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Neuro-linguistic programming

By autotech-nath on September 11, 2022

Andy considers garage communication and provides some sage advice on what to say and, what not to say, to customers to adjust misconceptions and accurately portray the skill and resources needed to assess vehicle faults.

Neuro-linguistic programming, NLP, is not voodoo or witchcraft, but choosing your words wisely. In this article, I have called it ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ because I can’t really think of anything better to describe the subject.

If you’ve done any research into NLP, you’ll realize that there is no clinical or scientific evidence to suggest that it works. This subject is more about what not to say when communicating with customers. Neuro-linguistic programming first came to light in the seventies and was widely used in the eighties, especially in sales environments. However, it has largely been discredited.

Clinical trials have scientifically proven that it has no basis, but we don’t operate in a clinical or scientific environment, we operate in the real world – within a garage, speaking to customers, and this is where I believe implementing some form of language or communication protocol does indeed work.

So, we will call it NLP, and accept it for what it is. A pseudoscience on the fringes of actual science. Saying that, it has been used by quite a few famous people. If anyone’s heard of Paul McKenna, he’s an NLP practitioner. That doesn’t mean I’m going to ask you to start tapping your head when speaking to your customers or anything like that, it is simply about the words that we should or shouldn’t use when we’re communicating with our customers.

The Business of Diagnostics

When I was carrying out research for my course called ‘The Business of Diagnostics,’I observed how garages spoke to customers. I listened to the conversations and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up simply because of the language being used. This was not because what they said was incorrect, but they were using language that could be interpreted by the customer very differently.

To give you an idea of how important, or unimportant, words are, up to 60% of all communication is non-verbal. It’s not just the words that we use that convey a message, it could be the rhythm or the tone that we use when we speak. The body language and posturing that we use can also communicate something, and it’s all done unconsciously. This is the whole idea behind neuro-linguistic programming – the words that we choose to use, or not to use, will have an unconscious effect on the person hearing those words.

For example, a common phrase I heard when observing garages responding to customers who had a problem with their car was ‘We will have a quick look’. This is possibly the worst thing to say in that situation because quick suggests it’s not going to be difficult, and if it’s not difficult, you will not charge much for it.

I believe that businesses exist to solve customers’ problems; the more complicated or complex that problem, the more businesses can charge for their services. If our immediate interaction with the customer suggests ‘we’re going to have a quick look’, all that the customer actually hears is quick, which equals cheap, which makes it difficult to reposition the transaction to one where you can charge the correct amount for the skills, information, experience and equipment required to carry out the diagnosis – what I call a fair transaction,

one that both parties feel comfortable with; an equal value exchange. Just because you said you’d have a quick look makes it much harder to charge correctly for your diagnosis, as the customer perception has been biased towards a low-value service. It doesn’t matter if it is the simplest job that you do within your business or the most complicated diagnostic job, removing the word quick (ban it from use!) and instead saying ‘Let me have
a look in the diary…. You’re in luck, somebody can look at your vehicle right now. We will then call you once we know more about what’s wrong and advise you accordingly.’Whatever your script is, remove the word ‘quick’ from the garage vocabulary.

Consider the non-verbal communication in this new scenario…

The fact that you must check the diary suggests that you’re busy. If you’re busy, you must be good. This, in turn, probably means you are not cheap. This is the total opposite of ‘We will have a quick look’.

All of this was inferred, not spoken. This allows you to charge enough for diagnostic testing so that the technician is not under time pressure to come up with an answer. This allows them to stick to the process, and your process is a predetermined number of tests to prove what is wrong. Which isn’t quick, but it is effective.

The benefits of scripts

When you start to design scripts, you can better understand why not using some words will make a bigger difference, than the words you do choose. For example, the instant you say, ‘We will plug it in and see what comes up’, the customer’s unconscious brain is probably suggesting that once they
have it plugged in, the computer is doing all the work, the technician isn’t doing anything, it’s all about the computer. You have probably had customers come up to you and say, ‘I’ve been referred to you because your computer’s better than the one in the garage I normally use’.

‘You’ve got a bigger, better, shiny computer’, it’s not the customer’s fault. That’s why they have come to your workshop because the other garage has probably told that customer that you’ve got better diagnostic equipment. At that point, you have the perfect opportunity to advise that customer that it’s not the computer that does the diagnosis, but the technician, and they will need to do more than just plug it in to prove what is wrong with their car.

Words that are no longer useful

That re-education, that repositioning by the use of different language puts you in a different position in terms of the customer’s expectation and value exchange when you advise how much you charge for your diagnostic assessment. Sticking with the diagnostic fee, I’ve become increasingly aware of the negative connotation of the word ‘diagnostic’. In fact, some garages that I speak to are removing the word ‘diagnostic’ from their vocabulary when they are speaking to customers because the word diagnostic to the customer suggests a simple plug in, where the computer tells you what is wrong (another example of NLP working in the real world). They now call it an initial assessment, a vehicle assessment, or a fault assessment.

They have removed the word diagnostic entirely, so the customer’s perception is changed. They are not just plugging it in. Somehow, the word ‘diagnostic’ has become associated with the computer being plugged in over the years.

Other words that should not be used are words that have a negative emotional effect. You have got to remember that most customers entering your garage are in an environment that they’re not comfortable in. They’re not sure what’s going to happen, and they are not going to know how long it’s going to take or how much it’s going to cost, which are the only two things they really want to know!

It can be a very uncomfortable place for a customer to be.

So, now you want to use language to reassure the customer. If they are an existing customer use previous examples and explain how you never spend any money without prior authorisation. Saying that to the customer at this point is very reassuring. Make sure that the customer is aware that they’re in control of the repair on their car. Another NLP technique is to make them aware of the worst-case scenario, both in terms of time and cost. So, if you then fix it for less and in a shorter time frame, they will be much happier than if you just present them with the bill without anchoring them first to the doomsday scenario.

For example, at the point of booking, they ask how long and how much?

Your reply could be ‘it costs ££’s for the assessment which will take a few hours’.

Or you could say, ‘this could be ££££’s if it is the (insert worst case scenario) and it could be late next week’. Ask for authorisation at this point for that amount and check if the timeframe suits them. When the assessment and the repair are both completed before the weekend, for £££’s and not ££££’s, you have over-achieved and under-promised. If it is the worst- case scenario, the customer is already prepared, and the repair is already authorised.

Choose your words carefully, remember much of what is communicated is unspoken, call the technique neuro-linguistic programming, NLP, or just choosing your words wisely. Make sure you understand the power of effective communication.

Want to find out more?

Andy’s ‘Atomic Success’ program helps garage owners become more successful in business, providing the support and tools required to make incremental gains that lead to massive results.

Want to take back control of your business? Join the Garage Owners Network and take advantage of the FREE video training.



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Autotechnician is a magazine published nine times a year, delivering essential information to independent garage owners and technicians in the UK. Delivered both digitally and in print, autotechnician provides readers with technical, training, business advice, product and news, allowing our readers to keep up to date with information they need to run and work within a modern workshop.
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