Automotive repair professionals speak car, OBD II codes, air fuel ratios, Denso vs. Bosch, Japanese vs. European technology, etc. Car owners speak work schedules, soccer, kid play dates, and pick-up times. It’s no wonder there’s so much miscommunication in automotive repairs. I know cars. I can speak car. I can speak OBD II, Japanese vs. European, and all the other daily conversations mechanics have with each other about cars. Customers speak fear, anxiety, and inconvenience. Most of the time a customer’s biggest problem isn’t that their car is broken. It’s the possible repercussions of being without their car and the toll this will take on their life and the lives of their family.
When a car breaks down for a working mom or dad, it’s more than a car that breaks down as it causes a major LIFE breakdown. Kids don’t get where they need to go, pick-ups are missed, and the tenuous balancing act of a busy family is thrown into turmoil. It is this breakdown that scares people and makes them angry. Unfortunately, as the automotive professional, you become a logical scapegoat. Not only has their car let them down, but now you have too. As the automotive professional, you are going to further inconvenience them with excuses about being busy, an inability to fit them in, or the explanation that the part they need is unavailable. Even with these “excuses” your customers will still gladly open their wallets to pay any ransom to get their beloved car back so they can go on with their lives.
Customers don’t care about any of the challenges we mechanics face on a daily basis and quite frankly, our daily challenges aren’t their problem. Part availability, temperamental technicians, outdated equipment, and overbooked schedules mean nothing to them. I am not saying that all of the above situations, plus a hundred others, don’t happen on a daily basis. They do, they are frustrating, and they cause delays. It’s the way these challenges are anticipated, handled, and communicated that can make a huge difference. Experienced advisors and service managers who are properly trained should be able to anticipate these challenges, communicate the value and benefits, and set realistic expectations up front with the customer. They will partner with the customer, keep them in the loop, and ensure their car is fixed properly the first time.
Here is an example: A 2007 BMW 325i that sometimes acts like it’s not going to start comes into the shop with acheck engine light and an extended crank. It’s 2:15p and you have missed your last parts-run cutoff time. The family has two kids at school, a dog at the vet, and a championship Little League game at 5:30p. They needed their car fixed an hour ago. The mother is clearly frazzled and wants to wait for the diagnosis to see “what’s wrong”. An experienced advisor/manager can tell you upfront that there is no way that their car will be fixed in same day.
Even if the problem was diagnosed that day, the parts could not be ordered and more importantly the work would not be properly quality checked. This is NOT what the customer wants to hear. They want to hear that the repair is something simple, inexpensive, and can be fixed in minutes. Mom want’s to hear that she will still have time to grab a latte before picking up the dog and getting Tommy ready for his game. It is the way we deliver this news and the alternatives we provide that will make all the difference to the customer. Listening to the real issues the customer faces and offering to help troubleshoot those issues before dealing with the car will make for a much smoother interaction.
Having options in place for a customer such as low cost rental cars, local shuttle services, loaner vehicles, as well as providing a clean and comfortable waiting area with refreshments can completely change an experience. You should first listen to the real issues the customer faces without before you begin on the issues of their car. Offer a cup of coffee or tea to help soothe frazzled nerves. Partner with the customer to solve transportation issues by offering low cost alternatives or convenient solutions that don’t involve sitting and waiting for a repair that will likely not happen. If a customer wants to “wait and see what the problem is,” they are setting the expectation that they will leave with their repaired car. You are letting the customer set the expectation for you and have lost control. Waiting for an hour or more only to be told that parts are not available until tomorrow or that it is going to take more time to troubleshoot the problem is only going to frustrate the customer. It is better for the customer to not even be allowed to choose this option. YOU as a professional and expert need to control the situation for the best interest of the customer.
Your service advisor/manager needs to be trained in the art of listening, anticipating needs, and guiding the customer. Customers don’t speak car parts or any of those situations mechanics deal with daily. We as professionals need work to learn to speak the same language as the customer. In the end, it is your advisor/manager’s job to assess and keep control of the situation by listening to the customer’s needs. Having the amenities that help solve the life breakdowns at the advisor’s disposal will make all the difference. Shuttles, rental vehicles, loaner cars, and other amenities add to the bottom line, but these costs can be built into labor rates and can be easily added to the costs of repairs. The cost of not having them available for a customer is certainly more than the cost to the bottom line.
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