Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2010   by Auto Service World

Habit-forming Behaviour

For a number of years now, our September issue has done double duty as our How to Sell/Back to School issue.

The connection is obvious: the combination of sales tips as an important part of ongoing learning is inescapable. Selling is, after all, what the distribution segment of the aftermarket is really about, even though we sometimes forget that distribution is an active pursuit, not a passive one.

Believe it or not, there are those who, from a bird’s-eye view, might argue that it is up to the supply chain to fill the demand at the installed and DIY level. The danger in this view is that it ignores the fact that the aftermarket distribution chain can actually affect demand, not just respond to it.

The fact is that a well-informed customer may generate demand that would otherwise remain hidden, which is precisely the same as if it didn’t exist at all.

This is at the crux of recent reports from the AIA that set the unfulfilled demand in the billions of dollars.

Yet as groundbreaking as that work is–and the cumulative numbers are truly shocking–it is important that the whole weight of the challenge ahead not be laid at the feet of the service provider.

Yes, they are at the business end of discussions with the car owner, but there needs to be more discussion on just how this has come to be.

It seems clear, from my discussions with the authors of the study, that a lack of habitual inspections is a large part of the problem. This seems consistent with experience.

However, some discussions with service providers seem to indicate that car owners sometimes opt to not have work done, even when an inspection is executed.

Why that should be is at the root of my point here.

What goes into a decision to put repairs off, either temporarily or permanently? Maybe it is a shortfall in the communication skills of the service provider. Perhaps the service adviser is the best on the planet, but the car owner is too tight in the wallet area to afford the repair. It might also be one of those cases where the car owner says he is going to sell the car shortly and is actually going to do it. (Hey, sometimes it happens.)

To me these all boil down to the fact that the importance of maintenance, and the economic advantages of maintaining rather than replacing a vehicle, have not been sufficiently communicated over the long haul.

What is needed is an ongoing effort by the aftermarket distribution chain to support all efforts by the service provider to provide this kind of message. It is true that there are initiatives, but these are applied too inconsistently.

Constant reinforcement, through training and communications materials, is required, and here’s why. With customers now showing up at a service provider only once or twice a year, that one opportunity to both inspect and talk about inspection and maintenance is too valuable to miss. Not all customers will get the message first time around, so we all need to keep at it, in busy and lean times.

The kind of personal, consistent message is what will change the habits of the consumer, and keep him from opting for the new car as soon as he gets his first major repair bill.

It will take time, but it is possible, and well worth the effort. An effective strategy will keep more used cars on the road running well, help our environment, reduce consumer debt, and keep our industry humming along too.

Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

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