Is it time for you to re-evaluate the way you present yourself to your customers?
Considering that most automotive shops continue to operate much as they have for the last 50 years, it may well be time to redefine your ‘value proposition’.
For decades, our specialty has been repairing broken vehicles. In fact, some shops have marketed themselves as being particular honest because they “only fix what’s broken.” The implication, of course, is that other shops are crooked when they try to sell preventive services. The fundamental reason that shops feel comfortable only replacing broken parts is that it’s easy to prove to the customer that no liberties were taken. Any consumer understands the value of fixing something that’s broken. Many fail to see the value of thorough inspections and replacing worn parts before they fail.
Sadly, most technicians, shop managers, and owners also have trouble understanding why preventive maintenance is so important. Author Josh Kaufman, in his book “The Personal MBA,” discusses this mindset. He writes, “No one wants to make a bad decision, or be taken advantage of. People hate to lose. They dislike feeling stupid. They are uncomfortable taking risks and abhor wasting money. All of us are uncomfortable with the ‘hard sell’ and are afraid of being tricked into something that is not in our best interest.”
As shop owners, technicians, and service advisors, you probably share those same feelings with your customers. That’s why many of us are uncomfortable presenting estimates and invoices to customers – especially the large ones! But if your intention is to serve your client, and look after their best interest, you’ll have confidence in the value you offer.
Look at it this way: a lawyer, accountant, financial planner, dentist, or doctor would be sued for negligence if he built his practice only on fixing what is broken. In reality, much of these professionals’ time is spent giving advice on how to handle finances, taxes, and teeth in such a way that things don’t break.
In the same way, auto repair shops are professionals in a service industry, not just retailers selling car parts. If you present yourself to your customer as a professional service advisor, offering preventive maintenance advice as well as repairs, you’ll automatically have an advantage over competitors who merely fix what’s broken.
Most people do not learn about cars and mechanics from their dads and uncles and grade 10 shop classes as they did in the past. In short, most car owners don’t have the time or knowledge to service, maintain, and fix their own cars.
That’s your job.
Presenting yourself as a professional service advisor, not just a repair shop, may mean altering your business model.
For example, you might need to schedule your customers in such a way that you have more time to spend with them. They might need to leave their vehicles with you for the day so that your professional technicians can properly perform inspections, repairs, and other services. And you need to document everything thoroughly, so you can make sure the vehicle never ends up broken down at the side of the highway.
In order to educate your clientele about how to maintain their cars properly, and how that will save them money in the long run, you need to take a consultative approach. Make it a goal to develop stronger relationships with your clients by listening better, learning to communicate well, and being more thorough in the presentation process.
In my last column (Rewriting Your Business Model, September 2015), I discussed the first of two principles that are key to modern repair and service facilities. It is to communicate your intention to look after your customers’ best interests. You have to become a true professional consultant to them, saving them time and money, and helping them to get the most out of their vehicles by listening carefully to their concerns, performing thorough inspections, reviewing all recommended service, and tracking vehicle history.
The second key principle ensures that the customer understands the logic of your service advisor’s conclusions.
Often customers get less upset about the amount of money they’ve spent than not understanding what they paid for.
Here’s one approach you might take:
“Our goal is to prevent surprises of any kind – either a vehicle breakdown or an unexpected large invoice. Our aim is help you understand your vehicle’s needs clearly, and then assist you in planning and budgeting your vehicle maintenance and repairs.”
The way you ensure success is by prioritizing what you do.
Safety is always first… for your customer, their family, and for others driving on the road. Even though your goal should be to listen carefully to your customers’ concerns about their vehicles and solve those problems, you also have to find any safety concerns. These will often be things they are not even aware of or think to ask about. When you find a safety issue, you need to recommend that work as a high priority.
Recommend the replacement of serviceable items before they wear out and cause other damage. Serviceable items are those components that wear out as they function, such as brake pads and rotors, shock absorbers, struts, belts, and hoses. It’s important to inspect these components at regular intervals to make sure they’re not wearing out prematurely or getting near the end of their service life. If they break, they will almost certainly cause much more expensive problems.
Offer preventive maintenance that includes the manufacturer’s recommendations, as well as best practices recommended by professional technicians. These include things like fluid and filter changes, timing belts, software updates, and lubrication. All of these are designed to make the vehicle operate efficiently.
Inspect vehicle accessories and options. These might include the creature comforts like power windows and door locks, air conditioning, and heated seats that make driving more pleasurable for your customers. Often they’re the features that drew your customer to the vehicle in the first place. With their permission, and being mindful of their budget, you can keep the vehicle running and riding just like when it was brand new.
Using these principles and communicating them clearly to your customers will ensure they always have a safe, reliable, comfortable, and economical vehicle to drive. The ultimate goal is to prevent surprises and help people to properly plan and budget for vehicle maintenance and repairs.
In short, you are acting in your customer’s best interest, not just fixing an immediate problem.
Rather than being concerned just about saving customers money, a shop that takes a professional, preventive approach to servicing vehicles can make a huge difference in people’s lives.
Murray Voth is a consultant and trainer with Total Automotive Consulting & Training Inc. in Edmonton, Alta., which runs the ProShop program across Canada. He can be reached at email@example.com.