Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2003   by Jim Anderson,Editor

Survive by Adding Value

It was a "media communications" professional (sometimes known as a "PR Hack") that first introduced me to the concept, almost twenty years ago. The concept is "perceived level of value", and in the co...

It was a “media communications” professional (sometimes known as a “PR Hack”) that first introduced me to the concept, almost twenty years ago. The concept is “perceived level of value”, and in the context of automotive service, we’re going to see and hear a lot more of the idea in the coming months and years. As I understand it, “perceived level of value” is the value that consumers place on the exchange between them and their service providers, not necessarily related to the actual quality or value of the service performed. Traditionally, we’ve thought about the issue in terms of clean washrooms and a friendly service advisor, but maybe it’s time to cast a wider net. I’m thinking of a new car dealership not far from the SSGM editorial office. Parts and accessories are sold in “boutiques” arranged off a central courtyard coffee shop. Ceramic tile and lots of plants make it feel like a miniature version of the food court in a high-end shopping mall. Clearly, this isn’t designed to become a destination retail location, because no matter how good the coffee, you’re there to turn over a portion of your paycheque to Mr. Goodwrench. Nor do I think that the nice digs softens the invoice shock when the service advisor relates the bad news. What I believe that it does do is to distract the consumer, shortening the perceived waiting time between arrival and the key handoff. Is that important? I think that it’s crucial, because that’s the one time that the driver is psychically most vulnerable, waiting for the blow to the pocketbook. It’s no wonder so many of them behave like cornered animals. And what’s the worst thing you can do , in my opinion at least? Suggest sympathy. Why? If you’re a well-run shop, you are delivering good value at whatever the price point, and the consumer is leaving with that value bundled with their improved vehicle. It’s not “too bad about the transmission”, it’s “transmissions do break eventually. The rebuilt is as good as new and won’t give you any trouble for years with proper maintenance. Here’s a maintenance plan.” No apologies, no false sympathy, just confidence and professionalism. The “why” isn’t just to present a brave face. We know that consumers generally have no idea what things cost in our industry, and like the small child that bumps her head and pauses for a second before the tears flow, they’re often looking for a clue to how they’re supposed to feel about the big repair. Give then value, but then tell them that you’ve given it to them. You’re increasing their perceived level of value in the repair. The food court is a smoke screen to keep consumers from thinking too hard about the outcome, and building a preconceived notion about how they should react. The closer your relationship to the client, the less that camouflage is needed, but if you can’t jump all over a client the moment they arrive for their car, consider something mildly distracting, if not entertaining. How about an E-mail station in the waiting area, using that old computer out back? Or a cheap TV hooked to a simple video game for the kids? I know a local transmission shop that keeps a few putters and a few golf balls for practice with a putting cup. It’s small stuff, but the few minutes before settling up with the client are the most stressful for him or her. Then at the moment of truth, be, well, truthful. “Yes, it is a lot of money, but it’s great value because you’ll get lots of additional life out of your car. It’s worth it.” That validation can be more valuable to your client than five or ten points shaved off the top. We all want to feel good about our purchases. Lets add a higher perceived level of value to our clients’.