Do It Right the First Time
You can build up years of trust among your customers,
What do Tiger Woods and a repair shop have in common? Simple. Years of building a brand and reputation can be at risk when an indiscretion occurs. For the aftermarket, that discretion is not getting the job done right the first time.
Getting the job done right the first time is the key to building trust and increasing customer satisfaction. And not doing so could cripple a shop, according to Mitch Schneider, owner of Schneider's Automotive Repair in Simi Valley, Calif.
"Quantifying how much a repair shop loses by a job not done right the first time is virtually impossible," Schneider said. While the loss of a service bay, the technician's time and new parts can't be billed back to the customer, it's the hit on a shop's reputation that is the biggest blow.
"It's staggering and non-calculable to figure out the total loss," he said. "One great customer can refer 500 people to you over the years. A happy customer won't always tell you they are happy but a miserable customer will tell everyone. It takes years to build a reputation and a millisecond to destroy it. We do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen."
Changing Times and Perceptions
Getting the job done right the first time has never been more important. One of the factors for this is a changing consumer behavior regarding time.
"It used to be that the customer would come in, tell you what's wrong and leave the vehicle with you for as long as it was needed. That doesn't happen anymore," said Craig Johnson, owner of Craig Johnson Automotive in Rowland Heights, Calif. "People aren't as patient today. They will come in and ask how much and how fast they can get the car back. The rules have changed, and it forces you to get the job done right, the first time."
Independent repair shops also have to compete with a smaller, but yet improving, dealership service business. A recent J.D. Power and Associates report found that when it comes to repairs and maintenance, auto dealerships are doing better at getting the work done right the first time.
The firm's Service Usage and Retention Study found that 86 percent of owners who took their vehicle to the dealership for a repair indicate that the work was done right the first time - up from 72 percent in 2001.
Getting the job done right the first time also has a direct relationship in customer satisfaction levels. According to J.D. Power, time is important in every aspect of consumers' lives, especially with younger customers. Any process or event that extends the service visit or causes repeat dealer visits significantly erodes satisfaction.
Taking Time to Listen Is Key
Preventing a comeback starts with diagnosing a vehicle's problem. The first step of the diagnosis starts before the vehicle is seen by the technician. According to Johnson, often a misdiagnosis occurs even before the vehicle is seen by the technician.
"The key is to get an accurate and detailed explanation from the service writer," Johnson said. "Quite simply, if the writer doesn't get accurate information, the vehicle will not be fixed properly."
"Listening is definitely the key," agreed Schneider. "Articulating what the customer says and translating it onto the work order is the key in getting the job done right the first time."
To get it right, the key is to ask a lot of questions - and keep asking until you get the information you need. "You have to clarify what they want done and then verify the problem," Johnson said.
One example that most shops struggle with is noise. Squeaking, rattling, grinding, etc. are all common complaints from customers. However, it is easy to miss the noise, especially if it is an intermittent problem, or fix a different noise that the customer did not mention.
"Our solution is that we verify all noises by making our technicians take a drive with the customer until the noise is heard," Johnson said. "You have to do all you can to take the guesswork out of the equation."
Another issue is language barriers. If the customer has a heavy accent or doesn't speak English fluently, make sure he repeats himself. Keep asking questions until you fully understand the problem.
Johnson noted that they often take work from other repair shops that feel they can't adequately do the repair. "What it comes down to, however, is that they just didn't ask the right questions and the repair really wasn't as hard as they thought," he said.
As Vehicles Get More Complex, Be Armed with Right Info
Vehicle complexity has also led to a risk of misdiagnosis. Accord_ing to Bobby Dunn, owner of Triangle Car Care in Raleigh, N.C., technicians today have to take greater steps to make sure it's properly fixed.
"Electronics can cover up problems and techs may think it is fixed and turn it loose. Usually these mistakes could have been caught," Dunn said. "A higher level of education and more experience can prevent these mistakes."
Kevin Burton, director of marketing at air conditioning components manufacturer Four Seasons, agreed that vehicle complexity has been a contributing factor to misdiagnosis. "I feel that (misdiagnosis) has become a worse problem, in that service shops are experiencing several extenuating circumstances such as vehicle complexity, technician turnover and increased competition - all which exceed the current knowledge landscape," said Burton.
According to Burton, Four Seasons has identified that nearly 30 percent of what it received in returns in 2009 was due to misdiagnosis. That can add up when you consider warranty returns account for approximately 7 percent of the company's revenue.
At Dunn's shop, technicians are required to confirm diagnosis and the proper repair procedures. For example, the tech has to inspect the electronics with a scanner to determine if there are any pending codes.
Before a vehicle is returned to a customer at Schneider's shop, the tech turns over the keys to a writer, service manager, owner or someone who verifies the repair is done correctly. Procedures are also in place so that each job on a repair order gets highlighted and initialed that it has been successfully completed.
"The problematic product lines tend to be those that have had major shifts in technology," said Brian Tarnacki, director of Global Brand Strategy at Federal-Mogul. "Take fuel pumps for example. Not long ago, most fuel pumps were mechanical. With the introduction of the electric fuel pump in the mid-80s, fuel pumps and the service required to replace them completely changed. The pumps, located in the fuel tank and controlled electronically, add a great deal of complexity to diagnosing a no-fuel situation, possible failed fuel pump or installing the replacement pump when necessary."
Proper Procedures, Knowledge Help Create a Fail-Proof System
Federal-Mogul performs audits of its fuel pump returns. One audit found that 85 percent of the fuel pumps analyzed had no defect found. Federal-Mogul was one of the companies that led the creation of the Fuel Pump Manufacturers Council to address the situation.
According to Tarnacki, even with a formal return process that requires completed return tags and repair shop tracking, Federal-Mogul never sees the reason for the return listed as "misdiagnosis." Most returns are written up as a defective part, which drives a continual analysis and quality monitoring of the product. Fuel pumps that have been installed and exposed to fuel, then found not to solve a fuel delivery issue and returned, basically have to be scrapped.
Many agree that it is the "fly by night" shops that drag down the reputation of the aftermarket by being most guilty of not getting the job right the first time.
"Those shops are trying to compete on price, and they cut every corner," Dunn said. "They don't spend money on education, equipment or insurance. But most customers don't see this; they think a shop is a shop."
"The shops that do not invest in the proper equipment and training for their techs will be the ones that fail to get the job done right the first time and will most likely go out of business," Johnson noted. "The shops that will survive will be proactive, rather than reactive. Those that stay on top of the new technology and receive the training will flourish while the reactive shops will eventually go away."
Johnson's "proactive" strategy is paying off as his shop's revenues increased 8 percent in 2009 over 2008.
Clearly, not getting the job done right the first time is everybody's problem in the aftermarket and everybody has a role in the solution. Not doing the job right the first time hurts the entire industry as less business could flow to shops, jobbers, warehouse distributors and manufacturers. Lost customers, increased shipping and handling costs and more paperwork result in a lower bottom line and higher costs of doing business.
Tarnacki noted that many parties in the aftermarket understand the consequences. For example, some parts stores have loaned or even rent diagnostic and installation tools to their customers and others will direct a DIY customer who might be in over their head to a local shop who will do the job right.
"We have performed many focus groups to understand the attitudes and perceptions of parts suppliers and service providers on this topic," Tarnacki said. "We found that there are many who have a good grasp on the true cost of improper diagnosis and installation. Unfortunately, the others are those who don't remain in business for too long."
"The shops that follow the proper procedures for diagnosing and installing a fuel pump end up saving themselves a great deal of money, time and effort in the long run and ensure a satisfied customer by a job done right," he added.
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