Customer Hang Ups – Your Fault or Theirs?

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Is that the rudest thing you ever heard? A customer calls and says he has a transmission problem. He immediately asks how much to fix it? If you say a number, any number, he hangs up on you. You did exactly what he asked you to do and yet he hung up on you. Why? Because you didn’t do what he wanted you to do. That doesn’t seem to make much sense. Why wouldn’t what he asked for be what he wanted? Because he doesn’t know how to say what he wants.

Customers only know one question to ask and that’s because the question is universal. It doesn’t matter what product or service a customer is interested in purchasing, everything has a price. Therefore asking the price is a pretty safe question. In fact, in most cases and with most products and services when the customer asks how much, a price is usually quoted immediately. So, why can’t we do an effective job of quoting a price on the phone to a customer if other industries do it successfully? First of all, who says they do it successfully? They may quote prices on the phone only to get hung up on the same way you do.

The fact is that most businesses do a terrible job of making first contact with a customer on the telephone. The owners and managers of those businesses don’t have a clue what that phone call is about and what their goal and purpose should be in handling it. For the most part they have forgotten or never knew or realized the primary and foremost rule of selling. “Price is always the first thing a customer wants to know and the last thing a salesperson wants to discuss.” So, is that first contact made with a customer about giving him or her a price? If you follow the rule, it can’t be. Several other things must take place before a price is quoted. That’s where most everybody misses the boat. They just don’t get that there is a sales procedure that must be followed. That procedure has many steps. It doesn’t start with quoting the customer a price, but ends with doing so.

So, what did our customer really want when he asked how much? He wanted us to take him through our procedure, a set of steps that logically lead up to us quoting a price when and only when the time is right. For a customer to make a buying decision, especially on an expensive purchase, he must be made to feel that he is receiving a good deal of information to use in his decision making process. The price just isn’t enough information to get the job done. It might be if it were a small item or an easily understood service, but the more complex the product or service the more information the customer needs to have and to process.

When someone calls and says, “How much for a transmission”, and you blurt out a price that could be upwards of $2,000 in today’s world, here is what you have just told this customer. “I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I’ve never seen your car, nor do I know what’s really wrong with it. I am relying on your diagnosis of the problem, which I know from past experience is hardly ever accurate. I have no opportunity to show you my facility, the quality of my service, or how well I will treat you. All I am giving you is a number to look at. A take it or leave it number with no basis whatever except it’s the one that popped into my head when you asked. The number didn’t come from a pricing book or a computer which was obvious because it ended in a zero or a five. (which it always does when you pull it out of thin air) And what I’ve just told you is that even though I don’t have a clue what’s really wrong with your car, if you show up here bring upwards of $2,000 with you.”

If you were the customer wouldn’t you hang up? Someone just tried to close you on an over two thousand dollar sale without even first taking a look at your problem or trying to offer you any positive solutions. They didn’t tell you anything about their business or how you could benefit from allowing them to fix your car. All they said was if you come here bring a lot of money. It reminds me of when I was a kid on the streets of New York City. The “Bungalow Bar” ice cream truck would come down the street. The driver would ring the bell and call out, “Get your money ready.” You didn’t even know what you were going to buy but you had to have your money out where he could get it quickly. I always think about that when someone quotes me a price without first giving me lots of reasons to buy. “Get your money ready.”

When a customer with a transmission problem calls he or she is not ready to hand over a couple of thousand dollars to a total stranger based on one question and one answer. It would be ridiculous to even think so. They need to be taken through a procedure from start to finish with a number of stops along the way. The more expensive the job the bigger the show has to be. Ultimately, the customer has to feel comfortable about handing over such a large sum of money for something they didn’t want to buy in the first place. That’s right. They don’t want to buy what we have to sell. They hate the fact that they have to buy it and can easily come to hate us for taking their money if we are not careful about making them feel they at least got good value for it. They might feel they are getting good value if you can show them that you are taking all the necessary steps to ensure that their problem is being diagnosed correctly and that the best possible solutions are being offered, that they are being treated with the respect they deserve and that you are grateful to have their business. So, what are the steps to take before you can quote a price and retain the customer?

1) The first and only thing you want to do on that initial customer call is to get them to bring or let you tow the car to your shop. Before you can do anything else you must have four wheels firmly planted in your driveway. Without a car in your possession and control you have nothing.
2) You must try to meet the customer face to face. This is not always possible but it is good to have the chance to show off your facility and let them get a feel for your professionalism and how well they will be treated.
3) You have to ask a series of qualifying questions to get the customer to indicate to you how they might respond when you eventually do quote a price and try to close the sale. Questions like, Will there be anyone, other than yourself, involved in the decision? How long have you owned the car? How long are you planning to keep the car? Are there any other cars in the family? Who normally drives this car? Is the car used for business or pleasure? Has anyone worked on this problem before? What kind of work do you do? And where do you work?
4) Perform an external examination to determine if the problem will require removal of the transmission.
5) If the transmission must be removed explain the procedure and any charges that might apply. Some states require specific disclosures to the customer before you can remove the transmission from the vehicle for inspection. You may quote a starting price, a range, or just the price of the inspection itself.
6) Remove the transmission. Tear it down and inspect each component.
7) Price the job on your computer or by the use of a time and parts book being careful to itemize every part and labor operation. After all, the customer never does get to see the work you do on the car. The only thing they get to see and judge what you will do for them by, is the invoice. It must tell the complete story of what you are doing to repair the car if you expect to be well paid for your work.
8) Explain everything on the repair order to the customer while telling them about the benefits of doing business with your company. Tell them about your warranty and your wonderful service. Tell them about the quality and how well qualified your technicians are. Only after they seem satisfied with everything they will get do you finally give them the price.

Those are the steps to the sales procedure. So when your customer calls and asks for a price what he or she is really saying is, “I have a problem. I don’t know how to deal with it. I need professional help. Please show me the right way to go about getting my car fixed.” Walk your customers through the steps and show them how different you are from all those who would do nothing but blurt out a take it or leave it price on the phone. Then they will see that they are dealing with a professional who has their best interest at heart.

About the Author: Terry Greenhut is a highly sought after Automotive Aftermarket Sales Trainer and Key Note Speaker. He has authored numerous Automotive Aftermarket Sales Training Articles in many of the major automotive trade journals over the years. His best selling Automotive Aftermarket Sales Training Course is recognized as the industry standard. You can learn more about Terry by visiting his website at