Everyone knows the auto-repair business has an image problem. "Customer satisfaction is hard to achieve when the industry's revenues are based on large, unexpected, and unwanted expenses," notes Peter Fink, president of Certified Transmission, headquartered in Omaha. Undaunted, Fink built his company around the concept of turning grudging, skeptical prospects into repeat customers who refer friends.

Fink pays as much attention to the customer's state of mind as to the state of the car's transmission. Here's what he does to create a culture of integrity that relieves customer anxiety.

  1. Contribute to scholarships and local nonprofit organizations.
  2. Use reassuring language in company literature--for example, the "Certified" company name; frequent use of words such as "reliability," "quality," and "expert."
  3. Be a good neighbor. Invite business neighbors to your open houses and make sure your building's exterior and grounds are well maintained.
  4. Display employee training certificates and company awards where they'll be easy to read.
  5. Eliminate commissions on sales and other incentives to sell customers more than they need.
  6. Solve problems quickly and fairly. Overdeliver on guarantees.
  7. Give customers access to top management. Provide customers with the president's or owner's cellular-phone number before complaints turn into serious problems.