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Mark Begley

Mark Begley National Director of Sales

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The Number One Way for Dealers to Beat Independent Retail Facilities

We hear it every day at the dealership about how our customers keep defecting. I thought I would share an experience of a co-worker when she went to an independent. These facilities really want our business. Let's not let them take it from us. Treat every customer like it's the last time you might see them... It just may be!

Contributed by my team member Marlo Halliday - Thanks Marlo!

Well, it was actually all a bit surprising—pleasantly surprising. Here’s the account of my experience and the number one lesson I learned that some dealers might want to note.

For 16 years prior to joining the Autosoft team, I worked in three positions with the same import dealer group, finishing my retail career there as a general manager. After my departure, I remained loyal to the brand and was still having my service work done at the dealership. I understood the value of trained technicians and advisors. I got the importance of using exact OEM parts for fit and function. But one day last week, I didn’t have the option to go to my dealership.

On my way in to work at Autosoft, my tire pressure light came on. Knowing better than to assume it was just the change in temperature that triggered the warning system, I pulled off at the first safe spot. I was glad I did. My tire wasn’t low, it was flat. I had gone about a mile from the point where the light came on to where I could pull over. It was less than another half-mile to where I knew a small tire center was located. I decided it would be ridiculous, at that point, to be towed. So, I put on my hazard lights and proceeded slowly.

It was about 7:15 a.m. and the sign on the door said they opened at 8. Around 7:40, someone who looked like a technician arrived, and then someone else. I decided to see if they had opened the customer entrance. They had, so I went on in and received a friendly greeting from the lady behind the counter. She smiled, said good morning, and asked if I was in the Honda she saw parked out front. I told her I was and explained what had just happened to lead me there.

She listened and said she could have someone check my tire right then. She’d let me know what they found. She also told me the coffee was almost done and took my keys. From there, I went and sat in the waiting area.

So let’s pause and consider my experience so far. I arrived before they were open and without an appointment, but they took me in immediately anyway. Okay, most dealership advisors would do that. But, the first point scored for the independent repair shop was that they did it with true concern and a smile. I wasn’t made to feel like I was an inconvenience or that I was throwing a wrench in their morning schedule. Point 1 to mom and pop.

Point 2? From the outside, their facility looked neat. They had a well-painted building, clean and current signage, and easy access to parking. The waiting area had maybe 8 seats, a large wall-mounted flat screen, current magazines, and loads of neatly-arranged antique vehicle knick-knacks lining the cornice shelves above my head. The room temperature was comfortably warm with cozy chairs, and the coffee wasn’t Starbucks, but it was good. The state of their lounge may or may not be considered a “one up” on most franchised dealerships’ service lounges, but it was definitely comparable. So, point #2 may be a tie, but it comes with a tip: be sure to take a close look at your lounge, if you haven’t lately, and make sure it’s welcoming and comfortable.

Now, here’s where the independent scored big in the franchised vs. independent experience. The counter person (not sure if she’d call herself a service advisor?), was genuinely distressed when she came back out to tell me about my car.

She informed me the technician had found that I’d lost air at the seal around the valve. It would have been repairable if I hadn’t driven on the flat as far as I had. She said they had to replace the tire and that she was sorry.

She actually said, “I feel bad.” She was genuinely empathetic. I honestly believed she felt sorry that I had to spend money on a new tire. Is that the impression dealership advisors characteristically convey?

I have to believe that, like myself, other service customers would approve a service or repair much more contentedly if it were proposed so considerately versus indifferently.

The counter person went on to say they didn’t have a match in stock or available, but she had found the closest tread match for the size I needed. I wasn’t thrilled about having one tire that didn’t match, but I certainly didn’t want to replace three other fairly new ones to have an identical set.

She told me they could get the tire in the next day and would call me when it was done. She didn’t tell me the price (okay, score one for the dealership; I would have gotten an estimate and signed something by now), and I didn’t ask. I really didn’t want to know. I was just glad I hadn’t ruined the wheel at that point.

The next day, I got a call around 2. The tire was done and the total cost was about half of what I’d guessed it would be. Even so, price isn’t the point here. The point is that the sincerity, which correlated to integrity, made the independent facility the winner for me. Score big time for the mom and pop.

That’s the #1 key, I think, for dealers to win out over the independents: show that you care . . . sincerely.

Will I go back to the independent facility? Without a doubt (barring a major repair) I’m there.

What a simple way to win business. If a dealer or service manager would strongly emphasize the human factor with their service writers, I think CSE and customer retention would reflect the effort ten-fold.

Maybe the “mom and pop” cliché is really making a positive suggestion: Treat the customer how you would like your mother or father to be treated. That kind of attitude would be a winning difference for the dealership.

Joe Henry

Mark, the other big factor I have heard people complain about is the dealer always want’s a “Check out fee”. With a few exceptions, most independent shops don’t charge for a diagnosis and give free estimates. It is practically impossible for a dealer to do this because of gross they have to make to support the Taj Mahal that the factories require.  

Caleb  Twito

Hey Mark, nice article I really like the personal experience stories. I think advisors get numb to the fact that customers that have to expectantly are told they have to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars worth of repairs can be an extremely stressful time because they see it everyday. Also, this is a complete side note but how many times have you walked into a Jiffy Lube with their cold coffee and 25 year old gumball machine and thought...is this really the best you can do? Thanks for the article.  

Mark Begley

Great responses, I think if you asked any consumer, they would prefer to do business with their dealer if they FELT the prices were more comparable and FELT it more convenient. I think customers sometimes just assume the worst from dealers and scratch them off the list.

Yes Joe, there is usually a diagnosis fee at the dealership to take the equivalent of a brain surgeon for automobiles and have him/her try to figure out what is going on with the vehicle. No different than when you go to the doctor. Many people want to come to the dealer for the expert diagnosis and then do the repair themselves or at some aftermarket facility using aftermarket parts and cheaper, less skilled labor. There is an expense for diagnosis and should be recouped by the dealership. However, to better compete, if the customer chooses to do the repair at the dealership, most dealers will apply the diagnosis charge to the amount of the repair just like the independents. 

Dealers can compete with any of the independent repair shops out there. They just need to offer more perceived value on the repair, more choices for aftermarket parts (if that is what the customer wants) and more convenient hours. Dealers gave the business to the independents, they can surely take it away.

Joe Henry

Mark, what I read from consumer reports, times have changed. Almost all auto parts stores will now do a computer scans no cost right in the parking lot, which is what we dealership Fixed Ops use to have as an exclusive. Do certain older cars with an intermittent driveablity problems end up in dealerships? Yep, but it is usually the last stop on the bus route not the 1st,, especially if the customer is cost conscience or a Millennial.

Mark Begley

Joe, let's think of the theory behind why a Parts store will provide a free scan... Imagine going to one of these places and getting the information that you have a P0301. What's that code mean? The book say it's a random misfire on cylinder #1. OK... what do I do? Good news! You are at a parts store. Try a spark plug, nope. Try a plug wire, nope. Try a coil pack, nope. Try a new ECM. Hey, that worked. Get my point.

I would highly recommend all dealerships pull the code for free. But then stop and explain that if the customer wants the root cause of the code to be found, let's get a properly trained technician to look at your vehicle. Isn't that worth a little bit of money? AND, if it's a loose gas cap, by all means, please let the customer know and tighten the cap up without charging anything. It's called customer goodwill.

You will probably spend much less getting the correct diagnosis as opposed to all those parts the parts store is going to tell you that you need. You do get what you pay for and when it comes to my car where my family travels, I want it right.

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