Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2014   by Murray Voth, TACT

We Attract Who We Are

As those close to me know, I don’t get angry easily. However, even though I have a slow burning fuse, when I blow a gasket you are going to have to rebuild the whole engine. I was at that point a few weeks ago after hearing from some...

As those close to me know, I don’t get angry easily. However, even though I have a slow burning fuse, when I blow a gasket you are going to have to rebuild the whole engine. I was at that point a few weeks ago after hearing from some service advisors and technicians regarding their working conditions. Although I have the privilege of working with a lot of shop owners that work hard keeping their businesses profitable, up to date, with a well balanced human resources approach, I have met a few recently that confuse me. They come to my courses and workshops and argue with me and the rest of the class that it is not possible to charge properly for parts, shop supplies and diagnosis. They state that their customers won’t pay, that they will be accused of being crooks and that there is always another shop out there that will do it cheaper. Then I find out that some of these same shops have hoists that are out of service so there are not enough for each technician, and there always seems to be one bay full of old junk. In addition, the bathroom for the technicians is out of service and since they are not allowed to use the office bathroom they have to go across the street to a Tim Horton’s.

I hear reports of shops that don’t own their own scan tools so that each technician needs to buy their own. But what really got to me was hearing from service advisors that have to stand all day behind the counter without a chair, on in some cases the only thing they have to sit on is one of those stools you get from parts suppliers with a promotional package. Or one advisor had an old office chair with duct tape wrapped around the arms and patching several worn-out areas of the chair. Another advisor asked for a telephone headset to keep her from getting headaches from holding the phone on her shoulder, and was told it was not necessary.

You Attract the Customer You Get

I truly believe that if you live in a world of scarcity, you will attract customers that see the world in the same way. It seems to me that all some of you have experienced is cheap negative customers, but it seems that when it comes to running your business, you are cheap and negative as well. I wonder which came first? There are quite a few shop owners in this industry who don’t understand the value of what they do, how much they are worth to society. Imagine one week in this country without a single automotive technician around to service and repair vehicles. It would be chaos. The government would have to call in emergency measures. What has happened is that a technician who is a wage earner decides to open their own shop and still acts like a wage earner rather than a businessperson.

If all businesses in Canada played the price game and all the prices spiraled to the bottom, what would happen to our economy, our wages and our tax base? Think about it. There are hundreds and thousands of businesses operating in Canada that are profitable and growing and are not the cheapest. How can they do that? It is called their value proposition. People will pay money for things they value, and each person’s perception of value is different. So what is your value proposition? What differentiates your shop from those other “cheaper” shops? If you are either cheap or broke, or tolerate substandard tools and equipment, or see employees just as a cost rather than the drivers of your business, you will get what you asked for. Customers who are cheap or broke, customers that tolerate vehicles in poor operating condition, and customers that see you and your staff as just an obstacle to getting what they think they want, a cheap solution to their problem.

Low Price Is A False Distinguisher

There is a segment of consumers that believe for some reason that if a litre of milk is $2 at one store and $3 at another, that the one charging the higher price is ripping the customer off. Apparently, they think there is government legislation that controls pricing. The only law there is states the customer must be aware of the price they are paying; you have to have price tags so the consumer can make a decision. What is more astounding is that I meet business people, including shop owners, that believe the same thing. Again, they do not understand the value proposition. I may choose to buy the cheaper milk in order to save money when I am buying a week’s worth of groceries, and don’t mind waiting in line to pay. However, if I need to quickly buy a litre of milk on my way to the office, I will pay the higher price, because I know that store always has lots of cashiers on so I won’t have to wait.

Twenty-five per cent of North Americans cannot afford their car. The American Automotive Association has studied this over the last several years. That is not a problem for a shop owner; that is a problem for society. My point here is that if shop owners do not operate profitable shops they and their employees could join the ranks of those who cannot afford their car. The shop owner needs to focus on the remaining 70 per cent.

What Do Vehicle Owners Want

What the 70 per cent want according to J.D. Power and Associates is the following: 1) vehicle completed when promised, 2) the invoice at the end of the day is the same as the last estimate given and 3) the vehicle is fixed right the first time. They don’t have to bring it back for the same concern twice or more.

What does it take to get a vehicle completed when promised? First of all, stop over promising and under delivering. Make sure you under promise and over deliver. Show the client the value of leaving their vehicle for a slightly longer period of time, to allow you to do the best job possible. Have highly trained technicians and service advisors that communicate non-verbally throughout the day in order to meet the promised time. Perform proper inspections and thorough diagnosis so that the advisors can order the correct parts the first time. And have shuttles and/or courtesy cars available just in case something goes wrong that ties up the customer’s car. It is impossible to be perfect, but we can create ways to compensate.

What does it take to have the invoice the same as or less than the last estimate? Start with giving your customer an estimate! I still cannot believe how many shops still accept keys from the customer and then go ahead without giving them an estimate. Regardless of what the customer says, tell them that you are not their financial manager, and that you will be providing an estimate for them before you start, and that you will be updating it as the process progresses. This means that we need to have enough service advisors to perform these duties. We need our technicians to inform of any changes in the repair or maintenance process that may need more time and more dollars, not just go ahead and fix it without the client’s authorization.

What does it take to have a vehicle fixed right the first time, every time? Stop rushing your technicians, and stop interrupting them and pulling them off of jobs. The majority of technicians in Canada are doing a great job. All of them would be more consistent and do an even better job if they had the following: 1) clear description of the client’s concern from the advisor, 2) the job sold for the proper labour time so that they do not have to rush. If there is rust or the expectation of a broken bolt or stud, these items should be estimated ahead of time. That way the customer does not get a surprise, the advisor does not have to keep calling the customer to ask for more money, and the technician has enough time to get the job done right. And 3), much of number 2 applies here as well, but in addition, we need to learn how to schedule our shops better.

We need to learn that there are three appointments involved here. The first is the consultation regarding the client’s concern, the second is when the vehicle is dropped off, (which can coincide with the first) and the third is when the technician actually works on the vehicle. We need to stop scheduling all three at the same time. That way we will stop rushing the technicians through jobs, and/or pulling them off of jobs.

So, in order to attract and keep the 70 per cent of people who can afford their car we will need to invest in quality advisors and technicians. We will need to provide them with the quality tools and equipment to perform their jobs well. We need to provide them with systems and procedures that will get the results that our clients are demanding. And we will need to invest in training for our team and ourselves. This will take money. This means that in order to pay for this quality, we are going to need to charge for this quality. The two go hand in hand. For Pete’s sake, if a shop cannot afford a $150 office chair for their service advisor, or even if they can afford it but will not spend the money, you have just told me the type of customers you specialize in serving.

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