This is the fifth in a new series of Knowledge Centre articles on what is being dubbed as “The New Mobility” – exclusive to the AutoServiceWorld Knowledge Centre. Automotive Consultant James Carter offers a unique look at some of the latest innovations in the automotive world, how they work, how they’re evolving, and what they mean to the aftermarket.
Recently, as part of my work in the automotive aftermarket, I was struck by a core problem that all auto repair facilities face. The service we provide to consumers is all about “pain points.”
Let me explain.
Both the aftermarket and OE dealerships spend a lot of money trying to ensure that their customers know the importance of maintaining their vehicles. The value of that maintenance is beyond dispute, but it struck me that it is an uphill battle to get customers to truly embrace that viewpoint.
Let’s face it, no customer likes maintaining their car. There’s no pleasure to be derived from it. Even I – someone who loves cars and appreciates the hard work that technicians do – even I don’t derive any pleasure in returning time and again for service and maintenance!
Let’s follow the typical process:
1) Ring up or email the ASP to book an appointment;
2) Set aside time on the calendar;
3) Book time off work or arrange to come in to the office late (or leave early);
4) Drive to the facility for drop off, try to explain to the service advisor what my concerns are;
5) Figure out how to get to work;
6) Figure out how to get back to the shop to pick up the car;
7) Learning about what was wrong with the car, what work was done (the pain), and what work will have to wait until next time (the future pain);
8) Sort out the bill; and
9) Finally, get back on the road, hoping everything has been done right.
What’s to like about all that?
Sometimes I can avoid steps 5 and 6 if I decided to hang around and wait for the work to be done. But that involves other considerations. Sometimes the place isn’t clean enough to be comfortable (I wouldn’t let my dog sit on some of those waiting room couches!). And the coffee (if any is available) is all-too-often undrinkable!
Let’s face it, regular maintenance is time consuming, expensive… and generally a giant hassle for the customer.
So why do people do it? The answer is obvious – to prevent the much greater pain of premature vehicle wear, component failure, and unsafe driving. In other words, we endure one painful experience to avoid a much greater one.
But automotive service providers need to understand that their business centers on that pain point. We’re not in the most appealing business from a consumer point of view. We’re not selling something that gives great joy. It would be a lot more fun to deal in new cars, fun hobbies, glamourous clothes, or exciting travel. But we don’t.
And the reality is that any industry that is predicated on a pain point is ripe for disruption.
Take a look at Uber. It’s really not much more than a taxi service, but it built it success on removing some of the key pain points of the traditional ride-fare companies. Pain for customers, and the drivers alike.
I was a speaker at a recent AIA “Knowledge Exchange” seminar in Toronto. One of the points I made to service provider attendees was that it might be a good strategy to change their marketing approach. Rather than telling consumers: “Bring your car in for regular maintenance to keep it safe and avoid big problems later,” they should be telling them: “Let me take away the hassle and pain of car maintenance.”
That’s a completely different message… and it’s exactly what new and successful start-ups base their business model on. Rather than telling customers they have to endure a painful experience in order to avoid future misery, you’re offering to take the pain away entirely.
To some shop owners that might sound crazy, but to many consumers, it will sound fantastic. It is brilliant solution they’ve been looking for.
So how can this be made to work?
Aftermarket maintenance packages have been offered in the past, but cost has been a barrier. It’s not easy to get customers to sign up. However, prepaid maintenance packages have started to make significant in-roads at OE dealerships as customers. Maintenance and extended warranty packages have been included in car payments, or simply wrapped up in the MSRP of the vehicle. It has proven to be very successful in developing customer loyalty and retention. From the consumer point of view, it addresses the most common pain points of owning a vehicle.
But the aftermarket doesn’t sell cars, I hear you say. It’s much harder for us to sell prepaid maintenance. That may be true, but I would bet that most automotive service providers know a few local used car dealers. They may even have working relationships with them. It could be mutually beneficial to exploring a joint maintenance.
While ASPs are at it, exploring how to do vehicle pick-ups and drop-offs in a manner that eliminates customer pain points is low-hanging fruit. No doubt there will be a cost to the shop, but it can easily be passed on to the consumer, and the convenience it offers will be build customer satisfaction, especially if it’s rolled into a monthly payment.
Another area to look at is mobile servicing. Again, this has its limits in cold and snowy Canada. But in most places it is entirely viable for seven or eight months of the year. In the U.K., Ford has rolled out an ambitious mobile servicing program, mostly aimed at fleets. It allows workers to continue their jobs and have access to the tools in their vehicles, rather than face the down time of waiting for vehicle servicing. In this case, it isn’t the $150 expense of maintenance that’s costly, it’s the $500 or $1,000 loss of not having a worker being productive.
Understanding the customer’s usage patterns is also valuable. Most vehicles are not used between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. So a night-time service program could be a huge benefit for many. Pick up the car from the customer’s home in the evening and return it – fully serviced and maintained – early in the morning. The charge goes on the credit card or payment plan. Beautiful!
And this is the way ASPs must look at all their customers’ time. It has a value, and people will pay a price to protect it.
You have to understand that, generally speaking, maintenance is a giant hassle for them. It is pure pain! Very few ASPs realize this. They don’t see it as a huge opportunity. But just as Uber disrupted the taxi industry, repair shops can disrupt the status quo of vehicle maintenance. Shops – or chains – that bring together a bunch of new ideas that understand their customers’ pain points and find a way to eliminate them will be the big winners in tomorrow’s aftermarket.
Guaranteed, it will happen sooner rather than later.
There are other ways that could help. The recent introduction of vehicle monitoring allows ASPs to utilize vehicle knowledge and location to their advantage. By knowing where the vehicle is at what time could significantly improve the opportunities of mobile servicing opportunities, and remote diagnosis could eliminate much of the time spent looking for problems.
As we move into “The New Mobility” where electric vehicles reduce the amount of maintenance requirements and people move away from ownership to usage-based programs, a new approach will become even more important.
It’s highly important that ASPs think about their service as a consumer pain point. This perspective will drive new opportunities, and allow ASPs to relate better to their customers, and continue to remain relevant and worthwhile.
Remember, you’re a pain to most of your customers! Use this thought to revolutionize the way you do business with them.
James Carter is principal consultant at Vision Mobility, a Toronto-based consultancy. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to follow James’ insights on LinkedIn.