Canadian consumers are a wary lot, and nowhere is this more true than at their local vehicle service provider. One solution to the problem lies with the Motorist Assurance Program of Canada, or MAPC. SSGM contributor Allen Jones describes how MAPC will boost the image of our industry.
Is this a new consumer-advocacy group? Or is it an auto repair industry association?
“I’d like to suggest that it’s an interesting blend of the two,” says George Ramik, speaking from the perspective of just over a year as executive director of the Ottawa-based Motorist Assurance Program of Canada (MAPC).
In its official statement, the fledgling MAPC’s mission is to strengthen the (admittedly shaky) relationship between the motorist and the automotive service and repair industry through education of both the motorist and service provider, and through the creation of industry standards.
A noble mission. But how does MAPC – executive director Ramik pronounces this “map-C” – plan to accomplish this goal?
In simplest terms, MAPC will give its annual seal of approval to repair facilities that demonstrate they can work effectively under what the program calls universal inspection and communication standards. Then it will provide a kind of referral service to steer the consumer to the MAPC accredited shop in his or her neighbourhood. Both parties will have the benefit of unbiased dispute resolution.
As you might have guessed, the C on the end of MAPC distinguishes the Canadian version from MAP, which the American Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association Inc. (AMRA) launched in 1992 to address concerns raised by American regulators, the media and by consumers questioning the automotive repair industry’s ethics and methods of doing business.
MAP has meanwhile accredited roughly 5000 facilities. Says Ramik: “We can already start to demonstrate to some extent the effectiveness of programs like this. In the US very recently the statistics changed quite dramatically with respect to the number of consumer complaints in various industry sectors. Automotive repair had been riding number one for so many years that everybody figured it would be there forever. It just got knocked down to third place. This demonstrates a larger industry benefit and I think that’s quite telling.”
Consumer trust a team effort
It was in response to similar concerns that the Automotive Industries Association (AIA) of Canada created MAPC under license from the AMRA. Retailers and industry associations recognized that rebuilding consumer trust and confidence in this industry would take a team effort. So a number of companies sat down under the auspices of the MAPC to figure out how to improve their industry’s relationship with consumers and the media.
The Canadian program has processed 120 of some 200 applications for shop accreditation it has received since late last summer.
Ramik is quick to note that among the industry groups involved CARS Council played a significant role in bringing MAP to Canada. In fact, Ramik himself came to the program from CARS.
Explaining the initial CARS connection, Ramik says, “One of the major components of their (CARS) mandate is really around the image of the industry, typically as it affects the industry’s ability to recruit and keep good people. But certainly the way industry does business has a dramatic impact on those kinds of things because parents own cars and they have to get them repaired, and if they’re dealing with an industry that they don’t view as being particularly pleasant, then certainly they’re not going to be particularly kind to their kids who are considering a career in the industry. So it’s quite a large loop. Parents, in spite of what kids will tell you, do have substantial influence on their kids’ career choices, actually more so than do career councillors. Dr. John Walsh did a fair bit of research for CARS in the early 90s on the whole industry image issue. CARS primary interest was to promote this (MAPC) really as an industry image-improvement mechanism.”
CARS provides the training materials the shops study to gain MAPC accreditation. And MAPC currently piggybacks on the CARS Internet domain with a Web site designed to attract the consumer motorist to accredited shops. The site provides the consumer with non-commercial information – vehicle maintenance tips, how to find a good technician, and so forth – plus an easy-to-use search engine that pinpoints accredited shops by city.
(Check out the site at www.motorist.org. Click the box at upper right where it says For MAP Canada.)
Because credibility to consumers is a keystone of the program, MAPC has aligned itself with the Consumers Association of Canada. As of a few months ago, the CAC has a seat on the MAPC board.
“We see it in some respects as almost a joint initiative,” says Ramik, “the automotive industry working with a large consumer group to develop industry standards and a means of communicating with the consumer that’s meaningful and seen as being as very above board. Bear in mind that as the standards for service were developed in the US, consumer groups were involved in the development of those standards. It’s had heavy involvement with consumer groups right from the start.”
Who can qualify for MAPC accreditation?
Ramik says virtually any shop, “a one-person facility, a huge multi-bay operation, somebody that has a small chain – all those sorts of situations. It’s not a restrictive membership, other than we’re looking for evidence of it being an ethical operation. It needs to be two years or more in operation, so that there is a consumer-relations history. If there is evidence of an unresolved complaint lodged with the Better Business Bureau,” he warns, “then it’s very unlikely that you can take it much further.”
The bulk of the current accredited shops came in under the umbrella of a sponsoring member. These sponsoring members pay the big-time annual dues that forms the core of MAPC’s funding. In return, their affiliated shops sidestep the membership fees, though they do have to qualify individually and pay for accreditation.
The current roster of sponsoring members includes:
Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario (AARO)
Canadian Tire Corporation/La Socit Canadian Tire Limite
SMK Speedy International
Uni-Select (Uni Pro, The Specialist/Le Spcialiste, Performance Plus).
If you want to apply for MAPC accreditation but don’t have a sponsor, first you’ll have to become your own sponsoring member. Fees range from $135 a year for a shop whose sales volume is less than $250,000, on up to $20,000 a year for a company with sales of $100 million or more.
Accreditation fees are $285 a year for each of the first five facilities brought in by a sponsoring member, then $100 a year per facility beyond the first five.
You don’t just pay the fees. To qualify for accreditation you must:
Be affiliated with a MAPC Sponsoring Member or become a member (as explained above).
Abide by the Pledge to Customers and follow the Program Standards of Service (as outlined below).
Use the MAPC Uniform Inspection and Communication Standards (UICS) during all applicable inspections of a customer’s vehicle, document that inspection and give the written results of the inspection to the customer.
Participate in a dispute resolution program approved by MAPC.
Display MAPC materials.
Pass the MAPC operations reviews.
Be operating as currently structured for at least six (6) months.
Have not had owners/principals convicted of an offence related to fraud in the marketplace, engaged in misrepresentation, or deceptive practices for a period of at least two (2) years prior.
Have minimal customer complaints.
Authorize the releases by regulatory agencies of all information on file pertaining to repair activities of the facility to MAPC.
Submit a written application.
Pay the facility accreditation application/renewal fees.
Facilities participating in the MAPC Fa
cility Accreditation Program must pledge to their customers:
That written recommendations for repairs will be provided and explained – based on system failure, improved system performance or preventive maintenance – according to accepted industry standards.
That personnel at the facility will be properly trained in accordance with Program Standards of Service and qualified to perform an inspection in accordance with Uniform Inspection and Communication Standards (UICS).
That a written estimate, including the reason for the repair, will be provided and no work will be performed without prior authorization by the customer.
That a written limited warranty on repairs will be included at no extra cost to the customer.
That if the customer is not satisfied with the resolution of a dispute regarding the facility’s performance in meeting the requirements of this program, the dispute will be submitted to the Motorist Assurance Program of Canada’s dispute resolution process.
No empty promises here. MAPC requires applicants to train shop employees in its vehicle-inspection and customer-relations methods, then uses a mystery shopper to check out the shop prior to accreditation.
Says Ramik: “There is a phone call made to them by an independent agency. Whoever answers the phone is expected to answer the typical sorts of questions that a consumer might ask – I hear you’re part of the Motorist Assurance Program, what’s that do for me? Will I get an estimate? If I have a problem with your inspection report, what kind of recourse do I have? – that sort of thing.
And their ability to respond to those consumer-type questions determines in our eyes whether or not that facility is up to speed on the program and is going to be able to represent it properly.
“A good proportion of them are successful with the first phone call. But there is an opportunity for a re-test.”
MAPC expects you to go through the same application for accreditation every year.
“We get regular updates from the adjudication body,” Ramik explains. “CARS comes into that again. CARS does a fair bit of accreditation with college programs, so we’ve asked them to take this task on as well. And it really has to be at arm’s length from MAPC itself. It has to be unbiased.”
While the sponsoring members are busy recruiting shops for MAPC accreditation, Ramik expects to make presentations aimed at getting the OE dealer repair bay side onboard as well. “We see this as a broad industry initiative, not meant to be exclusive to any one segment,” he says.
He’s also looking for further participation from CAA and other motorist-related programs that are already working with consumers. No date has yet been set for MAPC’s official program rollout. But Ramik says it will be done with a publicity blitz, through associated organizations such as the Consumer’s Association of Canada, and through a series of press releases aimed at gaining exposure for accredited shops at all levels. SSGM