It has been my privilege in 2010 to contribute a series of articles to this publication. We have been following four main themes. The first we discussed was the concept of taking responsibility for your business, and becoming the owner and manager that your business requires for success. We then talked about creating a vision for a better future in your shop and how to take leadership in bringing that about. Thirdly, our topic was the power of thought, how to use your mind as well as your hands. And lastly, we covered the responsibility we have to get off of the fence and actively make decisions in our businesses.
As you can see, the theme that was woven through all of these articles is responsibility. In this age of democracy, freedom of speech, human rights and political correctness, we have forgotten the other side of the coin, of being a good citizen, respecting the opinions of other, being considerate of others and tolerance of others. With our rights and freedoms comes responsibility.
As the owner, operator and manager of an automotive service centre, what do you have control over? Are you aware of your responsibilities? I am finding in my work as an implementation coach that the shops that succeed and grow, regardless of circumstances, are those where the owner has decided to manage their business and lead their team. These owners have developed the ability to work on their business rather than in the business. They understand that even though they own the company, the company is not them; it is a separate entity that needs to be managed. Successful shop owners have developed a strong sense of self-esteem and personal purpose.
Some shop owners may react to the above paragraph and say that they do take great responsibility for their shop, that they are the only ones that can do it right. They comment that good employees are hard to find, that no one besides them takes their job seriously. They do all the difficult repair and diagnostic jobs themselves, they have to review and authorize all the large estimates, they have to do all the book keeping; in other words, they have to do it all because no one can do it as well as them.
That is not good management. That is being a control freak and this need to control comes from fear. There is an interesting dynamic in our industry where I find that some fully trained, experienced “Red Seal” licensed technicians are unable or unwilling to make a call on a vehicle. In other words, they have to check with the “boss” first, before they will say that a part is worn out, or that a system needs service.
Because of a lack of trust in their technicians and fear of their customers, many shop owners try to control the whole repair process themselves. This causes a lack of confidence and deep sense of frustration in those same technicians and they begin to behave like robots rather than the professional experts they truly are. Service advisors are relegated to the position of glorified secretary, answering phones and picking up the pieces after a boss who can’t keep up with doing everything himself.
A professionally operated automotive service and repair shop is operated by a team made up of good managers who know how to lead, good technicians who are experts and good service advisors who are great consultants.
In an industry that has allowed itself to be dragged to the lowest common denominator of low prices, poor quality, and dissatisfied customers, there is a bright light on the horizon.
In their publication produced in October of 2009 called “Hidden Potential Unmasked: The Canadian Automotive Aftermarket Demand Study,” DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. report on a segment of the automotive customer database called “benchmark spenders.” These folks are people who spend an average of $1,342 per year on each vehicle. They are part of the top 25 percentile of customers. This data is important to note, because it comes out at the same time as other reports stating that the driving public has reduced what they are spending on their vehicles.
The latter is still true, but it includes all of the driving public including the do-it-yourselfers. Benchmark spenders are people who understand the value of maintaining their vehicles and the value of not replacing a vehicle every four years. My question for you is, “How many benchmark spenders do you have in your database?”
I am concerned for some shops. Because they have very few of these type of customers in their databases and are unaware of the potential, they have bought into the belief that no one has any money. They do not have benchmark spender clients because they do not offer what these folks want; in fact, they behave in ways that often repel this type of client.
If our assumption is that our customers do not have money and we approach them with the fear that if we tell them the truth about the condition of their car we will be perceived as crooks, we will attract exactly those types of customers. Our lack of confidence in the expertise of our technicians and our inability to communicate with our customers causes us to be the first to feel the decline in sales and profitability. On the other hand, if we learn how to inform our clients of the true condition of their vehicle and of the required maintenance in a way that they do not feel like we are shoving it down their throats or performing a wallet flush, we will have all the business we need.
This requires a change in some of our perceptions and the addition of several processes to the way we handle the vehicle needs and requirements of our clients. J.D. Power and Associates report that close to 90 per cent of clients want to be completely informed regarding the current state and future requirements of their vehicle every time they bring it into a service centre. That does not mean they necessarily have all the money at that time or are prepared to spend that money right at that moment.
However, client satisfaction studies show very high marks for shops that do this and then proceed to inform and educate the clients regarding the priorities for their vehicle, and help them budget and plan for all that is required. To the point that best practices are such that the shop books the next appointment for the client in the same fashion that a dentist office would.
This approach creates and attracts benchmark spenders, clients who understand the value of investing money in maintenance, service and repair of their vehicles in order not to have costly breakdowns or the need to replace a car every three to four years.
In order for an automotive service centre to be part of this process the whole team, starting with the owner/manager, need to own the responsibility of truly having their clients best interests at heart. That means we listen carefully to the clients concerns, perform mileage and time appropriate inspections of the vehicles, review vehicle histories and deferred work, review manufacturers recommended services for that interval, and then professionally inform the vehicle owner of all of this information and consult with them as to priorities, costs and budgeting. As you can well imagine, this whole approach means that the shop is well managed, each team member is treated as a professional and knows their responsibilities, and great systems are in place to make sure it all happens in a timely fashion. I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season and a prosperous New Year.