Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2007   by Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

What, Me Worry?

You would think that by now, having spent the bulk of my working life hanging around automotive businesses, that I would be immune to automotive anxiety. Think again.

Faced with the biennial emissions test, I found my heart beating just a little harder at the prospect of potential failure.

This despite the fact that my car, seven years old now, runs great and has had regular service at the hands of a trusted service provider. This despite the fact that it has not exhibited any symptoms of malfunction. This despite the fact that I have absolutely no reason to believe that it would not pass with flying colours.

Yet, there I was, fumbling for my keys like a twelfth grader submitting his first beater for certification. Crazy I know–but there you have it.

Of course, everything passed beyond a slimmest shadow of a doubt; I paid my thirty dollars, far more relieved than I had a right to be, considering I didn’t really have anything to worry about. At least that’s what I told myself.

But it all got me thinking: if I got jumpy at the simple prospect of an emissions test, how must the average consumer feel when he shows up at a repair facility knowing that he has a problem? Maybe a big problem?

Is it really too far-fetched to assume that he might be very close to out of his mind with worry about what might be wrong? I don’t think so, and regular research into consumer behaviour suggests that most consumers would rather have a tooth drilled than go to a garage. And how anxious does that realization make the service adviser charged with delivering the news?

And this is where the moment of truth comes in. Do you, and do your customers, have the courage of the dentist? In the battle for the consumer dollar, are you and your customers prepared to stand your ground against a phalanx of dentists, renovation contractors, lawn services, plumbers, and others who vie for the consumer dollar on a more or less non-discretionary basis?

Too often, from my experience, the answer is no; but at least often enough to give me hope, the answer is yes. What separates the two starts with number one: do you believe in the value of what you bring to the market? If you do, then it gets a whole lot easier to charge for it. Price competition is a big factor, yes, but you’ll find that the vast majority of customers will always pay a small premium for quality service.

And at the consumer level, price competition isn’t nearly as important as dollar competition. It’s not so much that one shop is charging $300 versus $320, as the fact that the customer has just been hit with another set of expenses.

For jobbers, the equation is the same, really. If you continually remind customers of the service you bring, you will keep them as customers when you’re a bit higher on some part numbers.

You will command a small premium if you provide top-class availability and service; you won’t if you just say you do. Service providers can’t expect to command strong door rates, despite how strong their technical expertise is, if customers–and employees, for that matter–have to pick their way through a waiting area messier than a teenager’s room.

You want to command a quality price? Have quality service, and look like you do. You can’t have one without the other.

The automotive service industry is in the business of dealing with anxious customers every day: those who own cars, and those who fix them. You need to do everything you can do to alleviate that worry. And that is something customers are willing to pay for, whether you’re in the bay or behind the counter.