Customers Need Connections, Not Facades: Rick White Teaches IGONC to “See the Unseeable”

By Chasidy Rae Sisk

On Dec. 3, Rick White of 180BIZ provided members of the Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina (IGONC) with valuable insights on how to have a discovery conversation. “A common question I hear from shops is: What can I do to improve my closing skills?” White posed, explaining, “You’re asking the wrong question! It’s not something you’re putting out that impacts your closing ratio; it’s about what you’re taking in – if you want to increase sales, you need to ask customers the right questions!”

Shops’ struggles with sales, according to White, begins with the fact that shops aren’t in control of the conversation because they are simply dealing with what the customer asks. “If you want to be in charge of the conversation, you have to be the one asking the questions, and doing that properly can change a person’s focus and their emotions. You need to be focused on the customer; if you focus only on the vehicle, all you’ll ever end up with is a transaction, but if you concentrate on the person, you’ll build a relationship.”

It’s also vital that you don’t assume what the customer wants or needs. “The greatest gift you can give yourself is the gift of curiosity,” he said. “Change the dynamic by entering the conversation with the goal of being curious how you can help them, and they’ll be more engaged in the conversation.”

“The truth is that you’ve never made a sale in your life!” White continued. “You don’t make the buying decision, your customer does, so all you can do is influence their decision by creating an environment that make it easy for them to say yes.”

White sees discovery calls as the secret weapon in a shop’s arsenal because they allow you to uncover the caller’s real issue, focus on them, and learn what they want, resulting in achieving the goal of building a relationship. “You’re not in the business of fixing cars. You’re in the business of creating and growing relationships – a customer won’t buy anything unless they feel understood.”

Customers want to be heard and feel that they are important, their problem is understood, and they need to trust you. Understand that they are coming from an emotional place, while you are looking at their problem more logically.

“Connect with empathy. Meet them where they’re at, be likeable, and put them first,” White advised. “Profit is a byproduct of caring for your customers. By doing that, you create a bridge from their emotional state to your logical state by reassuring them and showing that you have a solution.”

Questions help you learn about the vehicle’s history and its current use, as well as the customer’s current life situation and their future plans. Remember that they will be bringing baggage from previous shops to your new relationship: “They’ve felt unappreciated in the past, and you need to understand what baggage they have to avoid triggering it.”

A successful discovery call engages the customer, demonstrates that the visit is about them, reveals your shop as the solution, and lowers the sales barrier. Emphasizing the value of asking open-ended questions, White noted, “Ask questions to help you qualify your customer, engage them, show you understand them, differentiate your shop, and build a relationship – but you also have to actively listen to their responses.”

Actively listening means giving your undivided attention, silently, seeking first to understand before attempting to be understood. “Take notes,” White suggested. “Most of us are lousy listeners because we listen to respond, not to understand.”

“What stops shops from asking quality questions, really listening, and connecting to their customers?” White posed. “Fear, boundaries and discomfort cause many folks to stay in their comfort zone, focusing on the vehicle, but your job is to get inside the customer’s head, uncover their agenda, help them, and appreciate them. If they feel understood and appreciated, they will buy.”

Obtain this goal by being “friendly, caring and confident. Be focused. Be you… Don’t be polite, prim and proper – people don’t need facades, they need to connect with you,” White explained. “Have empathy. Listen to the customer’s tone, words and emotion. Request permission to ask questions, and tell them what you’re going to do. Repeat what you understand and accept feedback. Allowing the customer to correct you about his hopes, dreams and goals makes him feel important. Remember: this is a conversation; never make it feel like an interrogation.”

White concluded, “If you love what you do, focus on your customers and their problem, and make their agenda your agenda, you’re going to see your sales dramatically increase right now!”

For more information on 180BIZ, visit More information about IGONC and its future events is available at

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