How to Work with Customers Who Base Expectations On An Auto Repair Estimate Online

Implementing shop software tools that improve the RO process will increase your estimate approval rates—in ways an auto repair estimate online cannot.

How to Work with Customers Who Base Expectations On An Auto Repair Estimate Online
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Getting customers to approve estimates after they’ve found one online can be tricky, but building their trust by implementing estimate tools will make all the difference.

If you run an auto repair shop, chances are you have customers that think they know what’s going on with their vehicle as soon as they set foot in your shop. Although customers with preconceived assumptions can be frustrating at times, we have to give drivers credit for doing their research, especially now when we have a wealth of information at our fingertips.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Yes, but automotive repair estimates online aren’t always the best source of information.” And you’re right. But let’s think about ourselves for a second. As people who have experienced the world and have naturally developed our own worries, fears, and doubts, we tend to trust our own intuition and symptom-research sometimes more than we trust professionals.

And it’s a well known fact that consumers have a hard time trusting the auto repair industry—or any business that gives customers diagnoses for that matter. Just as people look up their symptoms online, and come to a conclusion on WebMD, they tend to do the same thing when something is wrong with their vehicle.

Whether it’s true or simply a situation where someone is convincing themselves they have said illness, the internet isn’t going anywhere. And let’s face it, we’re all guilty of using the internet for quick and easy answers, which is why it’s important to empathize with customers. Just as they may Google their symptoms, it is likely that they might type into the search bar, “Why is my car making a rattling sound?”

Of course, it is highly possible that the results that populate aren’t necessarily what an auto repair pro would point out to them. But whatever they find online still gives them some peace of mind, knowing they are informed before stepping foot into an auto repair shop that they may or may not trust.

It’s inevitable: people feel more protected if they understand—or even slightly understand—the issue at hand first.

Now, take a step back and think to yourself where your customers are getting their car repair information from. If you answered “auto repair estimate online tools,” you’re exactly right.

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What are Free Car Repair Estimate Online Tools?

We’ve all seen these phrases online: “Get an Instant Estimate Now!” or “Know Your Car Repair Costs in Seconds!” There’s a good chance the words “fast” and “free” are also present. And, of course, for the average person, knowing how much they might have to spend on anything that they’ve invested a good amount of money on is enticing.

Now, let’s take off our professional cap and put on our drivers cap. When you see the words “free” and “estimate” online, there’s a chance you’ll want to check the link out for yourself. Your vehicle is a crucial element to your day-to-day routine, and your hard-earned money goes towards paying them off, any upkeep, preventative maintenance, and covering any unexpected repair costs. And we all know life doesn’t always go according to plan.

Auto repair cost estimator tools are exactly that: a tool to estimate how much you might have to spend on your car’s repairs. And if all a person has to do to receive an estimate on their phone screen is enter their zip code, vehicle year, make, and model, and the service needed to get some peace of mind, chances are they’ll do it.

Who Uses Car Repair Estimates Online?

Because automobile repair estimates online are so easily obtainable, it’s important to take a step back and look into who exactly is getting their vehicles repaired. Understanding our industry’s demographics will help you determine what type of person has a tendency to use online estimates prior to stepping foot in your shop.

In order to find the most accurate information on who accesses car repair estimate online tools, we had to not only look at the demographics of drivers who tend to get repairs, but also those who have the tendency to conduct research online before making a purchase.

A poll conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Ally Bank has determined that people are no strangers to vehicle maintenance. In fact, the average American spends nearly $2,000 on vehicle repairs and maintenance over the course of 5 years.  

And even more interestingly, the report broke the repair costs down into age groups:

  • Drivers between the ages of 18 and 34 spent $2,334
  • Drivers between the ages of 35 and 44 spent $1,978
  • Drivers between the ages of 45 and 54 spent $2,135
  • Drivers who were 55 and older spent $1,654

Over time, research has shown that 93% of American adults use the internet and 81% of American adults conduct research before making a purchase. Even more so, consumers who are researching auto parts are among the most likely to research products via search engines—80% for auto parts and 78% for tire dealers.

As a shop owner, you probably know better than anyone else your customer demographic, so we figured it’d be interesting to dive into internet usage depending on age range.

Both older generations and younger generations use the internet to access information. According to The Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK), 73% of Boomers, 69% of Gen Z, and 59% of Millennials report using the internet primarily to access information. It’s evident that doing online research before making a buying decision has become more and more prominent in our everyday lives.

Chances are, if someone owns a vehicle and has a computer or a smartphone, they’ve looked up car repair costs online. This isn’t just geared towards customers either—some auto repair shop owners search repair costs to determine the average rate, and/or set their competitive rate to stand out amongst the target audience in their community.

What does this have to do with car repair estimate tools? Well, age differences and generations aside, typing a question into Google prior to making a decision is undeniably an innate habit among all of us.

Which brings us to the psychology of it all: expectations vs. reality.

Expectations Versus Reality

We have all become accustomed to new experiences due to technology. As a society, we’re used to moving so fast to find all these “answers” that sometimes we tend to create false expectations before thinking through what the reality might be—that, or we forget to temper our expectations with a professional’s opinion.

Let’s dive into why people use automobile repair estimates online, and how surfing the web for answers impacts us psychologically.

Instant Gratification Through Automotive Repair Estimates Online  

Let’s say one of your customer’s vehicles broke down, or they heard a strange noise coming from the engine. Years ago they would have had to figure out a way to get to the nearest shop to get some answers. But now, they can get some immediate gratification by simply typing into Google, “Why won’t my car start?”

Smartphones give us the ability to find any answer to a question right in our pocket. Technology has created a sense of instant gratification among all of us. To put it into a context other than vehicles, think of it this way: we can order food from our phones, shop from our phones, or watch the latest episode of our favorite television series from our phones.

Because we have the ability to make things happen and find answers in real time, that’s exactly what we apply in many—if not all—aspects of our lives. Society is becoming more and more modernized, so conducting research on the internet prior to making a big purchase will only become easier for customers.

Although surfing the web for answers is easy, that doesn’t mean all results are accurate. That’s why it’s important to win over your customers in ways search engines can’t.  

A Scope on How Online Research Can Impact Us

We’ve all heard of the phrase “rabbit hole,” often attributed to that never-ending, time-consuming state many of us have fallen into when searching topics on the internet.

Let’s look at three types of headspaces that customers can often get in when they look up an auto repair estimate online. It’s important to note that these headspaces aren’t clean cut and can vary based on a variety of things—some days we’re more self-assured and some days we tend to worry more. But breaking down how online research can make people think and feel might help your service advisors gauge how to respond to customers in a more empathetic way.

The Worrier

The first headspace is someone who worries, or maybe even catastrophizes, after looking up their problem online. A customer might type, “Why is my car shaking?” into Google, and after several articles, studies, and blog posts, they’ve come to the conclusion that their car is going to, well, explode. Although this is far from reality, their minds have convinced them that this is what is going on with their vehicle. That sense of uncertainty that prompted the Google search in the first place is then filled with their imagination filling in the gaps.

The Determined

The second scenario is your customers who walk in with a mission: to get the repairs started. They’re eager to, let’s say, get on the road for that long road trip they’re planning next month. This individual may still do some research, but could potentially get overwhelmed with all of the different answers they’re receiving and in all honesty just want to get their repairs completed so they can hit the road.

The Skeptic

The third scenario is your customers who are more wary; maybe they’re more auto-savvy and aren’t as prone to falling down the rabbit hole. This person likely has the tendency to not believe everything they read, but simply look into it or fact check it. And this doesn’t just apply to the internet, this can also apply to your service advisor.

Having a customer doubt what your employees are recommending can be challenging to prepare them for, so helping them learn techniques prior to encountering any personality type can help them grow not just professionally, but personally.

As you can see, there’s a wide range of thoughts and emotions that online research can evoke, not only from person to person, but day by day. Every customer is different, which makes it challenging for you and the service advisors to know what type of headspace they’re in when they come into your shop. So, when it comes to car repairs, how do you work with customers who have come to conclusions based off of the internet, and how do you remind them that as a professional, you have the expertise to provide answers that the internet simply cannot accurately provide?

No matter the scenario, simply saying, “We’ll do an inspection to confirm what you’ve found” is the response most customers would prefer to hear. This simple statement will show them you not only hear them, but will look into their concerns that they’ve concluded from their internet searches—whether they’re trusting or skeptical of their internet research.

So, how do you work with customers who use auto repair estimate online tools?

Educate Your Customers Through Your Shop’s Auto Repair Tools

As auto repair shop professionals, we have our own processes and tools in place to help teach our customers. We’re not saying this as in, “Talk at your customers,” because the last thing you want to do is sound condescending to those who enter your shop. We’re saying it as in, “Help them better understand what’s happening with their vehicle by walking them through your findings.” Your customers might think they know what’s wrong, but there could be more root causes under the hood that a Google search simply cannot see—or explain for that matter.

This isn’t to say it’s the search engine’s fault, though. When you’re typing a symptom into a search engine, you can’t measure the severity of the issue by simply typing in “what’s that clicking sound?” There can be a lot of nuance that gets overlooked in a Google search, especially when typing the problem into a search bar comes into play. There could be thousands of reasons why the internet says that a vehicle is making a “clicking” noise,  but if a customer were to seek answers from a professional, they’d get the benefit of showing them exactly what the noise is, and where it’s coming from.

Here are just a few results that populated when we typed “Why is my car making a clicking noise?” into the google search bar:

  • Low oil pressure
  • Worn valve train components
  • Issues with the electrical system
  • Misadjusted valves
  • Damaged spark plugs
  • Low engine oil level

…And the list goes on, and on, and on….

Even if a customer doesn’t use online tools, having the ability to see for themselves what is wrong with their car and which steps are needed to resolve the issue, is pivotal. Setting up tools in your shop that provide customers with accurate proof about what is going on with their vehicle will enhance the transparency in your shop.

Here are five tools you can use at your shop to better educate your customers without talking at them:

1. Build Trust Through Digital Vehicle Inspections:

A transparent, effective auto repair estimate process starts with a digital vehicle inspection (DVI). DVIs allow your customer to see what’s wrong with their vehicle with an accurate depiction of the issues. On the internet, your customer might see a picture, but it isn’t of their car. Getting told the severity of an issue comes across more clearly when it’s actually a picture or video of the problem they initially noticed, happening right inside of their vehicle.

With DVIs, you can send detailed text inspection results to your customers—straight to their smartphone. Along with the detailed notes, you can send as many images and/or videos, as well as make any markings or edits to the pictures to help your customers better understand the issue at hand.

Educating your customers with a transparent inspection process will help you build trust. Seeing a picture of their own car makes all the difference compared to seeing a hypothetical vehicle on the internet. Let your customers see for themselves what’s going on beneath their car’s hood. And even further, giving them the ability to approve or decline any work to their vehicles is an opportunity to provide additional work in the future.

2. Ensure Consent With Digital Authorization:

Give your customer’s the ability to authorize what does, and does not, get done to their car. Taking advantage of multiple authorization options in your shop will help your customers feel like they have agency and control over what happens to their car, which will help them further trust you and your team.

If your shop uses Tekmetric as it’s shop management software then you have quite a few authorization options:

1) Customers have the option to sign their digital signature on your service advisor’s tablet

2) you can check off that the customer has authorized the work while you are on the phone with them, or

3) they can approve the work through text message by simply checking off “approve”.

3. Build Rapport With Previous Declined Jobs:

Declined jobs will set your shop’s customer up to come back before looking the problem up online because you already prompted them that it might be an issue in the future. Let’s say a customer came in after doing online research and suspected that their vehicle needed new ignition coils. You run a DVI, see that their coils do need to be replaced, and also find that their brake pads are wearing thin. You send them an estimate with the ignition coils marked as red (needs work), and the brake pads marked as yellow (recommended, but not absolutely necessary). They decide to pass on the brake pads for now.

A month later, hits the brakes and hears a screeching sound. Instead of having to type “Why are my wheels screeching” into Google, they remember that your shop told them their brake pads may need work soon. This time, they skip the Google search, call you up, book an appointment, and bring their car into your shop for new brake pads.

4. Adapt To Customer’s Preferred Communication Methods:

Tekmetric's true two-way texting tool that allows service advisors to seamlessly text customers straight from your shop’s software system. The ability to instantly send and receive text messages not only helps your shop quickly respond to customers but also helps customers get a hold of your shop no matter where they’re at in their daily routine.

On the go? They can send a text to your shop. In the car? They can call the number you last texted them from. With Tekmessage, shop owner’s have the ability to choose the phone number the messages are sent from, so if you set that number up to be the same as your shop’s number, it’s a seamless communication experience for your customers.

Emails, face-to-face communication, and phone calls are always great, but giving your customers several ways they can reach you will further enhance their experience, build transparency, and make your team’s lives easier. And if your potential customers are willing to type their car troubles into Google, it’s likely they’ll take the time to text a trusted car expert.

Ways Tekmessage Can Enhance Your Auto Repair Shop:

  • Instantly send and receive texts
  • Make your customer’s lives easier
  • Make your shop easy to contact
  • Centralize customer communication

To add on to the benefits of Tekmessage, auto shop’s are busy places: your tech’s are busy working on ROs, and your service advisors are building estimates on past customers while greeting new-comers. Tekmessage allows your team to respond to your customers quickly, more so than you would with a long- winded email, or a phone call—especially when multitasking comes into play.

And back to instant gratification, consumers prefer a response time within a 24 hour window, so adapting to that wish in order to build your customer’s loyalty is worth investing in Tekmessage.

5. Be More Efficient With a Job Board:

Tekmetric’s Job Board will take each of the repair orders that are currently in your shop and break them down into three columns: estimate, work-in-progress, and complete. Implementing a system that gives your team a bird’s eye view will help your techs complete ROs faster, which in turn gives your service writers the ability to sell more work.

As soon as a customer brings their vehicle to your shop, the estimate stage is triggered. And by having a Job Board, you have the ability to view every little step that goes on from the estimate stage to the work-in-progress stage—or in Tek-terms, you can see the status of each job.

If a customer declines a job, it will remain in the estimate column. But once they approve a job, it will make its way to the work-in-progress column. No matter the column, service advisors can quickly glance at the status bar, which will tell service advisors if the RO is “waiting on parts,” “on-hold,” “waiting on customer,” “waiting on sublet,” “in-progress,” or “work not started.”

From there, they can simply gauge exactly how far their customer’s car is in the repair process. Saying something along the lines of “Your repair is 66% done” will sound both impressive and accurate to the customer who asked “How far along are the repairs?”

Having the ability to quickly glance at exactly where your customer’s vehicle is in the RO process will show your customers 1) just how smooth your shop’s RO process is, and 2) the benefits of visiting the professionals for their vehicle repair estimates.

Adding in shop management tools will not only help your shop improve workflow, but will also give your customer’s agency and control when it comes to making vehicle repair decisions. They can simply check off work they want, they can get a hold of you when they’re on-the-go, and you have the ability to make the repair process from beginning to end—or in auto repair terms: from estimates, to work-in-progress, to completed—go as efficiently as possible.

Give your customers freedom from worry by letting them feel like they’re making their own judgment calls.

Tek-Tips on Navigating the Job Board:

1. You can choose what view you want by selecting “active jobs,” “saved for later,” “accounts receivable,” “paid,” and/or “deleted.”

2. Customize the view by column view or list view. Pro-tip: you can drag and drop the ROs in whatever order you want when you’re using the list view.

3. Each column view can be sorted by: RO number, RO status, the date it was created, the promised time out, service writer, the customer’s first name, or the customer’s last name.

4. Easily find a specific vehicle, customer, or repair by typing it in the job board search bar

5. You can populate any current RO statuses to show up on the job board.

6. Not started, requires authorization, pending authorization, declined, in-progress, need to order parts, waiting on parts, waiting on customer, balance due, etc.

7. You can populate ROs by employee to see who’s assigned to what job, or you can assign jobs to specific technicians. 8. Select which appointment type you’d like to view between “stay with” (aka those who are staying at the shop with their vehicle) or “drop off.”

Teach Customers the Three C’s of Auto Repair Work

If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the auto repair industry (and if you’re not, welcome to the rabbit hole). You’re probably familiar with the 3 Cs on your shop’s repair orders: condition (or concern), cause, and correction.

Each of these are necessary to complete a repair order correctly and efficiently.

Condition is what the customer is seeing or noticing.

Cause is the technician’s diagnosis as to what is causing the vehicle’s condition.

Correction is what needs to be done to ensure that the vehicle’s issue is corrected or resolved.  

If you teach each of your customer’s the benefits of breaking down the 3 Cs, this will stick with them for future auto repairs. They’ll remember the three distinct parts: observing a problem, identifying the problem, and solving the problem.

When something is wrong with your customer’s car, they instantly notice the condition—whether it be a noise, odor, or the car is driving funky. But as soon as customer’s begin to look into the cause, things can get fuzzy. Do they seek answers on the internet (which will likely point them in the direction of endless causes) or do they visit an expert that will know what the cause is?

It’s probable that they’ll pay a visit to the technician that took the time to teach them why their vehicle was acting up last time and also took the time to teach them the 3 Cs in auto repair work.

Now, let’s lay out a common scenario. A customer enters the shop due to a no start concern. This is the “condition” stage of the 3 Cs. Once you’ve entered the RO, the tech runs the diagnostic or DVI to figure out the cause of the “no start”. From there, the service writer will send off the work to be authorized and then the tech will start the work. Which leads us to the correction portion of the 3 Cs. The correction of the concern is the work completed, the labor, and the parts ordered.

Teaching your customers the 3 Cs will show them how to be more realistic about their vehicle repairs. It will help them be more relationally skeptical, and in turn, more likely to trust the professionals.

Build Trust with Your Customers

Just like we previously mentioned, customers look up prices beforehand because they want to be aware of what they might have to spend prior to stepping foot in the shop. But there’s also a second factor that comes into play: they want to have a set-price in mind in the event that the shop overcharges them.

This isn’t to say that your shop overcharges customers. In fact, we’re willing to bet your shop prides itself on fair, honest, and genuine prices. However, it isn’t a secret that the auto repair industry can sometimes have a bad reputation when it comes to how much we charge customers.

Even though we’re trustworthy people in the auto industry, unfortunately, people don’t always see us as that. According to RepairPal, 66% of individuals who own or lease a vehicle believe they have been ripped off by an auto repair shop and 38% of individuals who own or lease a vehicle worry that they cannot trust their mechanic.

Keep in mind that this is a worry, not a reality. So gaining your customer’s loyalty through transparent work is optimal. If you want your customers to approve estimates, you have to build trust.

Five ways you can build trust with customers:  

1. Embrace the Power of Word of Mouth

Customers are more likely to select an auto repair shop based on their family or friend’s recommendation than any other form of marketing. According to a Nielsen survey that involved more than 28,000 internet respondents, 92% said they trust recommendations from people they know over any other type of advertising.

Think of how many times you’ve seen this question, and chances are you use it at your shop already: “On a scale from 1 to 10, how likely are you to refer our business to a friend?” Every answer received will lead your shop to a net promoter score (NPS). An NPS measures your customer’s experience and will predict your business growth.


The NPS Calculation according to,

  • Promoters (score 9-10) are loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others, fueling growth.
  • Passives (score 7-8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to competitive offerings.
  • Detractors (score 0-6) are unhappy customers who can damage your brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth.

It’s evident that word-of-mouth can give your shop a huge advantage in this industry. And chances are that a new customer who came into your shop because their cousin raved about it will be more approving of your shop’s estimates.

2. Create a Pleasant Atmosphere in the Shop

A little TLC to your shop’s lobby doesn’t hurt. In fact, keeping your shop comfortable, clean, and professional will improve your customer’s experience. Even better? Add in a coffee machine, water bottles, and even some snacks for those with kiddos. Looping it back into the powers of word-of-mouth marketing, a customer could go to a friend and say, “That auto repair shop provides great service, but also has the best coffee machine in town!”

Creating a pleasant atmosphere in the shop will also help your team come into work happier and more at ease. Having to build estimates every day can be cumbersome, but coming into a workspace that has a clean management system with digital tools that help alleviate the endless stacks of papers makes a distinct improvement.

3. Provide Viewing Options

At this point, you’re aware customers like to know where their car is at in the repair process. A way you can enhance this visibility is by adding in windows between the lobby and the repair area. If your shop isn’t set up in a way where it’s easy to add windows, you can add video monitors. Providing viewing options in your shop, or outside of your shop, provides more transparency to your customer experience.

Whether adding in viewing options means giving your customers the ability to physically see their car or receive text updates on where their car is at in the RO process, you can only benefit from adding more transparency to your shop.

4. Take Customer Notes

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Doesn’t every shop do this?” Although taking down the customer’s basic info is a necessity in the auto repair industry, taking into account little things like, “Julie prefers to be called instead of texted,” or “Zachary prefers updates after every repair,” will help improve the customer experience.

Not to mention, taking customer notes helps with the estimating process as well. If you have one particular customer that prefers to look stuff up online, and your service advisor has found the best way to communicate with them, they can type that out on their customer profile in Tekmetric. For example, “Gently direct this customer, point out what they got right in their research, but suggest to them what they might have overlooked.”

Our blog on The Best Auto Repair Shop Software Features goes more into detail on ways you can enhance each guest’s experience by adding tailored customer notes, but you can always get creative with your customer notes. A few ways you can up your customer notes game is by including:

  • Guests’ favorite drinks, so they can sip on their favorite refreshments in the waiting area
  • Guests’ preferred nicknames
  • The correct pronunciation of guests’ names
  • Their favorite sports teams
  • Any notes related to their needs. For example, maybe you know that a particular guest always brings their young child who loves SpongeBob, so you can put SpongeBob on the TV so the child doesn’t get bored.

Building customer notes on each shop visitor will help keep things positive in your shop, and take away any potential room for misconstrued communication.

5. Build a Social Media Presence

It’s clear the digital world isn’t going anywhere, so embracing the upsides of social media accounts and gaining a positive following online will help your shop build customer rapport. A bonus to having an outstanding social media presence is that it facilitates word-of-mouth since so much communication is done through social media accounts. Who knows, your next customer could be someone who was sent your facebook profile by a colleague of theirs.

From building estimates to completing work, all customer service counts. Building customer trust is integral to helping your business thrive.

Enhance Estimate Approval Rates With Integrations

Tekmetric has marketing integrations that your shop can use when it comes to gaining raving social media reviews, building customer loyalty, and enhancing word-of-mouth recommendations.  

A key question shop owners ask themselves when looking into auto repair estimate software is “What integrations does it have?” You may ask this if you have other systems in place that you want your management software to tie into, but also because you want to grow their shop.

Integrations are a key component to shop management, not only because they will help your shop function as smoothly as possible, but also because they provide your customers with industry-leading resources that will stand out beyond automobile repair estimates online.  

So, Auto Repair Estimate: Online or In the Shop?

It’s clear that car repair estimates online provide customers with a sense of ease prior to visiting an auto shop. Afterall, what do the tools advertise on each of those sites? It’s usually one, or all, of the following:

  1. Be informed before going to the auto repair shop
  2. See the best rates near you, and
  3. Learn fair prices for the work you need.

That sounds pretty persuading; especially to a car owner who has put in a good amount of money into their vehicle. Because auto repairs are so widely in demand, and the auto repair estimators are conveniently accessible from anywhere, learning how your shop can stand out beyond the automated tools is ideal.

Auto Repair Shops Know Their Customers in Ways the Internet Doesn’t  

You know your customers. You have the ability to gain their loyalty through every step in the RO process, especially the estimate process. Once a customer clicks through the estimate your service advisor sent them, they’ll select the work they approve. At that point, your shop has the go-ahead to begin repairs. The RO process begins with the estimate process, so, why not make it a reliable and memorable experience for your customers?

Tek-Tip: An added benefit of using Tekmetric for estimates is that there is a digital record of exactly what your customer gave the green light to, and what they decided they could hold off on. That way, when it’s time for them to pay, there aren’t any surprises.

Your team are the professionals who can provide customers with answers that they can count on. If you’re sick, it’s easy to search your symptoms up on the internet, but going to a licensed, board-certified doctor will benefit you far more than a search engine can. The same goes for car repair estimate tools online.

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