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R. L. Polk & Co’s Ask the Industry: Synching Up Customer and Provider Expectations When it Comes to Pricing

As an industry, what can we do to get all service providers on the same page, in terms of getting a fair price for service and repair expertise, and being able to charge accordingly, without consumers feeling like they are being gouged?

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AKRON, OHIO — As an industry, what can we do to get all service providers on the same page, in terms of getting a fair price for service and repair expertise, and being able to charge accordingly, without consumers feeling like they are being gouged?

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Find out what a few industry vets had to say about it.

Nick DiVerde, general manager, shop management solutions, Mitchell 1:

“There are a number of estimator guides on the market. These are designed primarily to help the shop owner estimate the cost of repairs and adjust appointments to match the shop’s technician staffing level. If the shop is using these labor estimates to charge customers, the customer deserves an explanation regarding flat-rate labor billing vs. actual time and materials billing. The key here is communication. Often a customer may only notice the total elapsed time his vehicle is in the bay for service. He may not understand that two or more technicians may have worked on the vehicle, or that components were receiving preparation or repair in another part of the shop. Most programs contain information regarding quote preparation and customer communication. In the case of Mitchell 1 Estimator products, all contain an 11-step guide for the shop professional. The most important of all for our industry and for your shops customers may be the last step: Observe the total of labor and parts.

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“Present the estimate and go over it with the customer. It is extremely important that the customer fully understands what the estimate consists of, what work will actually be performed and what the costs involved are. By making sure the customer is thoroughly aware of what you have quoted on your estimate, you can avoid potential problems that may arise at the end of the job.”

Aaron Clements, AAM, C&C Automotive and ASA Chairman-Elect, Augusta, GA:

“We must communicate with our customers and proudly state our charges for diagnostic time. If asked if that amount is waived if the repair is done, we must proudly say ‘no’ without hesitation. We always let them know that we will not go past that amount without contacting them. If they decide on the repair, we are happy to do it. If they do not, we are not upset and will give them any options or information that we can. They paid for that [diagnostic] information and it belongs to them.

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“Those who do not charge for diagnostic time will soon find that they cannot retain or attract good technicians. They cannot afford good equipment or information systems. They’ll find themselves sending more and more ‘problem cars’ to other shops. The customer is then happy to pay diagnostic time, and the shop where the vehicle was sent makes money on the job. They use a portion of that money to pay the technicians well and buy or update equipment. The best way to get others on the same page is training. Once they see what it takes to diagnose many of the vehicles and talk to others about what good technicians require in salaries and benefits, believe me, they will charge for diagnostic time.”

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John Cochrane, Cochrane Automotive, Toronto, Ontario, Canada:

“We have developed a number of standardized tests, including A/C maintenance and several engine performance analyses, to validate what is ‘right’ with the consumer’s vehicle. This will usually lead us to the defect and provide the customer with standardized, accurate diagnostic information about his or her vehicle. Time is money and when the customer sees what we do for diagnostic time, we don’t seem to have a problem being paid for it. To avoid disagreement over time on the job, we attach a dollar value to each of our diagnostic levels.”

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Rich White, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Member Relations, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, Bethesda, MD:

“Dealing with consumer expectations about service and repair pricing is all about trust and the relationship between the technician or shop owner and the customer. If the consumer trusts that their repair shop will recommend and perform the right service and repair at a fair price, it really doesn’t matter what the guy down the street is advertising. People don’t typically price shop for dentists, doctors and day care. They are shopping for trust, honesty, quality and dependability. These are the emotions and motivators that our industry needs to respond to rather than competing on price.”

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SUMMARY by Amy Antenora, Editor, aftermarketNews:

Author and equal rights activist Margaret Fuller once said, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.”

While Fuller was talking about women’s suffrage, the idea certainly works when talking about automotive service and repair.

Speaking from the customer perspective, for most of us, the inner workings of our automobiles remain a mystery, yet we rely on our cars daily to get us, and our loved ones, safely where we need to go.

As several of this week’s Ask the Industry participants pointed out: Communication, information and trust are critical to the customer in the repair process. Automotive repairers hold a very big candle in terms of technical knowledge and the customer only wants a little light to be shed on the mystery known as the beloved family car. It is only through communicating how and why something is done that technicians can get customers to understand why a repair costs what it does.

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Consider it a grass roots initiative. For every customer you enlighten, you have leveled the industry’s pricing playing field just a little more.

Editor’s Note: Both ASA members, Clements and Cochrane, will be participating next week in a panel discussion “The Myths and Realities of Automotive Service Repair” at the Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium (GAAS) in Detroit.

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