Silverstein: The Illusion of Transparency

May 14, 2024
Every auto repair shop owner talks about offering transparent service, but is that just another marketing term?

The public doesn’t hold our profession in high esteem. This leads some shop owners to distinguish their shop by integrating words and phrases into their business name or tagline to convince customers of their trustworthiness. You may be familiar with some of these names: Integrity Auto Repair, Honest Auto Repair, or Trustworthy Auto Repair. The perception of dishonesty in our profession is so widespread that these names are ubiquitous in cities and towns from coast to coast. The challenge is these names have become so commonplace that their meaning has lost its impact.  
Enter transparency. 


What is Transparency? 

Transparency in business is the practice of sharing information with our customers and staff so they can make informed decisions. True transparency requires giving the decision maker all relevant information related to the topic. It respects their autonomy and exerts no pressure or manipulation to bring about a conclusion. Its use implies that all of a business's actions should be scrupulous enough to bear public scrutiny. Let’s be clear—the key is relevancy in decision-making. Individual privacy concerns and trade secrets (like the original recipe for Coke or KFC) aren’t relevant. What is relevant are those things that relate to conflict of interest which undermines trust. 


How Shops Practice Transparency

 Many auto repair shops claim to value and prioritize transparency. Those who do proudly proclaim, “We’re honest, we have nothing to hide.” As proof, they offer digital vehicle inspections, free “no wrench” inspections, free DTC code reading, upfront pricing, online reviews, vehicle health inspections, access to manufacturers' maintenance guidelines, and automotive education. All of this to bolster consumer confidence with the seldom publicly stated goal of using trust between the service writer and customer to make more sales. The customer must be authentically convinced of their sincerity to give them confidence in the shop's intentions.  


Is Your Shop Really Transparent?

Here is a litmus test to measure your shop's transparency.  

  1. Do you roll the diagnostic testing into the repair rather than break it out as a separate line item?  
  2. Do you list the “job cost” instead of providing a breakdown of parts/ labor, tax, etc?  
  3. Do you believe the customer has no right to know how much parts and labor they are paying for? 
  4. Do you tell your customer that the part they bought at the dealer is somehow different from the identical part you bought from the same dealer? 
  5. Do you tell the customer if your service writer gets paid by commission?
  6. If your technicians are paid on commission, do you tell your customers that the more work they “find” the potentially larger their paycheck?  
  7. Do you tell your customers of spiffs or bonuses that you employ to incentivize “finding” work?
  8. Do you tell your customers that you have a whiteboard posted in the shop to foster a spirit of competition between technicians to see who can “find” the most work?
  9. Have you walked the customers through your shop pointing out items like whiteboards or are they out of public view?
  10. Do you tell your customers when your suppliers are running contests with prizes to boost sales of a part or accessory?  
  11. Do you tell your customers that you have daily/weekly/monthly sales targets?  
  12. Do you use empathy as a sales tool even if it’s not genuine?
  13. Have you ever told a difficult customer that you were booked weeks out because you didn’t want to deal with them rather than just being honest and telling them the truth?  
  14. Have you priced a job outrageously high hoping the customer will go somewhere else because you didn’t want to get involved instead of telling them that you didn’t want to do the job?
  15. Have you contacted someone who left you a bad review to entice them to change their review for a discount, free services, or a refund?


If you’ve answered questions 1-4  and 12-15 with a “Yes” and 5-11 with a “No”, then perhaps you should reevaluate whether your business is transparent. When transparency becomes nothing more than a sales tool rather than a core tenet of your business, then your business is not transparent at all—it’s just a con.

About the Author

R. Dutch Silverstein | Owner

R. “Dutch” Silverstein, who earned his Accredited Automotive Manager Certificate from AMI, owns and operates A&M Auto Service, a seven-bay, eight-lift shop in Pineville, North Carolina.


Dutch was a captain for a major airline earning type ratings in a variety of aircraft including the Boeing 767/757, 737, 200, 300, and 400 series, Airbus 319/320/321, McDonnell Douglas MD80/DC9 and Fokker FK-28 mk 4000 and 1000. After medically retiring, he transitioned his part-time auto repair business into a full-time occupation.

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