W hen a female customer visits your shop with a problem vehicle, she is looking for more than just a repair. She is looking for trust.
Trust that your service writer or technician will listen to her explain the vehicle trouble, trust that allows her to feel comfortable about asking any question, no matter how basic, and trust that she will receive the same consideration and price for a repair or service as a male customer.
Recently, I surveyed a number of women about their latest experience at a vehicle repair shop. Reading over their responses, it’s easy to see that when it comes to getting their cars serviced, female clients have several significant priorities that differ from men. In fact, some of these women believe that they are treated very different then male customers.
Why is this important to shop owners like yourself? According to a national survey from the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, more than 85% of female motorists, are at least somewhat involved in the repair and maintenance decisions regarding their vehicles. So, unless you don’t mind losing or offending some of your current customers, it just makes business sense to listen to what they have to say in order to better serve their needs.
What you may not know is, unlike the stereotype, many female customers are genuinely interested in their vehicle and want to learn what they need to do to maintain it. And, according to the responses we received, women appreciate it when technicians and shop owners take the initiative to educate them about what their vehicle needs when and why.
To begin with, we found that about 70% of the respondents to my survey used an independent shop and about 30% used a new car dealership. According to those surveyed, most of the women who used a dealership did so because it was where they purchased their vehicle.
And while some of the women surveyed said they believed dealerships are, for the most part, higher-priced when compared to local independent repair shops, many women who choose the dealerships said they found the customer/waiting area very accommodating and clean.
We’ll have more on that subject in the December issue, as we’ll break out this survey information and take a look at some things in and around the shop that you can change to make your female customers feel more comfortable. But for this article, we’ll look more at what women are saying about how they are (or how they perceive they are) being treated at the shop. Many of them, as you will read, feel that they are being “ripped off” and are “being talked down to.” Some of these female customers may be driving away from your shop dissatisfied, and you may not even know it.
Don’t get me wrong — many independent repair shops have changed their practices and are getting the message about catering to the female customer. Over the past few years, we have had in this magazine numerous management articles, columns and tips from the Car Care Council on how shops can better service female motorists. However, as you will see, there is still quite a bit of distrust and negativity coming from women who recently had their vehicle serviced. So let’s take a “listen” to what they are saying.
A 40-year-old accountant said, “Shop owners should not assume that because a woman walks in wearing a business suit that she knows nothing about cars.”
A 49-year-old advertising manager said, “I still feel that shop owners think women are stupid — I get the feeling that they would rather talk to a man about car repairs, etc.”
A 23-year-old PR executive said, “Take more time to explain (honestly) what’s wrong with my car and what it will take to fix it — without making me feel stupid. Sometimes, I also feel as if they assume I’m a dumb woman right off the bat and take advantage of that.”
A 31-year-old advertising executive said, “The most important thing to me when looking for a shop is finding someone who is trustworthy and takes the time to answer questions honestly. It feels sometimes that auto shops will try to make women feel unknowledgeable and will try to rip us off because we’re women. Finding a shop that I trust is much more important than the size of the waiting room.”
A 27-year-old PR account executive said, “For me (based on my knowledge and experience with the industry), the most important thing is to take your car to someone who won’t treat you like an idiot just because you’re a woman. Since my tech is a friend and knows I’m in the industry, he talks to me that way. I believe that he does so with all of his women customers.”
A 28-year-old graphic designer said, “Even when I sort of know what I’m talking about, like when I get an oil change, many of them still talk to me like I’m an idiot. There have been a few people that were an exception, but not many. A lot of times I will have an idea of what is wrong with my car because someone from the office who knows about cars will tell me. Then, when I get to the place and mention it, they look like they want to laugh and just say ‘Oh, little girl, we’re the experts. We’ll figure it out.’ They don’t even want to hear it! It makes me feel kind of stupid, and I am afraid they are going to try and rip me off because I’m a girl.”
A 25-year-old PR practitioner said when it comes to the repair bill, “They ALWAYS try to ‘up sell’ me. I don’t know if it is because I am a woman and they think I don’t know better, or if they do this to all of their customers.”
A 29-year-old graphic designer said, “Just because you are female, doesn’t mean you are car ignorant. There are men out there that don’t know the first thing about how their car works or what it needs. I guess I always have the feeling that I’m getting the ‘female’ price.”
A 36-year-old marketing coordinator/analyst said, “Don’t treat us like we have no clue about cars, but explain things in layman’s terms. Absolutely, don’t recommend add-on services that are not needed…that would infuriate me, like someone was trying to take advantage of my being a woman.”
A 22- year-old tradeshow coordinator said, “Just avoid the classic stereotype that women do not know cars — many don’t. But if you take advantage of that, we can sense it. Be friendly, and do not act like you know more than us.”
But not all of our respondents had bad things to say. Some offered shop owners advice as to what they would like to see addressed in the future.
A 40ish editor said, “Be sure to recommend and explain related services (that correlate with the repair being done). Women are very logical people and when they are well-informed, they tend to make intelligent decisions, especially when they feel it will contribute to vehicle longevity and safety.
A 40-year-old executive assistant said, “Please treat women who come in for car service with respect, and acknowledge their questions with answers that are clear and direct. We appreciate that!”
Well, this has been quite an earful. Next month we’ll address these and other issues from our survey and provide ways that your shop can better appeal to women. In the meantime, feel free to e-mail us your comments at [email protected].