Running an auto body shop, much like a funeral parlour or emergency plumbing business, comes with one overarching fact which makes it different than most other businesses: no one comes to see you when they’re happy.
Nearly everyone who calls, inquires, or walks through that front door is bringing with them some sort of crisis. No one goes to an auto body shop when they are feeling great. They go, of course, when likely one of their most important, and most expensive, worldly possessions has been damaged. A good shop, then, is tasked not just with banging out dents and patching up scratches, but also sending healing vibes to the driver who has, as much as the car, taken a personal hit.
That, at least, is the philosophy behind a North Shore institution that has been putting smashed cars back together for more than 50 years, earning some rather unique honours along the way.
“We understand that it is an infrequent, traumatic experience for the public,” said Andrew Madai, operations manager for CSN Elite Auto Body and its sister shop, CSN Elite Express. In describing what it’s like to take on a client whose car has just been crumpled, Madai uses a word that you might normally associate with the torqued up world of automotive repair: empathy.
“We have a really client-focused view of our process and our system – we really want to understand not how our system benefits us, but how the public is viewing the situation,” he said. “And so when you’re looking at each situation through the client’s eyes, or doing your best to do that, it’s a little bit easier to give the motoring public what they want.”
The empathetic approach to auto body work certainly seems to be working for Elite. In 2017 they were named the CSN shop of the year, beating out 450 other independently owned shops in the CSN network across Canada. And then last year Elite stepped out of the auto body world to join some impressive company as one of the three finalists for Business of the Year at the 2018 North Vancouver Chamber Business Excellence Awards, rubbing shoulders with fitness centres, insurance brokers, engineering firms and retirement homes.
The award criteria included, among other things, sustained growth, outstanding customer service, employee retention and development, and civic vision. For CSN, the concepts of employee development and customer service are intertwined, said Madai, adding that employees that are satisfied and happy will pass that feeling on to customers.
“That comes from understanding what our core values are – polling your staff about what’s important to them, what makes them feel good about coming back to work each day,” Madai said about creating a positive work environment. “We understand what each of our employees needs to feel safe and trusted at the shop. And what happens is as soon as everyone feels great about showing up every day to work, that’s immediately apparent to everybody who comes through the front door. Having a happy, positive environment for people to walk into makes everybody feel great.”
A glance at the company’s Google reviews, as unscientific as that type of survey is, reveals evidence that customers are picking up the positive vibes from the Elite staff. There are currently more than 130 Google reviews up for CSN Elite, with an average score of 4.8 stars out of five. A scroll through the comments shows nearly universal, effusive praise.
“You get a little misty, you get a little proud,” Madai said about reading the shop’s reviews. “I think when you read the Google reviews, which have nothing to do with me and everything to do with my staff, I think you can see that the public is picking up on the good vibes that are in each office. I think that’s what it is – everybody is really happy to be here.”
It can’t be, of course, just good vibes needed to impress a client, but also good work. Elite makes use of a process they call the Advanced Repair Plan which sees clients come in for a thorough consultation and car inspection to locate all the damage and determine what course of action is best. The shop will then gather all the parts for the job and make sure that all insurance claims are properly dealt with before bringing the car back in for an efficient fix.
“We’re trying to remove as much waiting from the process as possible. I think people appreciate that,” said Madai. “We want to take the mystery out of a very chaotic incident. No two collisions are exactly the same. And so how do you create an efficient repair program when no two accidents are exactly alike. … We’re able to do it more efficiently and more accurately because we’re able to research the repair and prepare everything for the client ahead of time.”
Elite also checks the civic responsibility box, providing funding for local sports teams. They also are raising funds to sponsor a child’s wish through Make-A-Wish, recently raising nearly $1,000 through a hotdog barbecue. That connection to the local community is the key to the business, said Madai.
“We’re just so grateful that somebody would pick up the phone and call us, or drive on our lot and think about us,” he said. “We’re very proud to be part of the community and that people trust us to fix their cars.”
This story originally appeared in the Car Care section of the paper, a special feature focusing on auto-related content.