5 Things Auto Repair Shops Can Learn from Consumers’ Dealership Preference

As dealerships have made inroads repair services, what can auto shops learn from their messaging success?

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Conceptual Minds | June 6, 2023

5 Things Auto Repair Shops Can Learn from Consumers' Dealership Preference 

Auto repair shops and dealerships have been known quantities to consumers for a long time.
Dealerships offer specialized technicians but also more expensive repairs. Usually, owners take their once-new cars to a local mechanic when the warranty period is over, trusted to offer more personalized services closer to home or work at lower rates.
But as drivers increasingly hold onto their cars, dealerships offset those losses with a greater emphasis on repair services—called fixed ops. As dealerships have been successfully making inroads into such services, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to pause and consider what dealerships have to teach the auto repair shops about marketing and the customer experience.

How Do Auto Shops Compare Across Customer Preferences?

How do consumers rate their experience between auto shops and dealerships?
Exact customer sentiment data is difficult to obtain, but a large-scale AutoNetTV survey of auto service customers offers a great comparison. When asked to rate various auto service providers, dealerships received the highest number of top ratings across every category (except price).
Credit: AutoNetTV

The most significant disparity in ranking falls on expertise, with dealerships beating repair centers by nearly 20 points.

Credit: AutoNetTV
Dealerships also win out on convenience, 6%, credibility, 16%, and customer service, 12%.
What’s driving these differences? And how can auto shops learn from dealers’ messaging victory?

Heavy Operational Reimbursements from Manufacturers

Photo by Lisa Fotios
It’s hard to overstate just how vital dealerships’ close ties to manufacturers are in the PR battle between auto shops and dealerships.
The direct manufacturing association alone lends serious credibility. Moreover, consumers generally trust that dealership mechanics are more effectively trained for their vehicles. 
Follow the Money
In addition to a credibility boost, dealerships’ positive image has been forged partly from years of active branding and sometimes-pricey customer benefits. 
Dealers often receive sizable reimbursements and assistance on everything from digital ads to reputation management and SEO—even in hiring new mechanics, and are often supported with thoroughly tested-marketing materials.
Thankfully, local reputations can be built for far less.

Lack of Development in Marketing and Service Differentiation 

Another advantage dealerships have in the messaging: the manufacturer association and regional makeup diminish their need for differentiation. 
Despite dealerships’ clear advantage, this problem also reflects a longstanding auto repair practice of competing on price alone. 
Research shows that price is the primary motivator for those seeking repair services. After all, price is what motivates many to abandon dealerships upon warranty expiration. 
While price is the most critical component of consumer decision-making, it’s far from the only one (or the only highly influential one).


6 Ways Auto Repair Shops Can Gain Trust with Consumers

The sentiment gulf is discouraging, but it’s important to remember that the perceived affordability of auto repair shops carves the industry out a reliable customer basis. Dealer competition may pose a long-term challenge, but today’s auto shops mostly compete against each other.
However, repair owners can carve out a space as a modern, customer-centered, and differentiated brand by instilling greater trust in marketing and the customer experience.

1. Better Communication is the Key to Your Auto Shop's Competitive Edge 

You didn’t start a business to learn new customer service skills, and your mechanics train so extensively just to explain repairs to laypeople. 
Regardless, consumers appear to be demanding it.
Ineffective communication, along with, presumably, a suspicion of sales-driven recommendations, clearly plays a significant role in consumers’ mistrust. Given that consumers are far more suspicious of what they don’t understand, leaving customers with as few questions as humanly possible is in your best interest.

How to Improve the Quality and Clarity of Customer Communication

Credit: AutoNetTV
The more you know about a topic, the harder it is to understand why others are seemingly clueless. Haven’t you learned by now?
This dynamic is just part of why professionals in many industries default to explaining concepts in ways only insiders use. When those details are buried in your muscle memory, it’s challenging to be in touch with precisely how consumers misunderstand cars and car maintenance.
How does one go about simplifying their speech? A little ad-hoc communication training. 
Gather your mechanics and a list of the most commonly-requested services. Ask each other the following questions about each.
  • Which version of the explanation is easiest to understand, and why?
  • Is the explanation too information-dense?
  • Does this answer all the likely questions consumers might have?
  • Do we use jargon in our recommendations? 
  • Can this explanation be shortened without losing essential information?
Ask your mechanics to explain each service and issue like they would to a mechanically-ignorant friend. Record each answer. After collecting explanations for each service, go through them with mechanics and other staff (Non-mechanically-inclined workers make great test subjects for better communication).
Log your explanations into a single spreadsheet, and prepare to test them out on workers, friends, and customers. Log an entry anytime an answer falls flat or confuses, and keep trying it out on new people to gauge the relative ease of understanding.
Soon enough, you’ll have polished elevator pitches that will fill customers with confidence in your ability.

2. Add Credibility to the Auto Repair Customer Experience in the Inspection Process

Third-party validation is critical for establishing trust regarding your consumers’ most sensitive questions and concerns. 
Digital vehicle inspection software—like AutoServe 1, AutoText.me, and Bolt-on—offer a reliable means of delivering detailed, verifiable information to prospects. 
Be sure to adopt providers that provide simply-presented and verifiable information to consumers—so they can see for themselves. Ensure these recommendations are detailed, offering insight into the likely consequences of avoiding repairs.

3. Fostering a Customer Experience Capable of Earning Great Reviews

The words and images you use to represent your auto shop are essential, but it’s your customer service experience that most determine whether customers recommend you and how strong those recommendations are.
Reputation review sites like Yelp and Google reviews are essential in generating word-of-mouth reputations, providing actionable intel on the experiences that aggravate or confuse consumers. 
You’d be excused for thinking customers are generally very vocal about negative experiences, but the opposite is true. Only 26% complain, according to research.
As such, the customer experience should be your north star. Make incremental changes to policies, pricing, and processes based on what you learn on reputation sites.

4. Emphasize Your Auto Repair Shop's Staff Training

Consumers expect dealer techs to be thoroughly trained on the vehicles they service, but it’s not the same for auto repair shops. 
Auto shops, conversely, have to contend with old stereotypes that portray them as unprofessional and shifty. That’s why today’s auto repair shops must put forward their staff’s training, experience, and expertise where possible.
Emphasize your staff training across multiple mediums and stages of your customer journey. 
  • List training on your website
  • Detail training information on social media profiles and in social content
  • Issue badges for mechanics based on their completed certifications
  • Create interior signage that details certifications (and what it takes to obtain one)
Few know what qualifications a mechanic needs, let alone what qualifies mechanics to work in your shop. Don’t allow consumers to question that.


5. Offer Your Auto Shop Customers Benefits that Build Trust

Consumers’ rankings of top dealership amnesties give today’s auto shop owners a blueprint for improving trust and convenience. 
Such services show consumers you’re willing to go out of your way to help them get the necessary repairs to trust their car again. 
When consumers were asked to rank amenities by preference, respondents to AutoNetTV’s study prioritized the following:
  1. Online appointment booking 
  2. Free road hazard tire repair and replacement 
  3. Free Roadside assistance
  4. Vehicle pickup/delivery
  5. Shuttle service
  6. Late night hours (open after 6 p.m.)
  7. Free WiFi in the waiting area
While some of these benefits are out of reach for those of us not getting co-op funds, we still see some relatively light lifts that genuinely excite consumers, like online appointment booking and free waiting area WiFi. 


Changing your shop’s image might feel like a tall order. In truth, changes in perception take time and repeated exposure to take effect. However, once your efforts bear fruit, you’ll begin to see what it means to be in a category above and beyond your transactional competitors.

Learn About Conceptual Minds

As veterans of the automotive industry, the Conceptual Minds team are experts at growing car counts through effective and personable marketing. If you are unsure of your current marketing strategy and would like some guidance, contact us today at 877.524.7696.

Need help implementing winning auto repair promotions?

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