Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2013   by Andrew Ross


Like all jobbers, you rely on that enormous database of information about your products, prices, applications, and financials that resides amongst servers and floats out on clouds, waiting for you to poke them to see what riches rain down from that assembled wisdom. But what do you really do with that data, in terms of customer-building? Most do very little.

As you know, the more recent data warehouse capabilities have made it possible to forecast demand more tightly than ever – though that is still far short of a crystal-clear crystal ball. For many, it is a whole new world so dominated by data that they’d rather not be a part of it. For others, the ability to really see the future is invigorating and empowering.

To know two years ahead of time that a certain set of balljoint applications is going to see increasing demand – as predicted by their early failure rates and vehicle popularity – means being able to be first into the market with serviceable inventories. And that means being able to command better prices and more market share. This is a very good thing.

Today, aftermarket data can tell you so much about the parts you sell that it’s hard to believe you made do with cardex and flat-file legacy systems not all that long ago.

In fact the sun has barely set on the legacy data. For those who care, the Legacy Make Model table was retired in December 2012 by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association. Yes, it will continue to be found, but I can still buy a buggy whip too.

But how much more do you actually know about the customer, your customer: the garage owner and the technicians who work for him (or her)?

I’ll hazard a guess that when you look at your customer information, it will reveal little more than the name, address, and outstanding balance. Maybe, just maybe, you have the historical purchases total at hand. But do you have the application split broken out? Their age? Their marital status? Whether they own a house or not?

Today, large retailers know so much about what shifts in purchasing patterns can mean that they can, and have, run afoul of families because they started sending expectant moms diaper flyers before they’ve told anyone.

Sometimes it is about being too smart, so I’d like you to play a little internal game. See what you can find out about a customer, business and personal, from polling your data and your counterpeople. Then ask a spouse, a close friend over forty, and an under-25-year-old, how comfortable they would be if you sent them a promo based on some of that information.

I think you’ll get widely different opinions based on some very different views of privacy.

I always think back to a story of a new sales rep calling and asking a customer how the wife and kids were, only to be told that it was none of his business because he didn’t even know the customer. The rep in this case had just gone from notes in the account book and overstepped his bounds in an effort to be friendly.

In a world where suggests which books I should read, which tools I might need, and which promotional sporting goods offers I might be interested in, I’m not sure how many people would lash out so quickly.

But there is still a line between business and personal, and it’s tough to navigate. So tread carefully, but use the data and tools to ensure that your customer service is top-notch, and that you know as much about your customers as they do about themselves. And maybe just a bit more.

—Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

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