by Debbie Briggs, contributing writer
Steve Fowler has learned a thing or two when it comes to owning and operating a successful independent automotive repair shop. Even though he opened his namesake shop 30 years ago, Fowler says he’s always working to better not only his business, but his employees and customer service as well. For Fowler, Steve’s European Automotive is the shop it is today for four main reasons.
“It really comes down to having the right people at the service counter,” he says, “as well as building relationships with customers and making them feel that they are more than just a number to you. It’s also investing in your staff with top-notch training programs. Finally, you have to provide your employees with the tools and equipment that they need to properly and efficiently do their jobs.”
Customer Service Done Right
While it sounds simple, Fowler has had 30 years to get it right at Steve’s European Automotive in Waterford, MI. Even then, Fowler says he learned the hard way a few years back that something as simple as a phone conversation can mean the difference between a lost repair job and a lifelong customer.
“I had signed up for a Google program that recorded new customer calls, and I realized that I had the wrong people answering the phone,” he says. “They were actually driving customers away with the manner in which they were handling the potentially new customers on the phone.”
As a result, Fowler says he decided to invest in a new phone system that recorded all phone calls. The new system provided much-needed flexibility in programming and other helpful features.
“One of the first things I did was program an option in the greeting that prompted first-time callers to press 1,” he explains. “By doing that it directed most of the first-time callers to my phone, and if I wasn’t available, it would roll over to my son’s extension. I found that this was extremely beneficial in closing more appointments with new customers. Now I answer the phone much less, and we use the phone system for training our service advisors on how to answer the phone properly.”
Fowler makes it a point to ensure that each customer’s vehicle repair is as painless as possible by offering some helpful customer service programs. Some of those offered to patrons at Steve’s European Automotive include complimentary loaner vehicles, as well as available low-cost rentals, and an oil change card that rewards customers with their sixth oil change free.
In addition to those programs, Fowler says customers new and old alike appreciate the welcoming atmosphere that greets them when dropping their vehicles off for service. What makes the shop unique are the two distinct waiting areas decorated with care by Fowler’s wife, Teri.
“One is more of a work area with a little more of a private feel because it’s away from the customer activity that goes on at the service counter,” Fowler says, adding that “the French doors can be closed for even more privacy.”
For customers who don’t require the solitude, the other waiting area near the front desk is available with a variety of amenities.
“We have specialty coffee, bottled water, hot chocolate, Wi-Fi, cable television and a computer that customers can use,” Fowler says. “We hear compliments regularly on how comfortable our customers feel. My wife really did a great job creating the look and feel that it has.”
While the seven techs at Steve’s European Automotive service all European makes and models, Audi and Volkswagen constitute the largest percentage of repairs. In addition to traditional services such as oil changes and alignments, the shop is also an APR distributor, installing performance-tuning products on Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche vehicles.
The shop’s status as a Bosch Service Center allows technicians to take advantage of the many training sessions the parts supplier offers. Classes offered by WORLDPAC, Autologic and EDR round out training for techs, who are also ASE-certified as well as certified by the State of Michigan.
Fowler says staff members attend weekly shop meetings to discuss opportunities to put their training into practice and improve processes.
“One of the topics we discuss at our weekly shop meeting is tech time management,” he says. “I feel that our technicians, service advisors and other related personnel have an opportunity to learn and be reminded about the importance of TTM. This also gives them a chance to share input on ways to improve our processes so that individually, and as a whole, we can increase our productivity.”
Investing For The Future
While Fowler has relied on word-of-mouth to attract new employees, low turnover means he hasn’t had to do so very often in the shop’s history. Just as employees are encouraged to provide input on shop productivity, they also provide valuable input on everything, from which tools to purchase to choosing a new shop logo.
“We run a very transparent business by keeping the lines of communication open with our employees,” Fowler says. “I like to involve our employees in the decision-making process when it comes to tools, equipment and changes to the shop.
“We also offer a very good benefits package,” he adds. “We have an IRA retirement plan, health, dental, optical, life insurance and AFLAC. We have an annual company campout and Christmas party as well.”
It’s that kind of attention to detail that not only helps employees feel appreciated, but also shows customers that they’re more than just a number.
“We’re on a first-name basis with almost all of our customers,” Fowler says. “We are big enough to handle all of our customers’ service needs, yet small enough to maintain a personal feel.”
With that kind of philosophy, Steve’s European Automotive is sure to enjoy success well into the future.
Article courtesy of Shop Owner magazine.