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Do you guarantee results from your diagnostic time?


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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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10 hours ago, ScottSpec said:

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   

   

  

`Scott

This has been discussed and there are better ways to go about it. First off, sell tests not diagnosis. When you go to a Dr they test things...they evaluate the results of a test or tests and may come to a diagnosis or if the tests come back negative they dont....but they still charge. We, like you hold ourselves to a pretty high standard and sometimes will spend more than the allotted time...like you we are trying to figure out better ways to charge and present it so the customer gets value.

When we present the customer with the initial testing fee we state we will stop and contact them with the results. A sample of what we might report would be we've scanned the computer for codes, we retrieved a poxxx code which relates to this system. We've performed multiple tests to the components of this system and all tests have passed. At this time we do not have a direction to go in. We can clear the codes, return the vehicle to you and when symptoms arise we will then be able to proceed with further testing -OR- we can attempt to get the symptoms to occur while the vehicle is in the shop. This will require driving blah blah blah and so forth and so on......and the cost to proceed with that will be $xxxx. At this point you should advise them what you think is the best route to take.

To me it can be like tracing a shorted wire. We don't know how long it will take but we will go about it in the most logical order and you (the customer) will control the process by setting the dollar limit (with our suggesting a range) that we will not exceed. Let them decide how important it is. In my early years I used to allow customers to control things (they will let you donate hour  upon hour to find their problem) but realized if is is not important to them (they are willing to pay me to find the issue) it is not important to me.

As much as we try to control the loss of time there are still situations where a little leaks out....

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6 hours ago, Wheelingauto said:

`Scott

This has been discussed and there are better ways to go about it. First off, sell tests not diagnosis. When you go to a Dr they test things...they evaluate the results of a test or tests and may come to a diagnosis or if the tests come back negative they dont....but they still charge. We, like you hold ourselves to a pretty high standard and sometimes will spend more than the allotted time...like you we are trying to figure out better ways to charge and present it so the customer gets value.

When we present the customer with the initial testing fee we state we will stop and contact them with the results. A sample of what we might report would be we've scanned the computer for codes, we retrieved a poxxx code which relates to this system. We've performed multiple tests to the components of this system and all tests have passed. At this time we do not have a direction to go in. We can clear the codes, return the vehicle to you and when symptoms arise we will then be able to proceed with further testing -OR- we can attempt to get the symptoms to occur while the vehicle is in the shop. This will require driving blah blah blah and so forth and so on......and the cost to proceed with that will be $xxxx. At this point you should advise them what you think is the best route to take.

To me it can be like tracing a shorted wire. We don't know how long it will take but we will go about it in the most logical order and you (the customer) will control the process by setting the dollar limit (with our suggesting a range) that we will not exceed. Let them decide how important it is. In my early years I used to allow customers to control things (they will let you donate hour  upon hour to find their problem) but realized if is is not important to them (they are willing to pay me to find the issue) it is not important to me.

As much as we try to control the loss of time there are still situations where a little leaks out....

Wheeling, 

We use the doctor explanation as well. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't go over so well. While I agree with this analogy, the customer on the other side of the counter usually sees it a little differently. First, most of the time, the insurance company is paying those bills. So while the customer/patient experiences frustration with all the test coming back normal, the cost for those test are not coming directly out of their pocket. 

Not trying to be argumentative on that point, just wanted to expand a little further on it. 

The issue I am trying to address is not really selling diagnostic work, it's stopping that gaping profit leak when that diagnostic work leads to a week long project. I know a big part of the issue is that both my lead tech and I love the challenging ones, and all we learn from them. But it causes such a loss of revenue and backs things up in the shop. So I think what I am looking for is a firm line in the sand to keep our love of the challenges from becoming such a huge drain on the shop. 

So right now one of my thoughts is that if after an hour, we are not relatively sure that we will be able to resolve the issue within another 2-3 hours, then refer them to the dealer. While I don't like sending customers to the dealer, I don't think it will cause us to lose many customers, and even if we do, it will probably be less of a loss than working on their car for a week.  

Scott

   

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1 hour ago, ScottSpec said:

Wheeling, 

We use the doctor explanation as well. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't go over so well. While I agree with this analogy, the customer on the other side of the counter usually sees it a little differently. First, most of the time, the insurance company is paying those bills. So while the customer/patient experiences frustration with all the test coming back normal, the cost for those test are not coming directly out of their pocket. 

Not trying to be argumentative on that point, just wanted to expand a little further on it. 

The issue I am trying to address is not really selling diagnostic work, it's stopping that gaping profit leak when that diagnostic work leads to a week long project. I know a big part of the issue is that both my lead tech and I love the challenging ones, and all we learn from them. But it causes such a loss of revenue and backs things up in the shop. So I think what I am looking for is a firm line in the sand to keep our love of the challenges from becoming such a huge drain on the shop. 

So right now one of my thoughts is that if after an hour, we are not relatively sure that we will be able to resolve the issue within another 2-3 hours, then refer them to the dealer. While I don't like sending customers to the dealer, I don't think it will cause us to lose many customers, and even if we do, it will probably be less of a loss than working on their car for a week.  

Scott

   

I hate the idea. But, if it allows you to work on more profitable work and you have enough of it, I suppose it is ok. But........

Most of the time we cannot figure something out, it is due to a disappearing symptom or lack of information from the vehicle. These are the cars I am getting better at saying this is what we've done and these are the results. At this point I can guess or wait for the symptom to become more apparent but unless you want to spend more money I cannot go further. And then LET THEM make the decision. Most of the time they will come back after they experience it again and they can give us more info.

The real reason I hate it is for psychological reasons. You see we work hard to become the answer to anything automotive to our customers. This way they are more apt to spend every automotive dollar they spend with us, we will be far more successful the more we can accomplish this  (known as first position). By sending them away they may find better service (not likely but possible) we've admitted there is someone better than us and we may just create a different position for ourselves. While most aftermarket shops are in second position anyhow it might work, but I also attribute that second position adds to the ebbs and flows of business as we grow.

I would try to figure  out how to capture more testing dollars when I can and when necessary let the customer chose to wait or go elsewhere on their own.

I am assuming this is unique diagnostic issues and not training issues so if you cant do it they probably cant either.

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I wanted to expand a little on the comparison to Doctors. While I completely agree that we should be treated the same way, and be compensated for our time and diagnostic test, just as doctors and other professionals are. There is a part of that equation, that really has not been discussed, and that is customer retention. I have not had much of an issue getting customers to pay diagnostic fees. However, when customers agrees to pay them, regardless of how you word it, or explain it to them, I believe most have an expectation spoken or not, that those fees will lead to a diagnoses. But, regardless of that, most are certainly going to leave having an issue that is still unresolved. Which is what led me to the original title of my post. Do you guarantees any results from your diagnostic time?  

 I was reminded of this by a few recent events in my own life. First there is my 85 year old mom. She has been taken to the hospital multiple times in the last few years for episodes in which her blood pressure spikes unusually high accompanied by a number of other symptoms. The do some test, her pressure comes down, and then have her follow up with a doctor within a few days. She gets some test at the doctors, usually a prescription of some sort, and goes on her way. One even removed her gall bladder. It is usually only a matter of time before it happens again. Once it happens again, she usually starts looking for another doctor. She has been through this cycle numerous times. So yes, those doctors were compensated, but they also lost a patient/customer when they were unable to find the cause of the issue, and she had to go searching elsewhere for a solution. 

Earlier this year I had a kidney stone. It passed, but about a month later I started having the same symptoms, so I went back to the emergency room. They were not comfortable doing anther CAT scan so they took an X-Ray and said they can't see anything. So I made an appointment with my doctor who requested a copy of the original CAT scan, and he said everything looks fine. Guess what I made an appointment with another doctor, which I am still waiting for; because I need a solution, not a test. 

Right now I'm trying to sort out what will work best for my shop. I don't know the answer to that yet. Just throwing thought out here now. What I'm seeing is, if I send them somewhere else to deal with an issue I don't want to lose hours and hours in, I may lose a customer, If I have a customer's car for a week or two sorting something out, I might lose a customer, and If there is an issue I can't give a definitive answer on I might lose a customer. So right I'm thinking sending them somewhere else prevents me from losing hours and hours.

Just to give you an idea of the type of issue(s) I'm talking about, here is the latest we were working on. We had a 2007 Audi that intermittently would not start. It was there for a few days were we would go and try to start it from time to time. After a few days we started to experience the issue. There were no codes, and since it ran normally when it started, we were pretty confident that there were no mechanical issues, the coils were okay, and the fuel was okay. When it wouldn't start, you could smell fuel, so we knew the injectors were firing, the coils had built in modules, with ~12 volts voltage, and a good trigger signal. The cam and crank sensor tested normal when it wasn't starting. Then one day my tech noticed that when it wasn't starting, if he turned the key back to the run position quickly, it would start. He was able to do this several times, so that lead him to believe the issue was the contacts in the ignition switch. Pretty logical. He replaced the switch, but that didn't fix it.

At that point he came to me to let me know he was out of ideas. So we started working on it together. I started by re-scanning the car. I got the same results. No codes. I was not able to get it to start the way he did when is was failing. But after a while, I noticed that if I let go of the key and it jump back quickly, while the crank with no start was happening, it would start when the key no longer engaged the starter. I was able to do this over and over. So I theorized that a voltage drop must be happening when the starter is drawing current. We check the computer power and ground. No problem there. we checked the ground from the battery in the trunk all the way up to the engine, and there was very little voltage drop. We did find enough of a voltage drop from the positive side to make us think we may have found the issue. So we ran a jumper from the battery to the front of the car. The problem continued. 

After a little more brain storming and testing, we finally found the issue. I'm going to wait a few days before posting what we found in case anyone wants to take a guess.

The other one that comes to mind is a BMW that we replaced the DME. If you have ever done a software download on a BMW with the factory system, it will not allow you to do just one module. If you want to load one module, there are several others that require to be updated first. Well, the downloads failed half way through leaving 5 or 6 modules dead. I worked on it for a week or so. Sent it to another shop who said he could straighten out. He was not able. I had a mobile programmer come out. He was not able to do anything with it. It took me about 2 more weeks, but I eventually was able to get all the modules back online and updated. It was rewarding once it was done, but it didn't help my bank account.

    

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I hate to say it , but you are absolutely correct about one hour thing.

You can't win them all. Nothing wrong wrong with telling a customer that you are unable to do anything for them.

Doctors tell me and my wife that all the time.

If you can do that less than ten times a year , you  are good to go. 

Gene. 

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Two observations.

First:

There is a shop near us, in a GREAT location, that often sends us customers with hard-to-diagnose problems. I used to feel arrogant that we were the “go to guys,” but then I started to rethink that. I think they put in a minimal effort and if it leads nowhere, they refer them to us  (or sometimes call for advice. I guess they think the advice a fair trade for sending us the (tough) cars.)

My best guess re their thinking: why waste time on a potential losing car when the next new customer will be easier, more profitable.

Second:

Back in the day, I thought the dealer HAD to fix the car – they are the dealer, they made the car! And they had a reputation to maintain. And had access to a national database.  But more and more I hear of the dealer not doing heroics to fix a car.

Thoughts?

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14 minutes ago, newport5 said:

Thoughts?

I think a lot of shops are falling behind very quickly. I will take the difficult cars, if they have symptoms we will figure it out. Yes, I might loose a few dollars along the way but I would rather do that and show the customer I am the shop to go to and keep my guys sharp. I am also getting in most cases paid along the way. The most important part of this is to let the customer decide how they wish to proceed and keep them in control of the dollars they spend. Stop, get more money until they don't wish to proceed.

 

Keep in mind my shop is viewed as more of an upscale place, we do not quote prices over the phone and have no menu pricing of any kind, we run no specials so we get very few shoppers though our doors. They are usually scared off by the up front testing/inspection fees. If someone has a problem they truly want to figure out we will certainly help them try to accomplish that.

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13 hours ago, Wheelingauto said:

I think a lot of shops are falling behind very quickly. I will take the difficult cars, if they have symptoms we will figure it out. Yes, I might loose a few dollars along the way but I would rather do that and show the customer I am the shop to go to and keep my guys sharp. I am also getting in most cases paid along the way. The most important part of this is to let the customer decide how they wish to proceed and keep them in control of the dollars they spend. Stop, get more money until they don't wish to proceed.

 

Keep in mind my shop is viewed as more of an upscale place, we do not quote prices over the phone and have no menu pricing of any kind, we run no specials so we get very few shoppers though our doors. They are usually scared off by the up front testing/inspection fees. If someone has a problem they truly want to figure out we will certainly help them try to accomplish that.

Sounds like our shop... Are you hiding in the closet somewhere??

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  • 1 month later...

I really ike the idea of calling it time for tests not diagnosis. It sounds better because you atent obligated to formulate an answer. I'm going to steal that.

Most of our problems arent from having to spend time figuring things out. It's from cars not acting up and we waste a ton of time trying to duplicate the problem for free. Alot of times after trying on and off all day we tell the customer it wont act up and theyll say "oh well, it only did it once 2 weeks ago". Now I'm not happy and that's why we have a 1 hour minimum. Most of the time if its acting up it only takes 15 or 20 minutes to figure out so the rare times it takes longer we eat. It evens out but we dont work on European cars. 

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      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
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