Doctor’s Orders
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Doctor’s Orders

PMM Editor’s Viewpoint November 2018.

As you might imagine, the PMM inbox is inundated with press releases on an almost hourly basis. The industry moves at such a pace that I can barely leave my desk for a coffee without arriving back to find news of another product launch or market development.

“The automotive repair trade suffers from a serious reputational problem, meaning that many customers roll onto your forecourt armed with misinformation and unfair prejudice.”

However, it’s not all that often that a headline causes me to almost choke on my cappuccino. Yet this is what happened when I opened a recent press release entitled: ‘Four fifths of Britons have felt as if a garage has kept their car hostage’.

We live in a world where, thanks to social media, people can’t be bothered to read news articles anymore unless the headline suggests that some kind of apocalypse is coming, so naturally we’ve learnt to take everything with a handful of salt. But still, I needed to read on.

The statistic cited in the attention-grabbing headline is derived from a study of 2,020 UK- based adults over 18, and was carried out by an online work provider for research purposes. Whilst the sample size isn’t enormous, it’s sufficient to render the survey worthwhile and potentially indicative of wider trends.

The piece goes on to reveal that, following their car being unexpectedly ‘held hostage’, three quarters of respondents disagreed with the garage’s eventual verdict, but most went ahead and signed off extra work anyway. Disagreed with the garage’s verdict.

Imagine booking an appointment with your GP, explaining your symptoms, and then when the doctor provides a diagnosis, you reply with, “actually, I think you’re wrong”. Maybe I’m mistaken, but is it not the case that you consult a professional because you yourself are unable to perform a specific task, or you lack the knowledge to make an informed decision? Why, then, do three quarters of those surveyed believe that they know better than a motor professional?

It seems there are two issues at play here – the first of which I touched upon earlier in the year in my Eastenders-themed tirade. The automotive repair trade suffers from a serious reputational problem, meaning that many customers roll onto your forecourt armed with misinformation and unfair prejudice. You’re on the back foot from the outset, so trying to explain to an already unconvinced customer that they are going to have to part with more cash and leave their vehicle with you for a bit longer is rarely going to go well.

And that brings me nicely on to the second issue, which is inadequate communication and customer service. It is apparent that your average driver has a very simplistic – even idealistic – view of the repair process. They believe that all faults and defects should be immediately obvious to a technician, and can be dealt with swiftly. If this is not the case, you’re obviously no good.

The challenge that you therefore face is, at as early a stage as possible, communicating to your customer that the fault with their car may not be a straightforward fix. It’s a question of managing expectations and preparing the customer for the scenario where further diagnostics, and expenditure, will be required.

Returning to my doctor analogy, perhaps you could gently explain to your customer that if they were to visit their GP and the doctor suspected an abnormality, the precise details of which were only detectable by further tests and scans, would they just call it a day there and take their chances? Of course not; they’d trust that the tests were necessary to determine the problem and eventually cure it. “Yeah, but I don’t have to pay to see the doctor”, a quick-witted customer might reply.

Sometimes I don’t envy the readers of this magazine!

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