Part I | The Changing Dynamic of Trust in the Digital Age

In a recent AutoLeap webinar, Al Wheeler helps auto repair shop owners understand the factors that go into building trust with their customers and how to overcome hurdles in establishing relationships with them. Wheeler is a longtime auto industry veteran and CEO of ShopPros, a business planning and performance improvement application for repair shops.

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Wheeler’s 30-year career includes serving on the board of directors for The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and as the chairman of the board and CEO of the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association (AMRA).

Why is customer trust strained in the auto repair industry?

For the average person, their car is the most expensive item they own, second only to a house. “And unless that vehicle is 20 years old, it’s also the most advanced piece of technology they own,” adds Wheeler. He says the combination of cost and complexity leads many car owners to feel skeptical about seeking automotive maintenance and repair.

“They typically approach it with a degree of apprehension because there’s a little bit of mystery associated with it,” he says. “Our job is to take the fear out of that experience and wire trust in.

“Trust is not only the heart of my message, but really I think it’s critical for you to understand the dynamics of consumer behavior,” Wheeler says. “How they’re changing and the importance of trust in the relationship between the motorists and the service provider.

“In fact, I think how you embrace this concept of trust could be one of the keys to your long-term success in the business.”

How does technology impact trust in the auto repair sector?

Wheeler kicked off the discussion with a striking statement: “The automotive industry is on the brink of major digital disruption. It’s critical that you’re equipped with the proper technology, equipment, and services to take advantage of the evolving market.”

Specifically, Wheeler mentioned several emerging trends simultaneously impacting the industry:

  • An increasing number of old vehicles in operation.
  • Dramatic changes in how consumers view vehicle ownership.
  • A shortage of skilled repair technicians.
  • Increase in “connected cars” that produce up to 25GB of data per hour.

“The data that’s generated by today’s connected cars is enough to make most consumers’ heads spin,” Wheeler says. “Certainly, the term ‘mechanic’ needs to fade away in our industry because it truly takes a skilled technician today to work on these complex vehicles.”

How can shops prepare for modern technology?

Wheeler says successful shops need to take a step back and understand how these changes will impact their industry. He adds that building trust with automotive customers looks far different today than just a few years ago. 

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“It’s about embracing the technology and not fearing it, and embracing the evolution of the digital-based consumer and meeting them where they’re at,” he says. “Inevitably, we’re looking at different ways that we’re going to be engaging customers, and different expectations from those customers, and different repair options.”

It makes sense for businesses to establish a presence on social media to get close to their customers. Additionally, investing in good automotive repair shop software can be a game-changer for shops by providing them more data about their customers and business alike.

The changing evolution of trust

To understand where we are today, Wheeler mentioned author Rachel Botsman’s evolution of trust.

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Botsman says trust migrated over history from “local trust” between close friends, family, and community members to “institutional trust” like brands, churches, and government institutions. She says that we’re increasingly moving to a state of “distributed trust,” where trust flows freely between individuals—via technology or social platforms—without the need for traditional institutions.

“Distributed trust points to why we’re all now consumers of the various scoring and rating services out there,” Wheeler says. “The impact of this trust shift, both good and bad, shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s helping to shape and transform in real-time how we feel about all sorts of businesses. It’s also creating reputation trails where one mistake can follow us potentially for the foreseeable future, if not for an entire lifetime.”

Wheeler says online customer reviews influence auto shops to be better service providers and treat customers with respect. At the very least, he says they give customers an outlet to speak their minds.

“With these facts, they’re making decisions based on where they do business. Whether it’s perceived or real, it becomes your reality,” he says.

Online data shapes the trust profile

Wheeler stressed the importance for shop owners to be proactive in protecting their reputations, notably by continuously monitoring and responding to customer feedback and reviews. He says shops often miss the mark by ignoring negative customer reviews, responding aggressively or attacking the customer, and failing to establish company-wide protocols for addressing poor customer reviews and experiences.

“The real question that I have for you is, when a customer has a bad experience in your shop, how do you respond? Do you ignore it? Do you blame the customer and essentially fire them? What is your service-recovery strategy when things go wrong from the customer’s perspective?”

He says most people understand that everyone makes mistakes from time to time, so it comes down to how you respond will ultimately make or break a negative experience.

“As a consumer, when I look at reviews, which I do regularly, if there’s a negative review and the owner or manager has responded empathetically to say, ‘I’m sorry you had that experience, give us a chance to make it right,’ it completely changes the way I look at that business versus if it just sits there. That’s when you start thinking, ‘Is there really a systemic problem?’”

Good or bad, Wheeler says your online data ultimately becomes your “trust profile.”

Closing thoughts

Now that you know the factors that impact customer trust at your auto repair shop, it’s time to learn ways to win them over. In part II of this series, we’ll discuss how you can win customer confidence.

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