In this episode of Auto Pros On The Road, Joe Keene and Jacqui Van Ham visit Bill Nalu at Interstate Auto Care in Madison Heights, MI.
Bill Nalu and his team of five skilled technicians at the Auto Value Certified Service Center pride themselves on what they call “aggressive hospitality.” Because to him, the business is about more than just fixing a car. Family-owned and operated, the shop began with an attitude of first being in the service business; second an auto repair facility. The primary focus has been, and continues to be, the ever evolving needs and wants of every customer.
Interstate is built on strong relationships, both with customers and crew “Probably 80% of our customers, we know and they know us,” Nalu explains. “And I’m very proud of the crew that we’ve built over the years.”
Nalu thrives on personal interactions. “I love that part. I love the handshaking and the baby kisses. Sometimes we get hugs and it’s all great. And it’s important because coming out of COVID, there’s been a lot of folks that have been locked up for years. In some cases, the only place they might find some fellowship is at the local auto repair shop,” he says.
“Some of the most generous people in this industry run these shops. So why is it just about car repair? Why can’t it be a little bit about – dare I say – ministry? Why isn’t it about connecting with people?” he asks. “Because what we’re actually doing has nothing to do with what we’re actually being. We can fix cars, but there’s something way more important than this going on here behind the scenes. Most shops are capable of working on cars. It’s the human relations stuff. That’s what keeps employees, that’s what keeps a team together. When you can relate to people back and forth.”
Interstate has thrived on honesty and trust – Nalu insists that as long as you’re honest with a customer, they’ll continue to trust you.
“In a situation where we’ve made a mistake, if we own up to it and say to the customer, ‘We apologize – this was not because the part came in wrong or the part came in late. We just plum screwed up. This is the situation and this is what happened.’ And it turns out that customers are human like we are. They’ve made mistakes.”
It may not seem to be easy to admit when you’ve screwed up, but not doing so, Nalu says, is even harder. “Once you’ve lied to a customer, you’ve lost trust. You haven’t even unsuccessfully lied to them and that trust is impossible to get back. Because once you’ve lied to me, we can’t ever say ‘you’ve never lied to me’ again.”
Nalu admits that, in this industry, it’s easy to overthink things. The automotive sector is full of technical people focused on the technicalities of working on very complicated vehicles. But the complexity of dealing with a customer’s emotions can be even more complicated. Getting car repairs has been compared to going to the dentist – this is likely a stressful time on its own, but there may be other things going on in customers’ lives, too.
Nalu recalls actual customer experiences that make him realize his power as a counselor. “To have an 80-year-old woman tell me that her mother is passing away and I’m watching a customer turn into a 10-year-old emotionally… ‘I just spent an hour and a half on the side of the freeway broken down – I don’t even know my name right now. I can’t even tell you what my email address is, I’m so flustered right now.’ That is not the time to be talking about how much it’s going to be. This is the time to be calming somebody down and say, ‘I’m a professional here. We’re going to get this thing handled for you. I promise.'”
Auto Pros On the Road showcases stories of automotive aftermarket service professionals. Throughout the series, presented by ShopOwner in collaboration with our sister brand TechShop – Equipment, Tools & Supplies, viewers follow the Auto Pros into repair shops as they speak with shop owners and technicians about their challenges, their stories and their values.
This episode is sponsored by Autolite.
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