Overcoming Customer Perceptions
Rob Gehring is intimately familiar with the negative stereotypes that plague dealership fixed operations departments—from being too expensive to not being focused on customer service to every action being perceived as a ruse to push consumers back to the sales floor.
Gehring, the president of Fixed Performance, has spent his career consulting fixed ops departments, and he spoke to Fixed Ops Business to break down the most common customer perceptions and how your operation can overcome them.
The Problem: Lack of communication
One of the easiest ways to destroy a customer’s repair experience is by failing to communicate, Gehring says.
“If they’re expecting to spend half an hour on an oil change but because of poor processes, it takes two hours, they’re not coming back,” he says.
Because many collision and service departments are understaffed and overloaded, this leads to processing customers like a slaughterhouse andnot providing a personalized experience where the consumer feels heard.
The Solution: Slow down and take your time
First, Gehring says to remove as many interruptions as possible from the service advisors and estimators so that they’re not constantly leaving customers to answer the phone and derailing conversations. Next, get a firm grasp on scheduling. Don’t schedule all customers first thing in the morning, leading to a mad rush that doesn’t allow the proper amount of time.
“All these customers that came in at the same time are inconvenienced,” Gehring says. “And later in the day, [technicians] may have nothing to do. They need to level out the scheduling."
Finally, during the actual appointments, estimators and service advisors need to take their time and listen. Do a thorough inspection or walk-around of the vehicle with the customer and listen to their concerns. If the vehicle has a loose door handle, go to the vehicle and have the customer point it out. "If we don't take time to understand their needs or concerns, we don't educate them on the future benefit of preventative maintenance, and we fail to impress them on why we're a value of any kind," he says.
The Problem: Uncomfortable waiting areas
Traditionally, Gehring says, the lobby or customer waiting area of a dealership leaves much to be desired: It’s cramped, the seating shows wear and tear, five-year-old magazines are stacked in a corner, a vending machine serves as a way for the dealership to eke a few more dollars out of the consumer ... it all adds up to an experience that doesn’t help build a trusting relationship that makes the customer feel appreciated.
The Solution: Modernize your waiting area
Waiting areas have to do far more for the customers in this day and age than simply provide a waiting area, Gehring says. Free Wi-Fi, coffee, snacks or even small restaurants have become the standard for customer lobbies.
“It doesn’t have to be a BMW dealership to provide exceptional things,” Gehring says. “It communicates, ‘This is the type of care that I believe should be standard, regardless of the franchise.'”
Besides the standard items, Gehring says to look for simple ways to elevate the repair experience while the customer waits. One of his favorite tips is making freshly baked cookies at the dealership.
“Every hour the staff would walk out with fresh-baked cookies. The aroma of that was always strong and, ‘My gosh, what is that smell?’” he says. “‘We bake cookies for our customers.’ It adds value, it shows you care and this is what we do for our customers.”
The Problem: Dealerships are too expensive
Gehring says that the biggest stereotype customers still have of dealerships remains that dealership service and collision centers are more expensive than independent shops.
“Even the competitiveness of maintenance, if you go to a quick lube, Valvoline or Castrol, what they find is real low-cost imports that may be under a dollar,” he says. “They’re comparing it to service at a dealership that may be five times that amount.”
The Solution: Focus on Selling Value
The reality, Gehring says, is that while your dealership may be more expensive, the quality is vastly different. That’s why you need to focus on selling thevalue of your work and your staff.
“We’ve seen situations where engines are damaged or destroyed by having aftermarket oil filters,” he says. “That value of the service is also challenged when you look at a repair. If you go to an independent shop, they might have no factory training or very little. What happens is they may put on a part that’s not even necessary and they don’t go back to the customer. They just keep putting parts on until something works and the customer pays that bill.”
Conversely, Gehring says to make it a point to have conversations with customers and emphasize your staff’s training, certifications and the benefits of going to a dealership. For example, emphasize that because technicians are factory trained with all of the latest information, they can diagnose vehi-
cles properly and quickly, put the right parts on the first time and save the consumer money in the long run.
Gehring says that one of the most effective—yet underutilized—strategies to get customers to understand the value of a dealership is to host new car owners clinics, which includes information about maintenance and service, parts, and steps to take should a collision occur. The goal is educating the consumer, Gehring says, and positioning your dealership as a trusted advisor. While dealerships sometimes struggle with these clinics, he says if they’re done well—think having prizes or providing a meal or snacks—the clinics are incredibly effective.
The Problem: Dealerships are too pushy
Another common stereotype, Gehring says, is that dealerships are pushy and ultimately just want customers to purchase new vehicles. Unfortunately, Gehring says this can be reality, at times, and that dealerships and consultants will sometimes pressure service and collision departments to sell an additional service or repair.
“Instead of being helpful and courteous, they don’t want to stress that [the customer] said ‘no’ three times,” he says. “That’s very counterproductive and doesn’t help keep customers long term.”
Gehring believes the pressure comes from the potential increased revenue those services and repairs could drive. However, that intimidation ultimately comes to the detriment of consumer trust.
The Solution: Listen to the customer, above all else
Bottom line, Gehring says, you need to let the customer take the lead and listen to their concerns. If the work is costly, weigh the importance of repairs and help the customer prioritize those repairs.
“I think real-life things that they need, reasonable fluid exchanges and things, they do extend the safety of the vehicle,” he says.
If you’re able to effectively communicate the value of a maintenance battery replacement to avoid a failure, and more than likely, an inconvenience that turns into a more costly service down the road, Gehring says to make the recommendation. However, Gehring says estimators and service advisors need to communicate this in a way that positions them as advisors to the consumer, and not a pushy salesperson.