Turning Deferred Work into a Customer Relationship
While it's often said, "don't put off until tomorrow what can be done today," when it comes to auto repairs, there is only so much time in the day, and for most people only so much money in the bank.
Regular maintenance, such as timely oil changes, is essential for keeping a car running, but even with such upkeep, additional repairs become necessary. A diagnostic check can result in a list or repairs and drivers aren't always prepared to handle the full load of work required all at once.
Hesitation can be due to finances, or contingent on how long a customer plans to own the car. Automotive repair shops should use this event as an opportunity to create a schedule with the customer to complete work, and foster an ongoing relationship.
Often called deferred work, it is not unusual for a customer to put off repairs for a few weeks, a few months or until there are signs the repair has become crucial to the performance and safety of the vehicle. It is important for the technician and sales rep to work with the customer to address any concerns and to advise on a realistic timeline for repairs to be completed.
"Every Customer is different, each circumstance is different," said Taylor Hayley, senior service advisor at Mankato, MN-based Greg's Champion Auto. The automotive shop, which first opened its doors in 1969, has been under current ownership for the past dozen years, while Haley plans to take ownership within the year.
While the service team works with each customer individually and addresses each situation, it always starts with an estimate.
"We create an estimate of everything that needs to be done with the vehicle, with an A, B and C list," Hayley told Ratchet + Wrench.
To address customer concerns, Haley said he discusses their budget, then works out a schedule to address the urgent (A), upcoming (B) and down the road (C) issues with the vehicle.
"Now that I have that number, I know the sale will be 'X' and I figure out what is most important to get done in their budget," he added.
The Economic Situation
The economic climate, as well as other factors, influences how receptive drivers are to go ahead with repairs. A slow economy can create an increase in deferring work, with drivers waiting until repairs become necessary or budgets loosen, yet there are still other factors, such as a lack of new and used cars on the market – and that helped motivate car owners to keep their vehicles maintained.
"They are a little more proactive, once the economy started to pick up," said Dan Dumbauld, owner of the Auto Shop Corp in Phoenix, AZ. "They are willing to invest a little bit more into their car."
In Minnesota, the rate of car repairs has been swift. "Currently it's actually been very busy," said Hayley. "People are repairing the vehicles due to the new and used car market. More people are driving their vehicles longer and longer these days."
It is more than just the lack of inventory that has pushed drivers to hold on to their cars. "I'm seeing more and more people keep these vehicles on the road, and we're able to help keep the vehicles on the road longer and longer," Hayley said."
Tracking Tools (CRM)
It takes more than a ledger to keep track of clients and manage relationships, especially when work might be done in increments. There are several software platforms available that help track customers. Customer relationship management (CRM) software such as MyShopManager, Epicor (previously MecanicNet) and Mitchell 1 POS help manage relationships for these small businesses. Additionally, software tools such as AutoVitals can handle diagnostics, and link up to CRM platforms to ease workflow.
A plan, rather than pushing work on customers, has always been a best practice for the industry.
"For a majority of customers, we've always prioritized or made a plan for customers," Dumbauld told Ratchet + Wrench.
He explained that while there are those customers who automatically agree to do the prescribed work, "Generally we make a plan for them and remind them of those repairs later on."
CRM software is much more than a rolodex; it is a database with client contact information, while it manages every point of contact from service history to any work that is scheduled or recommended and deferred. Armed with this resource, an auto care centers can reach their customers with relevant offers and information.
Software helps with timely communications with customers.
"Once a customer comes into our shop, after 48 hours they receive a text message asking how our service was," said Hayley. The messaging gives Greg's Champion Auto an opportunity to address and resolve any concern a customer has. "Being tech savvy now, everyone has a phone at their fingertips, and we're able to communicate quickly and efficiently”.
The CRM is then used for well timed communications. Greg's Champion Auto uses MyShopManager to send a text or email after six months to remind car owners of regular maintenance. The system can also be used to notify customers of deferred work, and open a line of communication to schedule the service.
Sometimes just the diagnostic can cause sticker shock with customers.
"These computers are more and more expensive, and more testing is being sold now," said Hayley. "Going in for advanced diagnostics [a customer] is going to be in for about $200 to $300. That's been a learning curve for us. Back in the day we didn't have to sell time and testing."
Technicians armed with laptops, scopes and other instruments to view what's under the hood can diagnose as well as help inform customers on what the problem is and why it should be fixed. At Greg's Champion Auto, technicians use a camera and iPad to take photos of problem areas, which can be sent to the customer to explain any repair work being recommended. The work-up includes issues requiring immediate attention as well as problems to keep an eye on—and to plan for future work.
Messaging can also provide photos of parts and problems from the customer's actual car from the diagnostic, but also information and photos and videos showing the part or automotive system that requires repair. Videos and photos show the working part, and sometimes what the part or system looks like in a failure if the repair is not done before it goes too far.
"Our customers can gain knowledge on why it's important and what it does," Hayley explained.
Keep Them Coming Back
Timely communications help customers keep on top of their repairs. Many auto care centers set up incentive-based programs that offer discounts and reward loyalty.
The Auto Shop Corp in Phoenix offers a VIP program, where every dollar spent grants a reward point toward future repairs or free services such as an alignment or oil change. "There almost always has to be an incentive attached to it," offered Dumbauld.
Messaging can help retain relationships, even when customers purchase new cars.
"We remind them that they don't have to return to the dealer for service," said Dumbauld. If the shop knows the customer has plans to purchase a new vehicle, they tune the message with attractive offers. "There's a lot of scripts that help reassure them that if they do get a new car, we can offer service, and if they don't buy a new car, they understood we were sincere and want to continue with their service."
It is important to offer regular messaging, but not too frequently. It should be seen as a reminder, not solicitation for business.
"I'm told by managers that sometimes we bombard them with offers and information," Dumbauld explained. "We want to try to touch them four times a year, and we're not very aggressive with that."
Shops can also have fun with messaging. Greg's Champion Auto the shop sends rebate coupons based on spending for the year. Offers sent during tax season look like a refund check. At year-end vouchers look like bonus checks.
"That has been successful," said Hayley. "I see quite a few of those come back."
When work can't be deferred, financing options help make repairs more affordable. An automotive-specific credit card from Synchrony bank is available for everything from repair work to a fill-up at the gas station. An auto care center can offer financing through the card with terms ranging from six-months to two years.
"The shop does get charged a fee, but we also close a sale so it's very beneficial to the company," said Hayley. It is also beneficial to the customer who might not be able to afford the work but can't afford to put off the repair.