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What Does the Future Hold?

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A few years ago, I traveled back to California, where I got my start in automotive. As I gave my wife a tour of the shops at which I worked, I was dismayed—but frankly not surprised—to see that two out of the three were out of business. They were both what I would call "old school." It was sad to me and a stark warning that refusing to change could be the death of our business and, quite possibly, ourselves. As I visit shops across the country, I see the divide getting bigger and bigger between the modern, well-equipped shop and the "greasy garage" that's most common in communities across America.

I just finished two weeks of Mastermind meetings with the top 5 percent of shop owners across the country. We gather every quarter to collaborate on solving problems and exploring opportunities. With the myriad of changes going on in our world and industry, there were, naturally, numerous discussions about the future of our industry as we know it.

We all decided that the future is full of opportunities for those who are willing to embrace the coming changes. On the flip side, we will see many shop owners close down or hope to sell what they have and retire. Most of all, it was apparent in all of our discussions that we must stop thinking like technicians and learn to be businesspeople.

A technician thinks about how he or she will fix the car; the businessperson thinks, “How can I give this person the best experience while repairing their vehicle?”

Preparing your business for the future can be a daunting endeavor, so we'll eat this apple one bite at a time. 

To refresh, last month we talked about the four things clients want:

  1. Quality service and repair

  2. Timeliness

  3. Someone who is nice to them

  4. A personalized experience

To provide quality service every time, the process has to be systemized. Even though we're in the "digital age" and more people schedule online, a human connection must still be established. How is the person trained to interact with someone on the phone? Is he or she overly accommodating, helpful, robotic, or worse, does he or she sound stressed and inconvenienced?

A well-trained service advisor will get most customers off the phone and into the shop. If you don’t see a good conversion ratio of phone calls to appointments, it's time to listen to your telephone calls and start training. If you have too many "no shows," advisors are not locking in and confirming the appointment as your dentist does every time. Do your advisors get the details when it's convenient for the customer—which is usually while on the phone—or do they blow off the customer and tell them, "I'll get the details when you drop the car off," not thinking that it could be the worst time for them?

Worst of all is inconveniencing and frustrating your customer by making them repeat everything at the counter because no one bothered to document what the customer said the first time over the phone!  Most shop owners don't realize that their service and repairs start at initial contact and the drop-off.  This is the first piece of the equation in providing quality service before the vehicle is even dropped off at the shop.  

When a customer walks in the front door, what do they see?  A professionally dressed, well-groomed salesperson, or someone in a mechanic's uniform? Is the facility clean and modern, or cluttered and dirty? The initial presentation speaks volumes about the confidence the customer will have in you diagnosing and repairing the vehicle. We have to be cognizant that a fair amount of the population doesn't have faith that independent shops can fix new cars, so they often take their newer cars back to the dealer.

How well do your advisors extract the information needed for the technician to pinpoint the issue?  Do they learn what the customer's goals are for the particular vehicle he or she is dropping off?  A professional and well-trained service advisor can skillfully ascertain this information, whereas the average service advisor will make assumptions. 

Does your staff and location's appearance, attitude, and professionalism tell the public that you will be around for years to come and you're changing with the times, or that you will go away like the five-and-dime stores of yesterday? Do you train as hard on customer service and phone skills as you do on technical things?

Quality service and repair is a lot more than just fixing the car correctly the first time. I hope I've given you a few things to think about so you can honestly assess your shop and shore processes up where necessary.

Right now, a poor customer experience is a much more significant threat to our businesses than electric and self-driving vehicles. Next month, we will talk more about the "digital inspection" and the dangers they can bring to our industry if we aren't careful.

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