Capricorn's expert guide to managing customer expectations

 A man and woman in a garage, inspecting a car while examining something on a tablet.

The automotive industry’s skills shortage is having a serious impact on our ability to run our businesses optimally.

Eighty-two per cent of Members told State of the Nation Special Report: The Skills Shortage it had resulted in an increased workload and a backlog of jobs. Most Members said they were working longer hours, turning away customers and doing fewer jobs.

So, how do we keep customers happy at a time of long delays and expensive labour costs? We asked Perth-based customer service expert and author of All-In Culture

Chris Smoje for some practical tips for managing customer expectations.

Your attitude is critical

Chris’s first piece of advice was to not fall into the “it is what it is” trap. “The skills shortage is an industrywide problem so it’s easy to think the customer has no choice because they’ll never find another mechanic anywhere else,” he said. “In reality, the customer still has lots of choices and we really need to show them we’re keen to keep them as customers.”

Communicate early, clearly and proactively

Chris said while you might be well aware of the skills shortage and its impact on your business and the wider industry, you can’t assume your customer is.

He recommended taking steps like:

  • Email your database of customers who have signed up to receive updates and other marketing materials.

  • Listing booking lead times on your website

  • Chatting to customers about lead times when they call to book.

“If a customer has a big service coming up, reach out to them earlier than usual and make them aware of any delays,” he said.

Be honest and sincere about the situation

Whatever message you’re communicating to your customer, be honest and authentic in both what you say and the way you say it. “If you’ve had to change your working regime, let the customer know,” Chris said. “You might say, ‘we know this is urgent and we’ll fix it as soon as we can, but we’ve been affected by an industry-wide skills shortage, so our wait times are a little bit longer than normal. Thank you for your patience and understanding.’ And then give them the next appointment available.”

Ask your customer what’s really important

Chris said sometimes when you can’t give your customer the top-shelf service they’re used to, and you’ve explained the situation, it’s helpful to ask them what solution they’d like. Perhaps the customer came in wanting a full service, but a quick oil change or installing fresh wiper blades solves the immediate problem and the customer leaves happy (and booked in for a full service in a few weeks’ time).

Don’t be afraid to apologise

Even though the skills shortage is not your fault, the customer will still appreciate hearing the word sorry. “They still like to know that you care; it’s just the right thing to do,” Chris said.

Soften the blow and show gratitude

If a customer has been inconvenienced by delays, thank them for their loyal business and make sure they know you’re looking forward to seeing them again in the future.

Chris suggested saying something like “hopefully next time there won’t be such a long delay” and giving them the opportunity to book in their next service immediately, to avoid future delays.

This article was published 16/10/2023 and the content is current as at the date of publication.