In the early 1990s, Barry Soltz saw a continuing problem: Repair shops would make a minor mistake in a repair, get taken to small claims court and, as he put it, “have no legs to stand on.”
“The judge would look at them and say they’re the professional service provider and they should’ve known better,” Soltz says. “There was no technical basis for making recommendations on repairs, no procedures in place to follow and ensure quality.”
That’s why Soltz first helped the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association (AMRA) develop its guidelines for repair shops, a technical program that ensures quality and honesty in all its participating members.
The program today serves companies around the country. Now the president and CEO of the organization, Soltz spoke with Ratchet+Wrench about the AMRA, its programs and the industry it serves.
Could you describe the mission of the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association?
Our mission is to strengthen the relationship between the consumer or the motorist and the automotive maintenance and repair industry. We produce a communications program that benefits consumers and service providers through what we call our consumer outreach program, the Motorist Assurance Program.
What we’ve done is we’ve evaluated over 700 components on the vehicle and determined what the technician might see and how to communicate those to the consumer in a concise way—not to be over techy. Not to insult technicians, but often, they are good at what they do and not as good at being communicators. Even service writers are often not good communicators. They try to sell more than they should and try to talk tech to the consumer and the consumer gets confused and thinks if they don’t’ understand it, maybe they should get a second opinion. Our program gives them steps and guidelines and procedures to follow to better relate that information to the consumer.
—Barry Soltz, president and CEO,
Automotive Maintenanceand Repair Association
How does it relate to independent mechanical shops?
Our membership is primarily made up of large companies, like Sears and Pep Boys, but we’re trying to get to the independent mechanical shops involved more. What it can do for the independent shop owner is that it can be a training program for technicians who have to communicate with the customer.
We have five steps that cover suggested items, a suggested service, for a repair and then three steps for when something is required to fix the problem. That’s as simple as it is. We also provide an inspection form for technicians to go through while looking over a car, and everything is done by year, make and model.
If service providers use these codes, these guidelines, to help them relay what the services are and what they’re recommending, whether it’s suggested or required, they now have a way to give this information to the customer.
It’s about opening up the lines of communication and making it easier for those technicians just by following the program. It adds a lot of consistency to their process, and they’ll find that if they’re doing a complete inspection of the system that the average ticket price will probably go up in their work. And that’s just looking for things that are required or suggested. The customer will probably think, ‘Oh, thank you for bringing that to my attention. I can’t get it done today, but I’ll bring it back at my next available time.’ It brings that consistency back with repeat customers and retention of customers—that’s the ultimate goal.
For the independents, it gives a training program for the technicians, it brings consistency in to their processes, and it makes it easier for management to manage a multi-technician location. If you have an inspection form, you know the process is completed in the same way each time.
What are the various aspects of the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP)?
There are really three parts to this program. First, we have the overall Motorist Assurance Program, which provides all the documentation and paperwork. Then we have what we call a Facility Program, which is then sort of tied in with the MAP Qualified Technician Program.
Overall, if they are a participating facility, they sign an agreement to say they will differentiate between the words required and suggested when dealing with customers; they’ll use our guidelines; and when they communicate with a customer, they won’t try to oversell the customer at any time.
The technician side of it is that we have an automated 25-question program, where if they go through the training and pass the test, they become MAP qualified. They understand what the program is about and how to communicate the program and that they won’t just go selling things because they can or go take advantage of a customer. You have to trust the technicians to make sure they create a good report and tell the customer what they need and don’t need. That is essentially what the programs are there for. They get a MAP sticker that goes on the door. They get a certificate for each of the technicians.
What do you feel is the customer perception of the repair industry?
Well, it’s not good. It’s always about people wondering if they’re being taken for a ride. Every time you go into BMW, it’s $500 when all you wanted was an oil change. That’s with the higher ends, but people have that perception for all shops.
The perception is that the service provider didn’t really fix the problem that they talked to them about; they just tried to sell them on other things. That’s where using an inspection form and interviewing the customer are the best tools you have to find out exactly what the customer is complaining about.
Ask the customer, what do you hear? What do you see? You don’t have to be technical about it, just ask what it sounds like or what they’re noticing.
It’s that common talk that, when the customer relays that information, then the perception of the repairs would be better, because the technician will know what they’re looking for and will be able to fix it.