Article

Do Customer's Need Training

December 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Tommy Webb - Also by this author

All of us have purchased a new VCR or DVD player at one time or another. Now, think about what happened to the instruction manual. Most of us, myself included, don’t have to think very hard. The instruction manuals are usually tossed aside, only to be referenced when we cannot figure out how to set the clock or program the unit to record our favorite TV show.

So, what happens to automobile owner’s manual? As a former automotive technician for dealerships, as well as some large independent repair facilities, I usually found them either buried in the glove box or tossed aside, like a VCR instruction manual. Customers think of the owner’s manual just like the DVD manual, just a reference tool for when something goes wrong rather than a source of valuable information that should be read carefully.

Several years ago, a large automotive group tested customer seminars. Seminars designed to teach customers about their vehicles. New owners were invited to the dealership once a month for training on everything from how to change a flat tire, to the importance of regular maintenance on their specific vehicle.

In an effort to track down some results of this unique idea, I learned the automotive group has long since discontinued the program. So, does that mean it wasn’t an effective service marketing tool? Perhaps, but it might just mean that the group didn’t structure the events correctly.

Are dealers taking any course of action directed toward making their customers more aware of the features of their specific vehicles or the maintenance items suggested for those vehicles? An even better question is if they are, can any of those practices be improved upon?

As a technician early in my career, I often encountered customers who were surprised to learn that their vehicle was in need of a suggested maintenance procedure such as a timing belt replacement. Generally, timing belt replacement intervals are 90,000 or 100,000 miles on many vehicles. Most often the customer, who brings their vehicle into your service department for an oil change, or some other minor service at 90,000 miles, isn’t going to approve an unexpected timing belt replacement. They will ask for an estimate, and probably will shop around for a better price or, maybe just need some time to acquire the money needed to have the repair performed. With the increasing reliability of vehicles today, regular maintenance items like transmission flushes, radiator flushes, tune-ups and timing belt replacements have become something of an after thought for many consumers.

The customer that required the tune up every 30,000 miles 10 or 15 years ago is now driving a vehicle that requires very little attention until it reaches 100,000 miles.

That same customer, however, if made aware of the upcoming maintenance requirements ahead of time will be prepared and more receptive to allowing your service department to perform the maintenance required when recommended.

In my experience, vehicle mileage records from previous service visits can give a dealership the best opportunity to prepare the customer. For example, a customer who brings in their vehicle for service with 50,000 miles with previous records indicating that the customer drives 30,000 plus miles a year needs to be told of the upcoming suggested maintenance at 90,000. This and each subsequent visit for service allows the dealership to prepare the customer for the upcoming maintenance work.

Both the service department and technicians benefit from customer awareness. Enough forward planning and awareness can increase hours in the service department through regularly scheduled maintenance and perhaps save your customers from costly repairs.

With the increased reliability and decreased needs for major maintenance items of today’s vehicles, service departments cannot rely on appointments made due to unexpected problems to fill bays. Dealerships should take more of an initiative in educating vehicle owners. Inform vehicle owners of the cost advantages of regular maintenance verses the cost of vehicle failures resulting from lack if maintenance. Perhaps a regularly scheduled customer seminar at your dealership would produce results. What works best for your dealership would probably depend on the size of the dealership and the demographics it serves.

Greater customer awareness of vehicle maintenance requires persistence from the dealership and won’t likely produce immediate results. However, months down the road when customers call for maintenance or readily approve suggested maintenance when they bring their vehicle in for an oil change, you will be happy you put the effort in.
 
Vol 3, Issue 10

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