Ask a lot of shop owners what they’re doing to appeal to female customers, and a quick answer is they ensure the bathrooms are clean and neat. That’s important, of course, but today there is a lot more a shop can and more importantly should do to draw in female customers.
“Don’t make the shop look like a shop,” said LeeAnn Shattuck, host of The Car Chick. “A clean, comfortable seating area or lounge with coffee, Wi-Fi and some toys for the little ones goes a long way to attracting and retaining female customers.”
The days of the pinups on the walls are gone, shops are taking their waiting rooms to a whole new level — if customers have to wait inside. Busy moms appreciate being able to wait in their car and not drag kids back and forth through a shop. But don’t forget about the bathrooms — they’re just as important as they ever were.
“The restrooms need to be more than ‘just clean,’” said Jody DeVere, CEO of AskPatty.com, the premier automotive advice site for women. “We suggest you use scented ‘female friendly’ hand soap, provide diapers and feminine products and use pleasing décor.”
Many women have kids in tow, so being prepared for the younger — and likely future customers — helps, too!
“A changing station in both bathrooms shows the shop cares about female — and male — customers with small children,” Shattuck said. “There’s nothing worse than a grimy shop with hard plastic chairs and a bathroom that looks like it belongs in a frat house.”
If you’re not sure if your shop is going to appeal to women customers, DeVere offered a quick suggestion: “Ask women customers to mystery shop your store to get more ideas.”
Just as important as what you do; think about things you shouldn’t do.
“Don’t offer stupid things men think women want — like free manicures,” Shattuck said. “That is so condescending.”
In addition, you don’t need to “girlie up” the shop with pink walls. Instead, the experts suggest subtle is always better.
“Don’t overdo putting up advertising on the walls, windows and behind the counter,” DeVere said. “A sleek, clean look is always best.”
Forming a Partnership with the Customer
First impressions aren’t limited to the building. In fact, customers often remember how they were treated more than the shop itself. For this reason, employees should be taught to speak with customers, not to them. Some men may be “car guys,” but many aren’t — just like some women may be seriously into cars. When addressing a problem, it is a good idea to make sure the customer understands what is being addressed and respond to questions accordingly.
“Don’t talk down to her,” DeVere said. “Women in today’s market see themselves as savvy shoppers and are the ‘chief purchasing officers’ in most families, so always treat her as an equal.”
Listen to what the customer has to say. As DeVere suggested, this is the highest form of respect and helps to build a lasting good impression and experience for her. Understand, too, that women tend to ask more questions, and it may take longer to “tell her story” about her needs.
“Listen to her and draw her out by asking more questions rather than just rushing her along to get to the next customer,” DeVere said. “It is best not to treat any customer as just another ‘transaction.’ Also, call her by her name, and not honey, sweetheart or any other nickname. Noting and using her name in your conversations with her on the phone and at the counter is another form of showing respect, and a great way to build a relationship that earns trust.”
The quickest way to lose a customer is by being condescending, disrespectful or just by being less than truthful about a vehicle’s needs.
“Respectfully ask her to describe the problem by asking questions like, ‘when do you notice the problem/noise — when you first start up the car in the morning, or after you have been driving for a while?’” Shattuck said. “Get her to think about exactly what she is doing with the car — braking, turning, backing up, etc. — when she notices the problem. This creates a ‘partnership’ in solving the problem together and shows that you take her concerns about the car seriously and want to help solve the problem.”
In many cases words may not be enough. Being able to “show” the situation or problem can go a long way.
“A picture is worth a thousand words, and women tend to ask more questions,” DeVere said. “The Car Care Council produces an excellent booklet that is available in print or online that has photos and easy-to-understand descriptions to ‘show and tell’ to help her understand the need for a repair or service.”
Just as vehicle repairs need to be explained clearly, shops also need to take responsibility when things go wrong and problems turn up.
“If the mechanic/shop makes a mistake on the vehicle — resulting in a come-back — fess up to it,” Shattuck said candidly. “Tell the customer straight out instead of trying to cover it up. Mistakes we will forgive, but lying to us to cover your own butt — not so much.”
Shops should understand, too, that women today are often as busy, if not even busier, than many men. So don’t expect them to happily sit in the waiting area if the job is going to take too long.
“Instead, you need to provide a friendly loaner or rental car option,” suggested Jill Trotta, senior director of Industry Advocacy and sales at RepairPal, Inc.
Some shops offer a vehicle pickup and drop-off service, which is a great perk for customers.
“Don’t make the shop look like a shop. A clean, comfortable seating area or lounge with coffee, Wi-Fi and some toys for the little ones goes a long way to attracting and retaining female customers.”
– LeeAnn Shattuck, host of The Car Chicks
One of the best ways to make female customers feel at ease is to have a diverse staff. Female customers may appreciate not being the only women in the room when they bring their car in for service.
“Shops are not a men’s club these days,” Trotta said. “One thing the industry still lacks is [an equal] ratio of female to male employees, but having diversity in staff is really important, as it allows the customer to better relate.”
That balance of employees can make the shop more inviting to everyone who walks through the doors.
“Having a good mix of male and female employees in all job descriptions also reflects the ‘diversity’ of the community you serve, and that is a best practice I highly recommend,” DeVere said. “Having women working the front counter as service advisors, customer service representatives and managing the shop sends a strong non-verbal message that women are welcome.”
Of course, it still comes down to having the right fit, so don’t hire the first woman to apply if she lacks the skills or motivation to do the job. Instead, make sure the employees are trained to serve every customer with the same level of courtesy and respect.
“Having female mechanics and service writers can be absolutely beneficial to putting female customers at ease and building trust with them; however, having female employees is not a substitute for a shop being respectful, honest and clean,” Shattuck said.
Spread the Word
While there is a negative stereotype that some women may like to gossip, the truth is, females tend to share insight on experiences — and this includes opinions on businesses. A shop that isn’t welcoming to its female customers shouldn’t be surprised if they see few women come in.
“Female customers can be especially loyal to a business/person they trust,” Shattuck said.
However, that trust must be built on both a company level at the shop, and a personal one with the mechanic or service writer. To earn that trust, shop owners and managers should get involved in the community by supporting activities such as sponsoring local sports teams or helping the local Girl Scout troop sell cookies. These can help the shop earn “Car Care Merit Badges,” while donating to worthwhile charities, Shattuck suggested.
Word of mouth is crucial. Female customers are just as likely to recommend a shop to go to as they are one to stay away from.
“Being 100-percent honest about what the customer’s vehicle needs and does not need, explaining it in detail, including showing her the problem, and always being friendly and respectful will help build trust between the mechanic/service writer and the female customer,” Shattuck said. “My husband is an ASE L1 Master Tech, and he has a very loyal following of female customers because of his honesty and integrity. Some of them drive nearly an hour to have him service their vehicles because they trust him and only him.”
Another thing that shops can do is to get involved directly with customers. By hosting Car Care Clinics, a shop can help individuals understand the ins and outs of their vehicles and educate them, so they can make smart purchasing decisions.
“I recommend holding monthly or quarterly Car Care Clinics for women,” DeVere said. “This helps break down the language barrier on terminology and sends a strong message that you are her ‘partner’ on vehicle maintenance and repair. Car Care Clinics can help customers understand simple details like what is your brake pad and what is your rotor? Building a relationship with the customer is important.”