Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2009   by David Halpert, Assistant Editor

Braking The Mould

How to deal with customers before and after a brake job

In Canada, a brake pad can be purchased anywhere from $20 to $120 depending on where you get your car serviced. In the U. S., the average brake job performed at an independent service centre (once everything is added up) averages to roughly US$275.

Now for those technicians that opt to save a couple of bucks by not inspecting the hardware or purposely choosing an economy brake pad over a premium line, the question then becomes what is the difference between the cost of the part and the cost of the actual brake job?

Brake pad replacement is one of the cornerstones of the service repair industry, and an important one too. According to a 2007 Outlook study carried out by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc., 31.8 per cent of respondents had their brakes repaired with 73 per cent of the work performed at a professional service outlet for the year 2006.

Explaining the features and benefits of brakes is one thing; ensuring a level of trust and understanding between you and your customer is another matter altogether. Whenever a customer hands over their vehicle to you the independent there’s an unspoken agreement that they will be receiving a high quality of service, and the question you must ask yourself is this, “Am I doing everything to ensure the best possible brake job?”

What to Ask?

Discussing brake pads with another technician has its advantages. You don’t have to needlessly go over the different friction formulations appropriate for certain applications and the benefits that come with having a premium pad placed on a vehicle; but for your customers, where price is at the forefront of their minds too often, how do you relate to them? What is recommended by every brake expert and manufacturer is to assess the needs of the consumer through a brief series of questions followed by a quick visual inspection of the vehicle.

Every service counterman has a set of standard questions they ask when a new customer comes to the reception desk. Questions like is your customer hearing a lot brake noise? Are they the sole driver of the vehicle or does everyone in the family make use of the car (including the children)? Does your customer do a lot of city or highway driving as opposed to rural or country driving? However, it’s the more contentious questions like “Do you rest your foot on the brake pedal?” or “Do you have a tendency to make sudden stops?” that might irk some customers during the interview.

“That little interview can develop a trust between both parties,”

says Ian Braunstein of Satisfied Brake Products Inc. “Typically, there will be an uneasiness on both ends. However, establishing the trust factor will create

a consumer loyalty as well. And this isn’t just about brake pads. This is about everything. It’s an overall confidence with the service chain that [the customer is] dealing with.”

It is next recommended to do a quick 30-60 second visual inspection of the vehicle to give you a better idea of what you’re dealing with, and to answer some of the questions that may have gone overlooked in the initial customer interview. Is there a lot of dust on the wheels? Is there a tow hitch at the back that might indicate towing or hauling applications? Is the car beaten-up? Is it an older car? Is it a luxury car? This visual inspection can also help in making the up-selling to better or premium brake components and pads a bit easier.

“That old adage, ‘You get what you pay for,’ comes into play here,” says Kenneth Selinger, director of friction products, North America global aftermarket group for Federal-Mogul. “Technicians might explain the differences in terms of brake system performance and what the customer can reasonably expect from an economy brake pad. Realistically, the economy pad will feature less sophisticated technologies that might affect NVH avoidance and control, pad and rotor life, and perhaps overall braking performance. If the customer expects the vehicle’s braking system to perform ‘like new’ after the repair, they would be better served by premium brake pads.”

While the features and benefits between a premium brake pad and an economy line brake pad are obvious (i. e. less noise, less dust, etc.) many customers may not get passed that initial price point of a premium line.

“All people are looking at [when at the service counter] is their pocket book,” says Tom Fritsche, director of product management for Beck/ Arnely, “I think if the technician illustrates the various materials and what the stopping characteristics are on the vehicle based on their habits, they can very easily do an upsell.”

The Necessary Hardware

“Hang & Turn” is an expression used to describe the act of replacing brake pads without checking the associated hardware for any wear or damage. While manufacturers

discourage such a practice, many technicians overlook the need to inspect the callipers, rotors, pistons, and clips in lieu of saving a few dollars on a repair.

“Checking hardware should part of every brake job. It should not [simply] be offered, it should be done,” says Eric Dussault, vice-president of operations for Alco Brakes Inc. “We’re not in the days anymore where we can slap on new brake pads and put them on the road. There’s too much in today’s braking system.”

This is particularly disheartening to customers that return to a garage a few weeks later complaining of noise, only to discover that their braking hardware wasn’t inspected at all.

One way to ensure repeat service with your customers would be to create a reference checklist for every brake job and to go over with your customer what will be done on their car before and after you start the brake job, so that they know exactly what went into their car before the customer leaves your shop.

“If you ask a thousand customers at the end of their service as they pull out of the lot what parts were put on their cars or by whom, they wouldn’t know,” continues Braunstein, “[Customers] are going to your place to have their brakes installed based on a certain level of confidence. Why not make that interaction a better experience for everybody?”

Another good idea is to have a lot of signage available that addresses some of the issues and solutions available to your customers before they even approach the counter. Most people respond better to visual queues than having something explained to them, especially something they know very little about. If you show your customers a picture of the kind of wear patterns that can occur with either brake pads or brake hardware it will definitely be an easier sell (or up-sell) than by simply explaining the differences to them.

There is also no shortage of deals or incentives technicians can offer to customers still adverse to purchasing premium brake parts.

“I think the most obvious incentives are discounts on additional services that complement a brake job,” says Federal-Mogul’s Selinger. “Tire rotation is a great example -the technician has to remove the tires during the brake job anyway. Other opportunities are an oil change, wheel alignment, exhaust system inspection, steering and suspension inspection -all of which can be conveniently performed when a vehicle is already on the lift. Ultimately it depends on the creativity of the shops and service writers as well as their financial capability to offer incentives.”

“Friction is still one of the remaining categories that technicians still prefer to install premium products,” says Brian Fleming, director of marketing for Affinia Canada, “It has the greatest amount of wear and although the other components also play a major role in the performance and life of a brake job the friction is the one piece that can most affect the systems performance characteristics. Because of this premium friction is still the usual product of choice.”

Just remember, a bad experience at your shop can do a lot more harm than simply the loss of future business. Word of mouth about your shop can be just as damaging if the needs of your cus
tomers aren’t properly met.

“If you establish some kind of rapport or at least a dialogue with your customer,” concludes Braunstein, “you’re going to best serve their interests as well as the interests your shop represents.”


Reference List

Affinia Canada

Alco Brakes Inc.

webperso. mediom.


Satisfied Brake Products Inc.

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