Yes, We Can Fix Your Car!
By Diane Larson, AAM
How we're overcoming the damage done by R2R.
Those of us in Massachusetts are still reeling from the R2R (Right to Repair) battle, which has loomed for six years and cost millions of dollars. Happy to say: An agreement has been reached, the law passed, and now the industry can work together to solve more important issues like training and education.
However, it leaves me wondering how much damage was done to the independent service/repair shops, like yours and mine. How much business was lost by the advertising blitz that used radio, TV, print, the Internet and signage to tell consumers — over and over — that my shop doesn’t have the tooling and information needed to fix their cars?
The R2R message was "only the dealer has access to repair info." How many customers have been driven back to the dealer, and more importantly, what can you and I do to assure them that "Yes, we can fix your car!"
At our shop we are battling this with two main objectives: No. 1, having the proper tooling, training and information for the vehicles we service; and No. 2, offering exceptional customer experience!
“Yes, we can fix your car.” For the vehicles we service, we have the same tooling and information that the dealer has. Some shops, like mine, currently offer services only for certain makes or only provide certain services, feeling that specialization is the way to go.
Is specialization right for your shop?
Dave Kusa, owner, Autotrend Diagnostic, Campbell, Calif., says, “We service all domestic and Asian vehicles, but limit European makes to VW and Audi. We have so many ‘Euro’ specialists in the area that I have decided not to compete with them. But yes, we can work on the models we choose.”
He has chosen to equip his shop with auto repair specialists trained in all up-to-date auto repair technology, the latest tools, as well as the newest diagnostic methods for the vehicles they service.
Bill Moss, AAM, owner of EuroService Automotive in Warrenton, Va., is like-minded. “We do not say ‘yes’ to every make and model. If it is not a brand we choose to work on with any regularity, then there is little advantage in investing in that on-the-job learning experience, so we choose to not get involved. We are most efficient when we stick to what we do best.
If your car count is large enough, you can concentrate on what you do well, and refer other repairs to another specialist, like the medical field does.
Covering all makes, models
One concern with this plan, though, is that you might lose a client to the shop or to the dealer to which you sent them. Will the glitz of the big HDTV, plush waiting area with gourmet coffee and other perks lure them away from you? Will they come back to you just for your great service and because they like you, or have you lost them to the other shop?
If you choose to refer other shops and services, you need to become an expert on where to reach out for sublet repairs. Some shops even offer a service to bring the vehicle to the other shop or dealer. Douglass Kirchdorfer, AAM, owner of Downing Street Garage in Denver, says: “If a car comes in and has a warranty issue, we will offer to take the car to the dealer for the customer. This service has been very well received.” This would be a great convenience for your client. It cuts down on their stress of taking the vehicle to an unknown shop and solves the concern of losing them to that shop!
In addition, some shops that specialize in only certain makes or services have found a solution provided by mobile technicians. “If there is a fix needed that only a factory scan tool is capable of,” says Kirchdorfer, “we call on a roving technician who has most OEM tools. We can call him and get the issue resolved for much less than the dealer charges us.”
Other shops offer services for all makes and models, which is a business plan we are seeing implemented by dealers. Tom Piippo, AAM, owner of Tri-County Motors in Rudyard, Mich., has found this to be happening in his area. “One dealership is in direct competition with us (independents) by advertising ‘all makes, all models’ service and repair,” says Piippo. With declining car counts in many shops and consumers being directed back to the dealer, servicing all makes and models may be a choice that some shops have to consider.
Terry Wynter, AAM, owner of Terry Wynter Auto Service Center Inc. in Fort Myers, Fla., adds: “We say ‘yes’ to all makes and models with very few exceptions … we stay away from high-end exotics, but we continue to invest in equipment and software so we can continue to say ‘yes.’ Our car count this year has remained steady when compared with last year. Offering services for all makes and models may keep our bays full. Like [Tom] Piippo says, ‘We stay busy because we are diversified and can do so many more different repairs and procedures.’”
Whichever business plan you decide is best for your market, be assured: All the tooling and information needed to fix today’s vehicles is available to all of us. We can purchase the same information the dealer can and truthfully say, “Yes, we can fix your car!”
The National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) is an incredible resource. NASTF is a “cooperative effort among the automotive service industry, the equipment and tool industry, and automotive manufacturers to ensure that automotive service professionals have the information, training and tools needed to properly diagnose and repair today’s high-tech vehicles.”
Here you will find great tools and loads of information: links to original equipment manufacturer (OEM) service websites; a matrix of OEM information access charges, showing costs of short-term (24 to 72 hours) or longer-term subscriptions, which you can pick and choose for your business needs.
Be sure to check out the Service Information Matrix; it is here that you’ll find references for each vehicle manufacturer, providing the sources for accessing OEM service information, tools needed, and training materials. Website links are provided and in many cases, the references also provide toll-free telephone contacts.
In addition to “OE Service Information,” you will find links to “Additional Information Sources” for repair information by third-party information providers. Add the NASTF.org website to your “arsenal” of service information.
You can count on change
Remember the days of “leave it and we’ll see if we can get to it?” You were stressed, grumpy and had way too many cars to repair! Well, times have changed, business has changed, and we all had better change with it! Thanks to many instructors, classes, networking and lessons on iATN, all of which has opened our eyes to what the consumer needs and wants, we constantly strive to improve our service.
Change is the one constant in our business. The consumer of today is changing rapidly, and we better keep up if we want to keep them as a customer. Consumers seem to want instant service and expect great service each and every time. There is no margin for error, no mess-ups, and the loyalty of the past is just that … it’s in the past. There are way too many great, instant choices available to consumers today for them to settle for anything but the best!
Many shops are changing their services to compete. When asked, “Has your customer service changed in the past year?” Steve Geiling, AAM, owner of Geiling Service in Metairie, La., agrees. “Yes, our customer service has changed,” says Geiling. “I am offering a number of things at no charge to get the (usually new) customer into the shop, And yes, we can fix your car.”
Kusa adds, “I have become more flexible on people waiting for the car. We also will retrieve the diagnostics codes at no charge.”
“This is a trend we are also seeing more of at Downing Street Garage,” says Kirchdorder. “We now offer free check engine light scans. We tell them the code and give the customer a list of the possible causes. This is not intended to be a firm diagnosis, but it builds rapport and trust.” Yes, things are changing!
Change is the one constant in our business. Change to be the best, take care of your customers as well as their vehicles. Solve their problems, eliminate their stress, satisfy their needs, develop a relationship, anticipate future needs, find out what “they” want (not what we want), what’s important to them, and then give them great, great service. Let them know, “‘Yes, we can fix your car’ and would be happy to do it!”
Diane Larson, AAM, is owner of Larson’s Quality Automotive Service in Peabody, Mass. She is also a member of ASA’s Mechanical Division Operations Committee and can be reached at email@example.com.
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