Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2008   by Laurie And Jim Voigt, Owners Of Columbia Auto Service, Waterloo, Ont.

Taking the pro-active approach to automotive customer service

Independent service providers have to help themselves to ensure a successful future for their operation. We cannot wait around for customers to call or to show up at our shops. We need to be pro-activ...

Independent service providers have to help themselves to ensure a successful future for their operation. We cannot wait around for customers to call or to show up at our shops. We need to be pro-active in order to overcome some of the obstacles that face our industry today.

For instance, the dealerships are constantly marketing themselves as the experts for the cars they sell. They put pressure on the consumer to return to them for service while their car is under warranty. Manufacturers install sub-systems that independents have difficulty servicing, TPMS, security and maintenance reminders, just to name a few. As well, cars are designed today as “no-maintenance vehicles.” Longlife fluids and platinum spark plugs alone are taking away opportunities to perform services at the pace we are used to.

Other challenges add to our frustration. Lack of affordable access to information, increased competition from new car dealerships, a trend toward convenience in the way of “fast lube” shops, and a dwindling labour pool of competent technicians are eating away at the market share of the independent service provider.

In order to survive we need to take action. Instead of waiting for customers ers to show up at our doorstep, we need to start to invite them. Every telephone call, drop-in customer, or service event is a sales opportunity that we must pursue. We cannot afford to let any business slip through our fingers. We must adjust our thinking to pro-actively seek out new chances to provide service to our clientele.

We need to aggressively advertise our services, particularly the fact that we can handle the maintenance needs of cars while under warranty. Customers do not have to take their vehicles back to the dealership for every little problem. We need to present ourselves as intelligent, responsible providers of up-to-date service and information.

We need to pre-book appointments, a technique that has proven to be effective in ensuring repeat and steady business. Pre-booking the next appointment allows us to pay closer attention to the customer’s needs and their car’s history in order to provide the best possible service. Customers like pre-booking because it helps them to stay organized.

We need to work hard to attract new customers but we also need to show our appreciation to those customers who have been loyal all along. We need to learn their names, to listen to them, and to build relationships with them. We have to be genuinely interested in what they have to say and we need to spend a little extra time getting to know them. The time will be well-spent. They will appreciate that you remember some random piece of information that they shared the last time they visited. If necessary we can jot down a few notes about our customers to refresh our memory before they come in for service. We need to treat our customers with the respect they deserve instead of simply whining about the changing climate of our industry. We need to be more positive in general.

As independent service providers, we need to provide the value-added services that the dealerships use, such as: free shuttling, interior and exterior car cleaning and free promotional gifts, but the difference is that we have the freedom to go one step further. We can “wow” our dedicated customers in unexpected ways by taking care of some of their smaller needs. For example, we can throw in a no-charge item on the invoice every once in a while — a wiper blade replacement or light bulb repair, that might cost us a few dollars to do, but prove invaluable in our quest to build a positive relationship with our customers. The technicians at the dealerships work on a flat rate and their service advisors conduct business under strict and rigid guidelines that won’t allow for those kinds of perks, and from experience, we know how much the customer appreciates these “little extras.”

We are the makers of our own destiny. ny. Though the future looks intimidating, we have the power to overcome all of its obstacles. We just need to work on providing the best service we can for our customers. With a positive attitude and a fresh approach, we can succeed and prosper in the years to come.


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