The good news is that Canada’s vehicle fleet is growing in size and it is aging gracefully provided vehicle owners follow a solid preventative maintenance program. The bad news is that consumers generally think they are doing a good job of maintaining their vehicle when in fact, the latest AIA Demand Study research shows that some $14 billion worth of vehicle repairs go unperformed annually.
Considering the fact that just over $19 billion in repairs is sold annually, the $14 billion of unperformed service represents a significant amount of business that is simply being left on the table. Clearly, the automotive aftermarket would benefit greatly from a concerted effort on all fronts to promote the benefits of regular, preventative maintenance.
“Consumers don’t value their vehicle like their firstborn, but they do believe they are taking good enough care of it, and everything they are seeing around them leads them to believe that they are responsible owners and the owners around them are being responsible as well,” says Rick Nadeau, president and co-founder of the Quorous Consulting Group Inc., who spoke at the Service Providers Forum in April on the results of a recent consumer attitudes and behaviours survey.
“On a 10-point scale where 10 means you are taking really good care of your vehicle, we found Canadians are around a six or a seven in terms of maintenance practices. This means they are going to their local auto service provider every six months for an oil change and a general check-up. At the end of the day, vehicle owners want to drive their vehicle as long, as far, and as safely as possible, while investing the least amount of money on repairs,” adds Nadeau.
The survey found that customers appreciated a vehicle inspection during their service visit – two-thirds believed their vehicles are being inspected during the service occasion, and in those instances, customers cited a significantly more satisfying visit. They also indicated a higher level of forward-intended loyalty (70%) and advocacy to the automotive service brand. However, the $14 billion in unperformed maintenance indicates that vehicle inspections are likely not getting done to the extent that they should be, and consumers’ confidence in their local automotive service providers could be at a higher comfort level.
“Our numbers [tabulated in the J.D. Power 2014 Canadian Customer Commitment Index (CCI) Study] indicate that strategically speaking, automotive service providers should do vehicle inspections all the time – not just from a customer-facing perspective, it is also the opening of a door to a lot of other potential work. And it’s equally important to let the customer know that you did the inspection,” says J.D. Ney, manager of the Canadian Automotive Practice at J.D. Power and Associates. The survey results also reported that the aftermarket lost some $79 million in business to dealerships.
“Automotive service providers have to keep in mind that for the most part, when someone comes into their shop, they are making a purchase about which they are not particularly well informed. It is very much a retail transaction; however it’s not like buying groceries, where the consumer knows the competitive prices of the product. If my auto service provider tells me a part costs X, as a general consumer I am not likely to have much of a frame of reference for this, so it’s a difficult situation and the customer is put on the defensive,” explains Ney.
But there are a number of things automotive service providers can do to help this tenuous relationship along.
“What we found is that when service advisors, in particular, take the time to explain the work and explain the charges and make sure the results of the walk-around inspection are gone over, significantly fewer customers leave wondering if the work was really necessary. The flip side to that is when advisors don’t take the time to actually be advisors and act as that educational conduit for the customer, then that’s when that doubt starts to take hold,” explains Ney.
“Allowing enough time for the service advisor to discuss the merits of an inspection with the customer, and then allowing enough time for the technician to do the inspection, are critical steps that can help you build customer confidence and trust,” adds automotive consultant John Watt. “If you have three techs in the shop and you let in 15 cars, there is just no way all 15 cars are going to be properly inspected. It just won’t happen,” says Watt. “However, if that number was brought down to 10 or 11 cars, the inspection quality will be very much improved. The same factor applies to the service advisor.”
“Many automotive repair shops are taking in more work than they can handle, which is forcing them to overlook key services like preventative maintenance, so they are allowing a lot of future work to leave their shop every day. Auto service providers need to put more focus on controlling the workflow coming into the shop or they will continue to miss a lot of work. When the bays are over-booked, there is simply not enough time to get everything done, especially the preventative maintenance inspection. If you don’t take control of the work coming into your shop and process it correctly, two things happen. You miss a bunch of work, and you miss filling the work capacity of your technicians, because all of that rush causes you not to do the hours of sold labour you should be able to do,” explains Watt.
“When we say communication is an issue, it’s really about explaining the condition of the vehicle to the customer. The second part of the equation is preventative maintenance is a real thing. It really is a tangible thing to be done, but if you don’t allocate the time to do it, you will never propose preventative maintenance to the customer because you are taking all the time to do the job at hand, when you should be telling him the vehicle is at 120,000 kilometres and the transmission flush is due. These things take time to do and you have allow for that time,” says Watt.
So where is that $14 billion in unperformed maintenance?
“A big chunk of it is in this lack of control. There are about 25,000 service providers across Canada. And when you think of it as each service provider not completing a preventative maintenance inspection on each and every vehicle that comes into the shop, that adds up,” says Watt.
The AIA 2000 Demand Study shows that the average vehicle need is 6.7 hours per year – or 2.23 hours per visit, based on three visits. Older vehicles, however, average up to 8.25 hours, or 2.75 hours, per visit, and this includes preventative maintenance. “So if your techs are not doing preventative maintenance inspections on every vehicle, you simply will not get these hours. You will get 1.7 or 1.9 – I’ve seen some that get as low as 1.3. But you will never get these numbers unless you take control,” explains Watt.
According to the J.D. Power and Associates’ 2014 Canadian Customer Commitment Index (CCI) Study, the service advisor has a significant impact on service satisfaction. In fact, four of the top five most important key performance indicators (KPIs) involve the service advisor:
• Service advisor was completely focused on the customer’s needs;
• Service advisor put the customer at ease;
• Customer was greeted immediately upon arrival at the service facility;
• After arrival, the customer was able to speak to a service advisor immediately about service needs.
Conversely, the two KPIs with the greatest room for improvement are: After arrival, the customer was able to speak to a service advisor immediately about service needs, and After service was completed, the customer was able to finish paperwork and pick up their vehicle in five m
inutes or less, which are fulfilled only 51% and 70% of the time respectively. Service occasions in which these KPIs are completed have, on average, overall index scores of 86 and 80 points higher, respectively, than service occasions in which these KPIs are missed.
“The number-one tip to improve customer service is to do things for the customer that the customer knows they need to have done. For example, check the tire pressure, the tread depth, the battery, the wipers, and the lights, and let the customer know if everything is okay. Then tell them you will do it again next the time they come in. That way you build this expectation and commitment,” advises Watt.
“It really comes down to the work the advisors are doing. To be honest, this is one of the most underserved and undertrained roles in both dealerships and the aftermarket. It is like a forgotten cog in the wheel, and if you think of who in your entire organization, from the president on down, spends the most time with your customer, it is the service advisor. Your service advisor spends far more time with the client than anyone else. In the aftermarket, that advisor is your brand in terms of the impression your customer gets of your business. If they are undertrained and under-appreciated in the store, then you are not putting your best foot forward,” explains Ney.
Automotive service providers can help consumers better plan for their maintenance and repairs by utilizing better communication skills and taking the time to explain the safety aspects of the repair. “The consumer needs to feel his technician is paying attention to him. The next step is to empower that customer by having them participate in the decision-making for the service that is required.
“For instance, maybe a couple of repairs are not critical and can be delayed for a couple months. When the work is done, show them the old part and the new part and explain the difference,” advises Nadeau.
While Nadeau’s survey wasn’t able to drill down to explore why some went to the dealerships and some went to an independent garage, he did discover a concern over the imbalance of power that technicians have over consumers.
“In each of the study groups we would have someone say, ‘Oh, I have a guy.’ Then the others in the group would say, ‘How do you get a guy? I need a guy. How is it that everybody else has a guy but I don’t? How did you get the guy? How did you get to that level of trust with your technician?’” says Nadeau.
That last question about trust is the kicker. In addition to providing professional service, completing preventative maintenance inspections, and utilizing good communication skills, it still comes down to the level of trust that the customer has in their technician. “When talking to consumers for this survey they would say, ‘You know what, automobile repair is probably where there is the greatest imbalance of information. So more of a rebalance of this power needs to take place for the consumer to feel confident in their dealings with the service provider,” explains Nadeau.
“To empower a customer, you can do a number of things. You don’t have to do them all the time with all the customers, but you must do some of them. One is talking to them, and getting the work done consistently, and the other thing you need to do is educate the customer,” advises Nadeau.
“Consider your customer base as your bucket. When you don’t have customer service, you have holes in your bucket. The more leaks you have, the harder it is to fill the bucket,” explains Watt. “Excellent customer service really is a question of plugging the leaks of losing a customer. If you don’t do a good job, they get pissed off and they don’t come back. If you want to grow your business, you have to plug the leaks in the customer satisfaction bucket.”