Auto Shop Coaching Blog

My Biggest Frustration With Selling Service

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.Mark Twain

Imagine that “Cliff,” your customer, has dropped off a brown 2007 Toyota Scion with over 115,000 miles. The paint is peeling, the front bumper is missing, and the rear windshield is cracking. If you typed the word “beater” into “Google,” an image of this car would appear!

After conducting a complete courtesy check, you find that it needs over $3,500 worth of work to include front and rear brakes, the valve cover gasket, and a tune-up. Cliff’s reason for bringing the car to you was to have the oil changed and tires rotated.

Your technician has just handed you the courtesy check and complete estimate. It’s time to call Cliff and present your findings.

As you ponder your presentation, you are faced with the following choices:

  1. You can advise him to sell the car and avoid quoting any prices to him.
  2. You can prioritize the ticket based on the immediate safety concerns and advise him to address the other issues at a later time. 
  3. You can present the complete estimate and let him decide.

Which option did you choose?

Oh, by the way, I left out a minor detail: the car belongs to Cliff’s wife “Clara,” and it was given to her as a gift by her grandfather.

Did that little detail change your decision? Back when I was a service advisor, it would have changed mine! I would have made a major decision without having all the necessary information.

My biggest frustration with selling service was having to present an estimate total that was higher than what I believed the car was worth. If you happen to share my frustration, I have some good news:

You can cure your frustration, by getting the right information. Keep reading to discover how to get the right information.

Get Curious

What if I offered you $1,000 to jump out of a perfectly good, 747 airplane without a parachute? Would you do it? You would probably say no and ultimately get frustrated if I kept asking.

What if I told you the 747 was on the ground and NOT in the air? Did that little detail change your decision? Not having the right information, would cause you to leave money on the table!

How much money are you leaving on the table at your shopThe solution is to get curious.   

In his book Just Listen, Mark Goulston writes that new knowledge is built on old knowledge. In other words, our natural tendency is to evaluate situations based on what we think we already know. 

For example, we automatically think that jumping out of a 747 is a bad idea! We automatically think that someone driving a “beater” has a limited budget. Instead of going with what you think you know, I challenge you to get curious.  

Curiosity At Your Shop

The first step to getting curious is to visit the vehicle with the customer. This can help to break the ice and build trust.

Next, ask the following question: “What are your plans for the vehicle?” This is a critical question to help you get the right information.

I’ve had customers respond with, “I’m getting rid of the car in three months!” This statement triggers my curiosity, and prompts me to ask, “You’re getting rid of the car in three months?”

Just asking the question, breaks the ice, and begins the process of establishing rapport. “Getting rid of the car,” is usually a default answer that’s used to avoid being pressured into an unwanted purchase. Like when you said, “I’m just looking!” while browsing at the clothing store during the holidays!

Repeating the customer’s exact words in your question shows that you’re listening and helps them to feel understood.

Once they feel understood, they will share the important details that you need to help them make the right decision. 


The scenario with the 2007 Toyota Scion has an interesting twist. It’s real! Larry, a service manager working at an ATI shop, had an encounter with this customer.

By getting curious, he discovered all the details I mentioned about the wife and the grandfather.  Armed with the right information, Larry chose option C and presented the complete $3500 estimate.   

“Cliff” approved the work and left the shop happy. If you get curious, your customers will leave happy, and you will cure your frustration by getting the right information!

P.S. Listening is a critical step to getting the right information. Email to receive The 7 Secrets To Becoming a Great Listener. 
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Eric, the Accountability Coach, is an Executive Coach at ATI and has coached since 2009. Eric came to ATI having managed over 60 different automotive repair facilities and having supervised over 500 employees at a given time. He loves seeing members progress beyond what they thought was possible and improve their shop to the point where they can leave for weeks at a time and come back to a business that's better than when they left.