Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2002   by Auto Service World

Apathy Rules, Again

At first glance, the recently released study on Customer Relationship Management by the AIA seems woefully inadequate to the point of inaccuracy. Statements like “94.9% of shops maintain a database of their customers’ personal information,” certainly got my attention, flying in the face of what I believed about the poor state of technological adoption by service providers. Even among jobbers, who typically have greater computer needs, about one in eight are computerless (the smallest and newest).

But accuracy is an arguable point. More troubling is that, of the more than 1,000 two-page survey forms mailed to shops, only 77 responses were received. These responses accounted for 862 retail locations and over 8,000 service bays. Take out the five responses from the chains and you can reduce that to a pretty small number. In fact, 72 of the 77 responses were received from independent automotive repair facilities, at best representing only a few hundred service bays, which still puts them near the top of the independent food chain with an average of more than five bays per outlet. Shame on others for not taking five minutes to respond, or perhaps shame on them all for being too embarrassed to admit the truth about their state of readiness.

I’ll leave it to you to look up the research, available online at, but there are certainly a whack of questions raised by it if you’re willing to look deep enough.

Buried on the last line of the survey’s summary, for example, is the indication that just more than 80% actually keep the customer information on computer.

This reminded me of the fact that for years I had a database on my desk that required no programming and no electrical power. It was called a card file. I used to add capacity by wrapping up business cards in elastic bands and still do. I suspect that there are many out there who still use their computers about as effectively, without either the computer capability or skills to do much with the data.

The fact is that the depth of data gathered by service providers, and the way they gather it, is sorely lacking. Few would have the ability to do the most rudimentary types of customer relationship management.

Then there are what I can only consider to be outright lies–like the 40.6% of shops that claim they do follow-up calls after service–and the 43.8% who say that they mail service reminders to their customers. Maybe they have done so at some point, but to suggest that it’s any kind of a widespread practice is preposterous. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

This is all, of course, for your customers to deal with, but it seems to me that without an effective means of reaching their active customers–if they even know who they are–then you’re going to be as vulnerable to more sophisticated competition as they are. If ever there were an opportunity requiring the resources of a large organization, CRM is it.

Worst of all, though, is the suggestion that the lack of response would indicate either rampant apathy, a complete lack of understanding of the purpose of the survey, or the importance of CRM. I’m not sure which is worse. Any suggestions?

–Andrew Ross, Editor


It’s show time! Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week bounds into Las Vegas in November, so we’ll preview some of the events and give some insights into the hard parts and performance and accessories markets for 2003.

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