Car count is about much more than advertising.

This entire article is built on that fact, so I’m not going to bury it down the page. In successful shops, the money spent by the owner on marketing is only responsible for a fraction of the car count in that shop.

This might strike you as insane. After all, we tend to refer to “car count” and “advertising” interchangeably. Need more cars? Buy this! Send that!

But what causes good car count? What do we do as a repair shop to keep customers coming through the doors?

We retain our existing customers with excellent customer service. We do quality inspections and repairs so customers know they can trust the quality of our work. We grow our production capacity so we can service more vehicles effectively while providing superior customer service.

And then – finally – we attract new, quality customers with our marketing.

I’m not here to tell you marketing is unimportant. Quality marketing is critical for the health and success of a shop, and anybody who tells you a shop can survive on referrals, word of mouth and internal marketing is wrong at best, and lying at worst.

Quality marketing – critical as it is – is one piece of your car count, and is supported and enhanced by your employees. Which is why the employees in our shop know they’re responsible for 80 percent of the car count.

80 percent!?

Why? How? And how do you possibly get your team to take that level of responsibility for your shop’s car count?

Why it’s the team’s responsibility

The short answer: attrition.

Attrition might be the most misunderstood concept in our industry, and while I don’t want to spend a lot of space on it, a quick primer is important.

Attrition is the rate at which you’re losing customers. Every shop has attrition, which is why a shop that doesn’t advertise to attract new customers will die.

But there are a couple of ways to look at attrition.

The first is uncontrollable attrition – when a customer moves away or loses their job, they stop coming to your shop through no fault of your own. This number can vary wildly from market to market. A shrinking city like Cleveland has a very different uncontrollable attrition than Houston, the fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S.

The other type of attrition is controllable – when we lose a customer because of something we did. Poor customer service, mistakes in communication, an experience that didn’t match marketing promises and even employee apathy all drive customers away.

While losing a customer is bad enough, controllable attrition is like an infection, destroying the shop from the inside. Because the shop doesn’t just lose a single customer – they lose that customer’s friends and family, and everyone they know on social media. When that customer leaves a bad review, the shop also loses potential new customers and their marketing become less effective.

In other words, unless the entire team is engaged every day in the work of attracting and retaining quality customers – unless they’re responsible for car count – you’ll go broke trying to do enough advertising to attract new customers to replace those who have been burned.

Now that we know everybody in your shop is responsible for car count, the more important question is: what can each member of your team do?

The technicians

Your technicians may never interact with a customer, but they still have a large role in how your shop is perceived.

Obviously, they must fix cars well. If they can’t diagnose the customer’s concern and complete the repair, your customers will lose all trust in you. But the tech’s ability to attract and retain your best customers goes far beyond their basic job responsibility.

The thoroughness and efficiency of your technicians is a significant part of how your shop is perceived, which is why they must be measured and held accountability daily for hitting appropriate benchmarks.

Lube/tire/general service technicians

The lube technicians in our shop do as much to attract and retain quality customers when they’re not working on vehicles as when they are.

Yes, they must absolutely do an excellent job caring for the car in the lube lane. But in our shop, when they’re not changing oil or helping with other preventive maintenance, they’re tasked with keeping the shop clean and maintained. If your shop’s image doesn’t match your marketing and advertising, your customers are less likely to trust you. That makes both referrals and marketing measurably less effective.

The courtesy driver

If your shop has a driver to bring customers to and from work or home, you have an incredible opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition, build trust and create loyalty.

Does the driver see their job the same way?

They must be trained to dress and communicate professionally, accommodate all reasonable requests, and present your shop’s image appropriately. All it takes is one car ride where they gossip with a customer about the shop or the owner to ruin the customer’s trust.

The service writers

The service writer is responsible for 60 – 80 percent of total car count in every shop. That’s true whether they know it or not. It’s also true whether you give them the tools to succeed or not.

That’s because service writers are on the front lines. They oversee the workmanship quality and production quantity from the technicians. Hopefully, you’re measuring the technicians daily so your service writers can hold them accountable daily.

They’re also the ones on the front lines communicating with the customers, providing excellent customer service and getting jobs closed. Hopefully you’re measuring their performance so you know how effective they are at educating customers.

And they’re the ones on the front lines when the customer leaves, making them say “wow” about your shop’s customer service so they look forward to coming back. Hopefully you’re measuring your customer loyalty to know whether your customers truly trust your shop.

The whole staff

The culture in your shop is in everything you do.

If you have a culture of training and accountability, your team will communicate well, answer customer questions effectively, inspect thoroughly and complete repairs efficiently.

Your customers can sense a toxic shop culture. Are you measuring daily to create the accountability that leads to success?

The owner

From the service writers down to part-time employees who might never speak to a customer, attracting and retaining quality customers is a whole team effort. They must work together to earn trust, overdeliver on expectations, and earn referrals.

What does that leave for the owner?

The owner is responsible for the marketing budget, of course. He or she must be willing to spend enough to grow the shop (at least 7 percent of gross sales, according to the Small Business Administration), and invest in marketing that attracts high quality customers who trust and are ready to buy.

But the owner is also responsible for measuring the team daily, holding them accountable for hitting benchmarks, and creating a chain of command that allows employees to hold each other accountable for attracting and retaining quality customers.

After all, it’s impossible to simply tell a team they’re responsible for 80 percent of a shop’s car count. Yes, it’s an accurate assessment. But unless they know how they’re performing and what performance standards they should be aiming for, it’s just guesswork. At best, your team’s success will be unsustainable…at worst, they’ll turn away customers with inconsistency.

In other words, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. The best way to get your team to take responsibility for car count is the same as any other number you want to improve in your shop: measurement, training and accountability.

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