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Why We Struggle with Selling Diagnostic Labor

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It’s early Monday morning and you watch as a customer rolls into your driveway with the tail pipe hanging and dragging along the ground. The repair? Obvious. Based on years of experience, you or your service advisor begins the mental process of generating an estimate and repair remedy even before the vehicle stops moving. As the customer walks through the door there is an almost mutual agreement that the exhaust needs to be repaired or replaced and that money will exchange hands. After a price is agreed upon, the repair is done and the customer is back on the road.


The beauty of this type of repair is that it is tangible and mechanical in nature. Something is broke and the customer can clearly see that. Selling this type of repair is relatively easy.


But what happens when a customer arrives and says, “ My check engine light has been on for a few days, but the car runs great.” How do you or how should you proceed? Unlike the dragging tail pipe, this repair is intangible. Your customer may have a tough time understanding that a problem actually exists.


This is where many service advisors and shop owners struggle. Unlike the exhaust problem, selling diagnostic testing is not something that is easily accepted by customers when no apparent problems are occurring.


Trouble shooting check engine lights can be an unprofitable nightmare if you’re not charging correctly. It is crucial not to give away diagnostic labor. The costs related to solving complicated on-board computer problems are just too high. But in order to sell diagnostic labor you need to understand human emotions.


The one emotion you have on your side is that sense of the unknown. The feeling that although nothing is evident, there still may be problem. And even for the untrained eye, the check engine warning light has to mean something. You need to act on this emotion.


This is where you knowledge of the on board computer system comes into play. At this point you need to explain in detail the purpose of the check engine light and why the computer system turns on the light to alert the driver. You also need to explain the series of tests that will be performed in order to pinpoint the reason why the computer turned on the check engine light. It’s equally important to inform the customer that even though there may be no noticeable perfromace issues, a problem still exists.


Now comes the key part of the process. Sell the diagnostic labor before the car is taken into the bay. After explaining in detail the process from analysis to repair, inform the customer the charge for the diagnostic testing. You need to separate the analysis from the actual repair. Trying to sell the diagnostic charges with the repair after the car has been analyzed will back fire. Be up front with the customer. I have found that a full explanation of the testing process reducing problems later. It also pre-qualifies the customer. If the customer objects paying for diagnostic labor he will also have a hard time accepting paying for the repair. By the way, don’t bother telling the customer what it costs for overhead, technician salary, equipment, tools, rags, information and training. The customer has no interest in what it cost YOU to be in business and cannot relate to this. Their concern is their car; this is where your focus needs to be.


Keep the customer in the loop. Inform the customer that after the tests are completed, you will review the test results and be in a better position to explain what repair is needed. Also, if needed you will call first to explain any additional tests and any costs.


I am not suggesting that this process will solve all the problems when selling diagnostic labor. It takes well-trained technicians following a comprehensive outline of tests. Plus there are other factors involved; intermittent problems, lack of information, not having the correct scan tool program update, etc. The important thing to remember is that you need to have a plan. Review you current procedure and insure that both you and customer are both being compensated fairly.

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