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I think we all know that diagnostics is the most costly service we provide in the automotive repair business today. In today's automotive repair environment, you need to be selling diagnostics, and getting paid for it. I'm looking for feedback on when things don't go exactly as planned. Let's say a car comes in and you sell some diagnostics, by the hour, or from a menu. After you complete that work, and you still don't have an answer, do you go back to the customer and sell some more? Do you continue at your expense? If you do go back to the customer, and you have nothing conclusive after that, then what? Do you keep going back and selling more diagnostic work until you solve the problem? If you continue to go back and sell more, how many times can you do that? We've all had that car that we've worked on for weeks to find some strange problem. I doubt many customers are willing to pay for the 40 hours you spent on the car. Now lets say after 5 hours of work that the customer agreed to, you are no closer to finding the issue than when the car came in. Do you charge them for the 5 hours and send them down the road even though you have not provided them with a diagnoses? Do you start spending your time trying to solve the issue because you have a hard time charging for 5 hours and are unable to provide any answers? I'm asking these questions as I am rethinking my business strategy on diagnostics a little. Our shop is known for its abilities to diagnose problems. We have other shops bringing cars to us on a regular basis because of these abilities. I actually get several calls and emails weekly from across the county for help diagnosing problems. There are times, a lot of times, when I think this is more of a curse, than a blessing. I know we are in the business of fixing cars, and we need to be able to find problems if customers are going to keep coming back. But after my lead tech and I spent a considerable amount of time over the last 15 days diagnosing the strangest intermittent no start issue on an Audi, and watching his frustration grow everyday, not because of the difficulty of the issue as we both love the challenge, but because it held him back from addressing the other work that was coming in the shop. So, as rewarding as it was to solve that mystery, I can't help but look back at what it cost me financially, and the frustration to the technician, and realize we have to come up with a way to try to avoid going down those rabbit holes. Right now my idea is to give it 1 hour. If after an hour, we are not relatively certain that we will find the issue, with another hour or two, then let the car go. Let the customer know that it's not that we can't fix the car, but that we cannot fix it efficiently. If I lose that customer, it would probably still be cheaper that working on his car for 2 weeks. Love to hear your thoughts. Scott
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This is an article I wrote several years ago for a trade magazine.... I think it's still true today... Love to hear your comments. Diagnostics fee or not This has been an issue since day one. Should we charge to diagnose the car or should the estimate be free. Let’s define an estimate first. What is an estimate? An estimate is a list of all the parts and labor involved in making a repair. With the possibilities of adding supplements to the original estimate if other work is deemed necessary after the initial work has started. Ok that’s an estimate, or is it…? Let’s try this again. What is an estimate? It’s a guess……. With the chance that I might get it right but more than likely the final bill will be different than what was original “estimated” at. Hmm, the two definitions are different but at the same time mean the same thing… What about the diagnostic side? Ok, how about that… that diagnostic thing. What is a diagnostic? It is the process in which a technician is able to determine the cause or failure of a piece of equipment, vehicle, or appliance. Did ya get that? … One more time … What is a diagnostic? It is the process used to determine the root cause of a given mechanical or electrical problem that has become an issue with a vehicle, appliance or piece of equipment. Sounds the same doesn’t it…. hmm, maybe we are getting to the real issue… MONEY The diagnostics may take some time, may even require a few sophisticated scanners, wiring diagrams, and tools. Time is money as we all know, of course, knowledge, expertise and experience is a commodity that should always be respected no matter what field you are in. A service charge for such “diagnostics” is essential in the continuing financial stability of a shop or for that matter… any service oriented business. Once the diagnostics has been completed an “estimate” can then be given to the customer for their approval. This should also be noted that if a “diagnostics” is preformed and the problem turns out to be “intermittent” or none exciting a fee still applies. The time has already been spent to figure out that there was nothing wrong. That brings up another touchy issue. For some reason the customer feels cheated if you charge for nothing found… now wait a minute, how was it determined that nothing was wrong… ah…the diagnostics lead to that result. Then the problem isn’t the problem anymore, it’s the time spent looking for the problem that is the problem. To ease the customer’s woes you could always give them a time table for future re-evaluations. (30 days is a good round number) Note; It wouldn’t be the first time I have diagnosed a car for a customer only to find out that their complaint is from lack of understanding of their vehicle or dare I say… their just another fruit basket behind the wheel. Now I’m not in favor of a free diagnostics (if you couldn’t tell already) and I’m not too fond of the free estimate. If there is any “man hours” that are part of any job a “man” wants paid. If that “man” is working on a commission basis, I can assure you that he is going to rush through the “estimate” in order to get to the real money end of the job. However a diagnostic is a totally different thing, I don’t think I could have made a living without charging for the time it takes to figure out some of the strange pr oblems I’ve encountered over the years. Some things were easy to diagnose, some took hours. But I believe it’s the standardization of a diagnostic charge that would make things a lot easier for the customers to understand the complexities of today’s problem evaluations. If a tech couldn’t figure out a problem in a reasonable length of time … say an hour… then it’s quite possible the shop is going to be losing money if they kept him on that job. The next best thing would be to move him off that job. Put another tech on who might be able to figure out the problem in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, the shop is already behind the 8 ball, since the first tech didn’t get the job done, but in the long run… it will get done, there will be an estimate for the customer explaining the repairs needed. I don’t know which is more of a problem, the shops out there not willing to charge for estimating… Oops I mean diagnostic time… or the customer who doesn’t feel that it’s a necessary part of the process. Then again, these are not yesterday’s cars. It’s about time there were some standards that everyone in the industry had to go by, be it from the independent side or the dealer side. Regulation or self imposed limits as to how much can be charged across the board for various levels of diagnostics. Not to say diagnosing a bad ball joint is easier than a battery drain, no, not at all. Each field in the industry would have to come up with a balanced set of standards that those involved could agree was a fair price for that type of service. If all the independent shops charge the same fees in a demographic area it would lead to a more even playing field for the customer. Maybe, we should think about using a different term rather than “independent”… we can be independent in ownership, style, quality, etc… but put the customer’s concerns up front. If I wasn’t in the business and didn’t know where to take my car I would really would like to know that I’m getting quality work done at a fair price at any shop I went to. If there was a way to put an end to the “I can get it done cheaper down the street” escapades… my drive home would be a whole lot more pleasant than in the past. . If that didn’t happen it then only comes down to a question of where to have the vehicle repaired at. Everyone has their favorite doctor, dentist, or restaurant. Which is probably based on location, atmosphere, or “ya just like that particular place”. Price is always an issue, and probably always will be. If you’re not getting the job done right at the shop of your choice… choose another one. How many times a day does your phone ring because you have some “price shopper” who is never coming to your shop because your price is higher than the last shop they called… even though they were referred by a friend to call you. Maybe we should focus on better instructional classes, more information, and true manufacturer level scanners available to the independent side of the business. Sometimes too much effort is put on the “Be nice to the customer”, or the preverbal “Customer is always right” routine. The old saying; “If the customer knew what was wrong they would have fixed it themselves” still holds true today. But I’m talking about telling them what’s wrong with the vehicle, not how to fix it. With the advent of the computer age upon us the car has become a rolling updateable, flash reprogramming software jungle of information. The cost of these specialized scanners puts them out of the range of most consumers, and a lot of small shops, which, in some ways, also places the shade tree mechanic on the endangered species list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the same line from a customer’s after I have diagnosed a problem. “Well, I could have done that myself, I would have looked there for the problem if I had the time, and I don’t know why you’re charging me for something so simple. You should give a break on the price because it was so simple. “Hey, I’m a regular customer I should be getting a discount.” My usual answer is… “So if you knew what was wrong, why did you bring it to me to figure it out?” And, I’m not sure that other professional people you deal with such as a doctor, dentist, or the grocer…etc… is going to give you a discount just because you shop with them on a regular basis. Common sense, the largest lacking component in all of these situations… In my opinion, once common sense is removed from the conversation “stupid” takes its place. I wonder if I could estimate how many times this has happened… maybe so… but I better think about diagnosing it first…
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There's a time to work, and there's a time to relax a bit. We are in the middle of a three- day weekend; Labor Day. The very name Labor Day should make us all think about how hard we work all year long. We need balance in our lives. We need time with friends and family. So, take a break and recharge your batteries this holiday weekend. It will do you a world of good. Trust me, the business will be there after the weekend is over. Happy Labor Day Weekend!
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Roughly a month ago, I went to lunch with a good friend of mine. He works for the YMCA, so we discussed what the YMCA does to attract new members. A few years ago, my friend and his team realized that while they were good at attracting new members each year, they had little to no retention. It was a constant battle to bring in new members to fill the void of lost members. The YMCA realized that it’s easier and less expensive to keep existing members, than to go out and find new ones. They created a new marketing strategy with a focus on keeping existing members. The plan was simple: create an amazing experience for their members and offer new programs to these existing members. The plan worked. Member retention improved. What worked for the YMCA will also work for your business. Before you spend a dime on advertising, you need to understand one crucial component of your business; the customer experience. Without a great customer experience that gives your existing customers a compelling reason to return, you’re simply wasting your money on advertising. Advertising is often aimed at new-customer acquisition. There is nothing wrong with this. Every business loses clientele each year for a number of reasons, and we need to get our name out to our community about who we are and what we do in order to attract new consumers. But, to rely on new customer acquisition alone without a plan to keep existing customers is not a strategy for long-term, sustained growth. Every marketing plan starts with looking at your entire operation and how it relates to the customer experience. Are you doing all you can to create an amazing experience that builds solid relationships? If not, you will be in the same position the YMCA was: using advertising to fill the void of lost customers. While there are many aspects of the customer experience, let’s focus today on the four essential areas: The customer write-up, the sales process, the car delivery and the follow-up. Each of these touch points must be executed with one thing in mind: create an experience so amazing that the customer will have a compelling reason to return your shop again. Customer write-up starts the process. It’s where you begin the relationship or continue to preserve it. It must be performed as if you are welcoming a guest into your home. The sales process must communicate value and benefits to the customer. This gives the customer peace of mind, reduces anxiety and buyer’s remorse. The car delivery is your chance to leave a lasting positive impression of you and your company. It should not be a transaction, but instead the opportunity to resell the job, you and your company. The car delivery should not be rushed. Take the time to review the invoice, ask the customer if they have any questions. Let every customer know how important they are and how much you value his or her confidence and trust in you and your company. The follow-up continues the customer experience. This is where you reach out to the customer with a phone call, email, or thank-you card. It helps with customer retention by making another positive impression in the mind of the customer. Getting back to car delivery: Make sure you review all future service recommendations and let the customer know that they will receive a service reminder. But don’t rely on a postcard or email alone to bring back customers. Think about this: If you had a bad experience at a restaurant, no offer or ad is going to get you back there—only an amazing experience will. The same holds true for your business. By the way, an amazing customer experience is created by the people in your company. Sure, you need to have a clean, well kept facility with nice amenities. But it’s the people in your company that make the difference. Billion dollar stadiums don’t win championships—it’s the quality of the players on the field that win championships. Everyone in your company is part of your marketing plan. A simple smile and hello from a technician when a customer walks past the bays can do more for your business than any ad can. Let me leave you with this thought: Customers will not remember the mass airflow sensor you installed or the exhaust leak you repaired. But they will remember their experience. A positive experience is lasting in the mind of the consumer. It’s the most powerful marketing tool you have—and it’s virtually free. This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on September 1st, 2018
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Curious what everyone is doing for marketing and advertising. What have you found to be the best return for your money and where are you located?? Looking for some ideas for my auto body shop .
I have tried radio, yelp and yellow pages (never again).
By Stevens Automotive Service
How many of you have a four bay shop ?
If you do how many techs do you have ?
What is your average sales weekly , monthly ?
What do you spend in advertising ?
What was your sales in 2017 ?
I am using this shop as a guide for those who would like to follow and see real time progress.
For those interested just answer the questions so you and I can see what your strong points and if and where you may have areas for improvement.
By Stevens Automotive Service
If you have ever thought about shop management and training for your business now is the time. Make 2018 profitable and with a lot less stress.
For ASO members that are serious about business and becoming the shop of choice in your area then lets get started.
Business coaching and training for your auto repair business. Real world one on one training for your business as all shops are different with different needs and markets.
Cost is 100.00 a week for a 1 year program for serious owners only that want to build a business.
Contact me for details and make 2018 all it can be.
Email [email protected]
By Stevens Automotive Service
I hope that everyone is having a good 2017 and as we all know time goes very quickly!
The new year is fast approaching and changes are coming this year in many ways to the business.
I have talked to many of you and I just want to say there are some great people on this site.
For those of you who are running your business to its full potential keep it up , build towards that retirement, spend time with family ENJOY !
If you need help it is only a PM, email, text or a phone call away so you can do the same.
Keep building your business in the up coming year, think outside the box.
1) Manage what you have. Make sure your getting all you can get out of what you have.
2) Be a smart business owner look at overhead, parts cost, etc and streamline it.
3) Relieve that unwanted stress. Been there done that its no fun but it can be drastically reduced.
What was your best business move in 2017 where you seen a upward move in profit?
By Stevens Automotive Service
Really ! If you don't someone else will and your right, you won't see them again!
Time and time again I hear in this site "They just want a discount" they are not the kind of customer we want !!
I would suggest you change your mind set. Just because a customer has been programmed to seek discounts doesn't make them a bad customer. Every business offers some kind of marketing pitch that, in the customers eyes, is a discount.
DEAL WITH IT !! And how YOU DEAL WITH IT can get you a lot of good repeat customers. Yes customers that trust you, spend money with you ,listen to you etc.
You should ,or have a staff of advisers that should be able to overcome this and in the process gain a customer.
Your competition is changing rapidly in 2018 as small lube shop chains are starting to do brakes, tires, etc. That's right your gravy work, and that's just the beginning.
There are a lot of changes getting ready to be rolled out in 2018.
Be innovative, smart and never judge a book by it's cover it could cost you more that ever.
How do you deal with that type of customer ? I hope in the future it is with doing smart business.