Auto Service World
News   January 19, 2023   by John Burkhauser

From the magazine: Digital diagnosis pays

You won’t only benefit in a monetary way but also by building needed trust that our industry lacks with the consumer

The AC temperature after repairs. This type of picture may be included in the inspections being sent to the customer

You should be paid for diagnostic time. You should be paid for your training, expertise and the tools needed to solve the issues presented by today’s complex vehicle systems.

Yet, many shops struggle with their customers over this resulting in lower margins and customer distrust.

Much of this situation is generated by the misinformed public believing that all a shop needs to do is pull a code that tells them exactly what needs to be fixed. Adding to this negative belief is the fact that some parts chains offer drivers free system tests just to sell them the part that is related to the code that they find. And of course, doing a quick search on the internet doesn’t help this situation either.

We need to take steps to educate our customers in order to overcome these beliefs. This education will not only apply to the diagnosis of drivability issues, but it will also need to apply to all needed diagnoses that we will run into on a day-to-day basis. Especially with the realization that almost no part of the vehicle is untouched by technology. We need to begin this change now for our shops to survive in the long run.

The first step in this process is that shops need to build trust with their customers. It’s been decades that this distrust has existed. Our industry is partially to blame for it. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s not like we all intentionally brought this upon ourselves. But it is something we all need to overcome.

Using a digital service process is one of the ways to overcome this distrust. The digital service process improves customer trust through text communications, both automatic and manual, and the transparency brought about by using digital inspections.

Clear and concise communication is the foundation of trust in everything we do. All it takes is just one misunderstanding to break trust. Texting helps overcome this by allowing quick and constant communication. Being able to keep a customer up to date on what is happening during a service visit can lower the level of anxiety, which is one of the main reasons vehicle owners put off repairs and services. Texting recommendations and reminders help keep due services in mind for the customers, helping eliminate the surprise of needed repair and service.

Digital inspections will also contribute to driver trust by providing transparency that could only previously be gained by walking a customer out to the bay and vehicle, educating them on the “why” of the repairs and recommendations. Pictures, videos and clear descriptions help drivers because “seeing is believing.”

The general trust that the digital service process brings between shop and customer can now be focused on diagnostics. Used properly, you can overcome the level of skepticism the driver has about the need for diagnostics. This same process can now be used to build value in what needs to be done, possibly eliminating any diagnostic fee pushback.

Many digital inspection software packages allow a shop to create its own inspections. This option allows a shop to build diagnostic routines that can show the customer some of what needs to be done to diagnose an issue. The diagnostic inspection can build value in the skills, tools and steps required to accurately identify the cause of the issue.

The first step in this process is that shops need to build trust with their customers. It’s been decades that this distrust has existed. Our industry is partially to blame for it.

Think about it: When you ask a customer for diagnostic time, all they currently get is an estimate with a bigger bill. There is nothing else to show for the money spent on getting to that point. Eliminating this uncomfortable situation will change everything about diagnostic fees.

Building a diagnostic inspection, each step can be set from verifying the issue, reading codes, and the testing that follows. Will the customer understand the steps and readings that the technician will take? Probably not. But for the first time, they will be getting something for their money. They will also learn about the steps required after the code is read. I expect that this will increase the level of trust between the shop and the driver.

Let us use an AC performance test as an example of how this works. Inspections are made of ‘points.’ Each point can represent a step in the diagnostic process. The required step or test is done and documented via text, photo, or video. The outcome of that point determines the next steps or points that a technician will follow.

During the process, the tech will document findings and readings for each test (point). Will the customer understand what the pressure readings (or fuel trim, oscilloscope readings and other tests) indicate? No. Just like they don’t fully understand when you walk them out to the vehicle in the bay and you point out the issue for them. A level of trust is built and more than likely they will authorize the repairs.

The diagnostic inspection can also be used to document the steps required to replace a component. This can show the customer why it takes eight hours to complete a task. Additionally, a picture can show the new part in place alleviating the common question, “Did they actually do anything?” Creating understanding results in trust.

Building value and transparency into what needs to be done to determine the cause of the concern will make it easier to sell diagnosis services. The fact that your shop probably is the only shop that offers this process with digital diagnostic results, sent straight to the customer, will make it not only easier to charge for diagnosis, but you should also be able to charge more.

John ‘JB’ Burkhauser is director of education at Bolt On Technology. He has more than 35 years of experience as an auto repair industry specialist with expertise ranging from A Level and ASE Certified Master Tech, shop advisor/manager, to automotive trade school instructor, and technical writer. For more information or to get in touch, visit

This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2022 issue of CARS.

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