Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2000   by Andrew Ross, Editor

TIME FOR NEW THINKING


Like clockwork, you’ll hear techs talking–or posting in the Internet world–phrases like “The customer didn’t come back, so I’m assuming it fixed the problem.” Well, you know what happens when you assume. Think about it: if a business has had two tries at fixing a problem and still didn’t get it right, would you go back? Even if you would, I don’t believe it’s an assumption you can make any more than you could assume that the second time you sold a DIYer a part, it must have fixed the problem. Nor would you accept that this type of business would rightfully command the highest prices.

In today’s world there are just too many options to expect consumers to shuttle back and forth between home and a service provider who does not get it right.

This is no knock on technicians, counterpeople or even the consumer, but it is a knock on the persistent nearsighted views that this industry can display.

At the jobber end of the business, we’re all very fond of recounting tales of that installer who wants ten deliveries a day of parts costing less than a buck, or who will spend half an hour searching for a part that’s two bucks cheaper when his total bill is going to be several hundred. These are all absolutely true examples, but they kind of miss the point.

The reality is that, up against the substantially larger resources of chains and dealership service centers, the independent aftermarket simply cannot afford to waste so much time and effort squabbling over pennies.

Going back to my first point, why is it that this industry talks in terms of comebacks, when they should be thinking in terms of repeat business? A repair garage or parts wholesaler who does not provide an effective solution for the customer the first time is at risk of losing its most valuable customer base to the competition one at a time, leaving it with customers who are only looking for the cheapest repair possible. The independent aftermarket is always on the brink of that anyway; it doesn’t need to make matters any worse.

Consumers are constantly bombarded with advertising and marketing messages touting the trust and confidence the vehicle owner can place in repairs by the national chains and dealership networks. A poor experience in the independent sector sets up the consumer to be seduced by these messages.

The independent aftermarket may not be able to compete on a dollar-for-dollar basis with the marketing clout of the major players, but it does have direct control over the quality of the training its people have and their approach to the customer.

The aftermarket doesn’t need many more training resources; what it needs to do is use what is available. And the aftermarket doesn’t need more consumer affinity programs; it needs to stop griping about programs like the Motorist Assurance Plan and the Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Certification having their genesis south of the border.

Instead, it needs to let go of its prejudices–because that’s what they are–and start grabbing hold of anything that it can sell to the consumer which will raise its image. Too often programs such as these are seen as the property of those groups that first embraced them, curtailing their industry-wide potential at the outset.

When it comes to such programs and training the benefits are often difficult to quantify. “What good will it do for me?” is the question asked most often, mostly with a rhetorical spin. That’s a destructive attitude because it breeds arrogance and apathy. Instead, try thinking in terms of “What harm could it do?”

Trying new things isn’t something that the aftermarket is particularly good at. In many ways its conservative culture has seen it through some pretty tough times, but the world is moving more quickly today than it ever did and the consumer isn’t as patient as he once was. Unless the aftermarket starts to move forward en masse toward a new attitude about what constitutes first-class service, and learns to get comfortable with charging appropriately for it, it will no longer be able to assume that its future will be as bright as its past.

NEXT MONTH

Bodyshop Supply Market Developments, Wiper Blades, and a preview of the biggest aftermarket event in North America: Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week 2000.


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