.
Looking people in their eyes, calling them by their name, and remembering their stories are all powerful messages that make your customer feel noticed and welcomed. By doing this, you are showing your customer that you care and you value them. Asking questions is another powerful way to help customers feel welcomed. Ask questions about their needs and concerns. When you are asking questions, you are saying, “I see more than what you are telling me. I am the expert, you can rely on me.” Most importantly: slow down. Listening attentively is enough. Listening is the most powerful form of influence. Your customers will feel appreciated, comfortable, and visible, which is not a small thing.
- Help customers feel safe.
When a customer meets with a service advisor, they are looking for the answer to the following questions: Are you for me or are you against me? Can I trust you? Are you on my side? Do you truly care about me and my needs, or do you see me as a number? Are you just saying, “my pleasure” with your verbal language, but your body language gives me different messages?
The best way to help your customer feel safe is by being authentic, by being yourself. People know when you are fake. If you are busy, tell them that you are busy. If you are tired, tell them that you had a long day. Your inability to be fully present with customers will show. Be honest about your work situation. At least this way, your customer will know why you are not fully attentive to them and not take it personally.
Additionally, people want to go to the service advisor who is popular. This is because your popularity shows the customer that you are good. However, this does not give you permission to completely ignore your customer. Keep checking with them and make them feel visible. In the same way, if you are happy, share with them your happiness. If you do not know something, tell them, “Let me find out.” In other words: be you. Do not try to be someone you are not.
- Help customers feel understood.
To help your customer feel understood, listen to what the person is telling you and try to reflect this back to them as best as you can. For instance, if the person told you about their broken car, which they drove for only two years and hoped that it will run much longer before any major problems, tell them how difficult and unexpected it must be. For a person who has a car they like, tell them how excited you are for them.
Helping your customers feel welcomed, safe, and understood is a relational approach to the sales and service process. It will bring comfort and convenience to your customers. A service advisor who brings comfort and convenience will generate the highest customer retention and get the most referrals.
Author: Dr. Katia Tikhonravova, Ph.D., LMFT
Dr. Katia Tikhonravova, Ph.D., LMFT is a business and relationships coach who specializes in automotive sales and service relationships. She is an owner of Corporation Clinic. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org