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The Industry’s Customer Perception Cure

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Don’t worry: I have the solution, and I’m working to implement it across the country—hopefully you can help. But, I’ll get to that in a minute. Before we talk about solutions, we have to discuss the problem, right?

The problem we have is that there is a disconnect between auto repair shops and the average consumer. It’s a knowledge gap. It’s a trust issue. They don’t have automotive know-how, and that leads to them not trusting us on recommendations and repairs. And I’ll be honest with you, I’ve done some research on shops, and there is a real issue with bad repair suggestions. (Though, I would like to point out that I believe the vast majority of shops out there perform ethical and professional work; that’s why we’re all able to stay in business!)

How’d we get to this problem? I think the disconnect first happened when schools began to phase out shop class, and many of the do-it-yourselfers put down the hood when fuel injection came into the fold. All of a sudden that consumer knowledge began to fade and we no longer had a driver that was accountable to his or her own vehicle.

I was guilty of it, too, when I was younger. I remember when I first saw the check engine light come on. I didn’t know what to do with it, so, like a lot of people, I just put some black tape over it so it wouldn’t bother me. Then I remember thinking, “You know what? If people don’t understand this and I can’t fix it myself, there’s money here.” I decided to go to school and join the family business.

But, that’s not the same path many took. While I was finding my calling, a lot of people out there decided to instead play the blame game. A customer doesn’t understand the repairs needed, sees the bill, and instantly thinks, “Whoa, you’re ripping me off!” It became so bad that, as a society, we’ve morphed auto care into a price-driven commodity to many, many (far too many!) consumers.

That’s about the lowest point you can hit.

This is the setup, right? And I get this question all the time: So, what do we do as an industry?

First, I think we’re asking that question incorrectly. What do you mean by industry? Too many of us are swimming off to our own islands, attacking this alone. Sure, some have success, but it’s usually isolated to their shop’s reputation. That solution takes “we, as an industry” and turns it into “me, as in my business.”

That doesn’t change anything.

So, here’s the solution: the institution of PPAs. What’s a PPA? It’s your shop’s newest, most important position—a “person-to-person advisor”—that with the program I’ve started will help to change the way we treat customers and the way customers view us.  The concept is to alter our selling approach, alter the way we explain repairs, alter the way we communicate. The PPA program teaches a customer-facing shop employee (your PPA) how to engage customers in an educational conversation about their vehicles, explaining issues first in general terms (comparing it to health and the human body) and then in more specific auto terms that will help them easily remember key components. All of it can and should be explainable in 15 minutes.

The idea comes from the many Women Auto Know (and now, Drivers Auto Know) clinics I’ve done over the years. We want to empower our customers through a better understanding of their vehicles. We can’t teach them all to be DIY technicians, but we can give them that basic understanding—in a quick, simple and productive way—so they can both make educated decisions for themselves, but also trust in the recommendations you offer as the expert.

It sounds really simple, right? Too easy to work, right? Well, I can tell you that it already works in my business and the others who have adopted the program. But, that’s still on a me-myself-and-I level of a fix, right? We make this change as an industry by taking this on together.

This won’t be the last you hear me speak or write of this. I’ll be speaking on the topic in my “Connecting with Customers” presentation at the Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference this fall, and there’s plenty of information about it on my Women Auto Know website. This is the solution we need, and we need to do it together.

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