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Win with Walkarounds

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In its inaugural study, the J.D. Power U.S. Aftermarket Service Index evaluated customer experience in general maintenance and tire replacement segments by surveying 12,000 customers on their service experience. The overall finding was that satisfaction increases when service advisors perform consistent service processes, such as vehicle walkarounds or follow-up phone calls. However, these processes aren’t regularly implemented in the service process. 

Vehicle walkarounds, the second-most influential KPI for customer satisfaction (behind getting service done right the first time) only occur 72 percent of the time for general maintenance. When it is done, satisfaction scores improve 49 points. Follow-up calls bring satisfaction up 28 points, but are only made 33 percent of the time. 

Why are these processes so important? 

“It’s the personal touch and process steps that are the differentiators between a good experience and a great experience,” Chris Sutton, vice president of automotive retail for J.D. Power, says. 

Sutton shares his thoughts on the study and what independent automotive repair shop owners can learn from it.   

What was the finding in the study that surprised you the most? 

I think, for me, our assumption was that things like price and convenience would be the drivers and that brands that did this best would do best overall. That wasn’t necessarily the case. My biggest surprise was the importance of time it took to complete service. I think customers are telling us that this is the basic cost of entry and that they expect that to be done well. Following up and any type of walkaround was something to which vehicle owners also responded very well. Fixing it right the first time was a huge differentiator—over 200 points—but I would have expected that it’s usually done successfully. Another surprise was price. It was important, but it wasn’t dramatically more important to customers than the time it took to get work done—they had a fairly equal weight.  

So, the study found satisfaction increases when vehicle walkarounds are implemented. Why are walkarounds important? 

I look at walkarounds as one way that you can engage the customer. You can greet the customer at the vehicle and give a thorough explanation of the work that’s being done. It’s the great experiences that get customers online to get great ratings and reviews. 

How can a shop owner make sure processes like walkarounds are happening in the shop? 

There are a couple of things. The study found that a little over 50 percent of customers make an appointment. That’s a benefit because it gives the shop time to properly structure that appointment and give them time to do it right. So, if they can schedule appointments, they need to do it. Shop owners also need to educate staff members that customers respond well to walkarounds. It comes back to customer experience and building trust. 

Another factor that customers seemed to appreciate was the follow-up call. Why are these calls not being made? 

I think it’s the perception that a follow-up call is somewhat of a nuisance to a customer. I think what we’ve seen is that customers respond well to it if it’s made as a token of appreciation. So, for example, “we appreciate you business, thanking you for coming in,” rather than a sales pitch. In order to ensure that follow-up calls are happening, shop owners should take advantage of a CRM or other type of system that monitors this. 

How can this information be used as a way for independent repair shops to compete against quick lubes and dealerships? 

You have to meet the customer’s expectations and be convenient—that’s just the price of entry. To distinguish themselves, it’s about finding stuff in their local market that can set you apart.  

One of the things we wanted to look at in the study was the tipping point of when customers stopped going to dealerships. We knew the warranty period would be significant, but we also saw that customers that had vehicles that were 10 years or older only had a very small percentage of customers that went to dealerships. That’s a very competitive advantage for independent shops. That being said, you still have to meet the customers’ expectations. Another surprising finding was how much customers want Wi-Fi. If you don’t have it, get it, and if you do have it, communicate that you have it. 

Customers respond well to walk-arounds, text updates, follow-up calls and any type of amenities. So, when it comes to competing, ask yourself, “What can we do to differentiate ourselves that’s beyond the basic?”


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