This is going to be pretty philosophical for a blog about car repair. You know, typically, a car repair website blog is “blah-blah flux capacitor, turn signal pressure, muffler bearing, blah-blah”. Today I want to touch on concepts that are a bit more ambiguous. The actual reasons that customers choose their car repair facility is a topic that is very well studied, documented, and is an extremely important item that we discuss daily in our industry. We use large scale studies, and our own personal experience in these conversations and decisions. So, without further ado, on to the meat of the topic!
The most important and number 1-4 reasons for choosing a car repair facility are NOT price! However, the majority of customers ask for that FIRST. The FIRST thing they want to know is “How much is it for you to do job X”. The MOST important facet of the experience is at the END of the experience (from drive-away to long-term usage) and isn’t the price number, it is the VALUE. Value is hard to measure- it’s ambiguous. People love to ask price because they feel it is the one thing they can nail down. Contemplating price+tech knowledge+warranty+job quality+courtesy+friendliness+on-time delivery+convenience+parts quality=VALUE is extremely difficult up front. However, with long term usage of the car and shop, it becomes obvious.
Many shops “hide” many facets of their operations specifically so that you can’t quantify them and they can manipulate you on price. Just like every other business in the world, when you see “FREE”, “SALE”, “DISCOUNT”, etc, you are being manipulated on price. You might ask, “How do you know!?!” I’ll tell you how I know; because I have studied economics, and accounting, and because I’ve run a business for 12 years.
We don’t pay our bills by the job, or by the day, or by the week. We pay our bills by the month, quarter, and year. At the end of these long terms our Revenue ($ in) multiplied by our Gross Profit Percentage minus our Expenses must be a positive number. If it is not, we lost money, and NO business exists when it loses money. A business can lose money for at most a few months or a year, and then it will fold. Expenses are simply too high. These are facts, not opinions, and must be understood to understand why a “Sale Price” results in LOWER value. You want to use a business that makes a good profit, because THAT is a business that excels at delivering to their customers.
So to evaluate what makes a customer happy when it isn’t price, let’s think about WHY a business would CHOOSE to lower Gross Profit on a job when the goal is to have HIGH Gross Profit. Simple- it’s a loss leader. You must DO something to bring in customers. Since Price manipulation is very easy to see and implement, many businesses choose that tactic- there’s the AD shouting “ITS FREE!!!”. So how do they make money? By overcharging you for literally every single other thing you buy, AND reducing expenses on the “FREE” or “DISCOUNTED” item.
We have TWO ASE Master Technicians on staff. We’re both damn good technicians, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in tools, equipment, knowledge, and education. That means we expect to be paid accordingly for our work. Work here, just like your job, comprises EVERYTHING we do during our hours here, PLUS our study time after hours. Scan a car? Yep, it’s work. Install a wiper blade? That’s work, too. If you are a chef, when you are cooking, you’re working. Making a salad? Work. Cleaning your knives? Work. THIS is why a “FREE” diagnostic is always bad. A good technician earns 35-45% of the billed labor in total compensation (salary, benefits, etc). This means they earn anywhere from 30-50$ for each billed hour. You think a business can give away several hours a week at that rate? Would you? Of course not. A “FREE” diagnostic is worth every penny you paid for it, and usually worth less. Go ahead, install 300$ worth of parts and use 8 hours of someone’s time and still have a broken car. How much was that “FREE” diagnostic worth? at 100$/hr for labor it cost -1100$. Still think it’s free?This happens because good diagnostic techs won’t (also “don’t“ and “shouldn’t”) work for free and bad diagnostic techs can’t perform a diagnosis correctly.
So how do the “it’s FREE” shops do it? Well, number one, they lie to you. There’s nothing “FREE”, they’re gambling that they will “sell” you high profit services to make up for the “FREE!”. What if you don’t “need” anything? Oh, trust me, you’re going to “need” something! They build the cost of the diagnosis back into the job. I have seen this in hundreds of competing estimates. You have lost the “trust”, “tech knowledge”, “parts quality”, “friendliness” from the Value equation! You know it, and we all know it. The trust is gone because you know in your heart they have to sell you something at an inflated price to avoid losing money. The tech knowledge is gone because the good techs have no time for games- they’re good BECAUSE they’re ethical and smart, and they study. They won’t stick around for that game. The parts quality is gone because you MUST minimize your losses and compromising parts quality is childishly easy to hide. The friendliness is likely gone because of the stress that comes from that kind of sales pressure.
THIS is why the customer dissatisfaction in auto repair is ridiculously high. Too many people compromising value to chase price when it isn’t what makes them happy in the first place.
Don’t buy into the hype. PAY people for what they do, EXPECT high quality, and CHOOSE those who deliver. THAT fixes the entire equation. The techs get paid for their work, the owner (either individual or corporate) makes enough money to guarantee the work correctly (long-term) and train their employees, AND provide conveniences like shuttle service, an Uber, or a discount rental.
Look at the reviews- high VALUE shops create good reviews and customers that speak well of them. They also create very few people that go online and “slam” them with the “one star temper tantrum review”. Ask your friends for referrals. Good shops do much less of the “FREE” and “SALE” stuff in advertising and much more in relationship building advertising. When you compare shops, compare apples to apples. When you price shop ask “Why is one estimate higher?”. If the answer is “their techs are paid more because they are better, their parts quality is higher, their warranty is better, they’re more professional, they’re more convenient” then you very likely are looking at a higher value, and THAT is what makes you happy. Don’t be misled that you can get “adequate” repairs cheaper at a place that yells “We’re Cheap!” because they can’t afford NOT to sell you everything they can.
Good shops don’t quote price, they explain their value. They don’t try to beat a price, they try to do a very good job, at a fair price, and deliver on time, every single time. They communicate, explain, and empathize- not pressure, steer and control. They understand that this is NOT a transaction- it is relationship. They get that when you leave the business after your repair their obligation to you follows you- it doesn’t end when you pay the bill.
The vast majority of the customer dissatisfaction is related to improper diagnostics, come-backs, and incorrectly performed repairs. Every single one of these things is caused by the people working in the business and a culture of “sales transaction” vs “client satisfaction”. A business that yells “FREE STUFF” cannot be a “client oriented” culture, because a client oriented culture focuses on long term relationships, not transactions and a “FREE STUFF” ad just delivers transactions.
For instance, when you pay us to troubleshoot a problem, you have paid us for our time. We don’t HAVE to make another sale to earn a profit. We can advise you of your best course of action and be honest and frank about your car, and help you manage your investment into the second most (or most) expensive (and important) thing you own. We’re not steered by the need to “make up” lost revenues on a “loss leader”. Even our oil change specials make us a small profit- because we don’t do giveaways to bring you in. That’s our business model- we’re not here to “control” the customer with price, we’re here to create a relationship with our clients that lasts, and results in high levels of satisfaction.
Hopefully this rather long-winded blog post has helped you understand a little more about the auto repair industry and how you, and a customer, can become a client with a shop that will result in BOTH you and the shop having a happy and long term business relationship.