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Mastering Accurate Diagnostics

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Raymond Ciriako always had a clear vision for his shop. He wanted to be a resource for his customers, taking away the hassle and stress of the auto repair experience. When he opened his shop, Precision Auto Repair in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in January 2010, Ciriako says he set out to accomplish that by focusing on accurate diagnostics.

That focus has led to continued growth. In only four years, Ciriako’s once two-person, 1,800-square-foot shop has tripled in size, added seven employees, and become a fixture in the community.

I’ve been in this business about 20 years now, but we’ve only been open for four. When we started, I just wanted a simple mom-and-pop shop with me and my wife, Shelly, acting as the only employees. But as soon as we opened and started advertising in the paper, all the customers I worked with at previous shops started coming back and flocking like crazy.

In less than a year, we went from 1,800 square feet to 5,400 square feet, we won NAPA Technician of the Year for the state of Hawaii. Our sales have doubled every year, and I started hiring more employees. Now we’re up to nearly $600,000 in sales, seven employees and we’re looking to expand again and add more services and classes.

There’s something very simple that I think has contributed to our success: an accurate diagnosis. It’s why we are where we are today.

A typical workday for me starts between 6:30 and 7 a.m. I open up the shop, get the cars ready and go over the daily schedule. We start the day by checking in the vehicles in the shop and determining what they need. Communication between my technicians throughout the diagnostic process is huge. I’ve trained them so that when they come to me and tell me a part needs replacing, the first thing I’m going to ask is why it needs replacing. From there, we can explain to the customer what their car needs and why.

If the technicians can’t explain the “why” to me, I tell them to try again. Because it’s probably going to be wrong. I let them try it again and then I’ll jump in and we start talking to each other and throwing out possibilities.

My other philosophy is that if we do make a mistake along the way, it’s taken care of. I’ve seen other shops argue the issue with the customer, but that’s not my approach. I would rather admit to my mistake so that the customer tells their friends, “I went to Precision Auto Repair, they misdiagnosed something but they admitted to it and corrected it.” That’s what they want.

THE RIGHT RESULTS: Raymond Ciriako’s shop rarely returns parts and sees comebacks even less frequently. He credits his shop’s attention to detail in diagnostics for its impressive efficiency, and Ciriako says that starts with how he and his staff engage customers.  Photo by Charla Photography

To ensure that accurate diagnosis, I can’t say enough what a resource the scan tools are. We use a Snap-on MODIS, Genesis Evo—the new Genesis touch screen that lets you do reflashing—and the Snap-on Vantage. Every scan tool has its pros and cons. I took a look at a lot of different tools and tried to come up with a combination that allows me to do the most. For example, if there’s something the Modis doesn’t cover, the Evo will. It’s nice to be able to double-check with the other scan tools we have, too.

It’s also important to think about your market and the types of issues you regularly see. I noticed that I was consistently getting a lot of vehicles coming back from the dealership with drivability problems. A lot of the problems with drivability are just simple updates with the computer, so being able to do reflashing has really helped us there. 

After we get the estimates together, we usually call the customers in the afternoon and go through what is wrong with their car and why we’re going to replace it. That’s where having personable employees comes into play. It’s so important for me to have employees who can work with the customers. They could be the best mechanic, but if they don’t know how to talk to my customers and communicate what we’ve found, then they won’t fit here.

I’m a huge believer in talking to the customers and always communicating with them about what their car needs. I think the diagnosing process actually starts the minute the customer walks in the door. First and foremost, the service advisors need to call everybody by their name and make them feel important. It’s not just a simple “hi.” It’s, “Hello Mrs. Smith, how’s it going?” If you don’t recognize a customer, a simple trick is to run the license plate number on the computer quickly and you’ll get the name.

We usually get five new customers per day and many of them are already upset. They hate repair shops. For me, I look at that as an opportunity. I let them vent and explain the situation and then we go see what the car is doing.

I always tell my front-counter people that you’ve got to look at it as a doctor’s office: “We’re the doctors and you’re the nurse. You take all the information about the car and then relay it to us so we can diagnose the car right.”

A lot of times, we’ll go for rides in the car, too. The customer will tell me, the car acts up in a certain area. So we’ll put the scan tools we use in the car and let the customer drive it to simulate the problem. The thing is, if I can’t simulate the problem, we’re just going to be running around in circles. I’ve driven 10–15 miles with customers until we’ve been able to find the problem.

The result has been phenomenal. We’ve become well established in the community and we’ve won numerous awards, including the 2010 NAPA Technician of the Year. We won that less than one year after we opened.

With NAPA, everything is based on sales. About halfway through our first year, NAPA started wondering how this one little shop could be buying this many parts? They were so impressed by how quickly we were turning cars out. Whereas other stores have 15–20 returns on wrong parts per month, we only have two or three. That’s absolutely because of diagnosing the vehicles correctly and taking the time to talk to customers.

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