The quickest diagnosis is not always the best way to close a service sale. Tire dealers who perform automotive repairs must realize that a seemingly expedient answer may send a penny-pinching motorist directly to a competitor.
In recent columns, I have urged dealership personnel to use the fine art of road testing to build customer trust and improve diagnostic accuracy. But people who routinely road test vehicles reminded me that a textbook road test is the very setting where customer relations gaffes befall unsuspecting service personnel.
Some service pros recommend maintaining the proverbial poker face during road tests, not showing their cards until they perform a thorough visual inspection back in the bay and write a complete estimate. Here's why.
Today's consumers are more cost-conscious than ever before. Some dealerships serve communities hard-hit by economic downturns or populated with a high percentage of retirees on fixed incomes. And no matter where you work, there are old-fashioned tightwads to deal with.
Savvy service personnel tend to see each new road test as a fresh challenge. When their hard-earned experience helps them recognize a problem-especially a condition that other service shops have missed-they usually tell the customer what they observed the moment they notice it.
Then they announce the diagnosis before they get the vehicle back inside the store for a good visual inspection. However, cagey veterans avoid doing this for three subtle but important reasons.
First, no matter how good you have become at road testing, visual inspection may reveal the diagnosis is either wrong or close but not totally correct. The problem may be more severe and more expensive to repair than expected. So instead of appearing professional and methodical, you look like just another tech shooting from the hip.
Worse yet, pride may prompt someone to stick with an initial diagnosis and then minimize the seriousness of other problems uncovered during a post-road test visual inspection. Although the tech fixes the ``initial diagnosis'' condition, one of the other problems causes a breakdown later on.
The customer doesn't tell friends and relatives the store solved his immediate problem quickly and accurately. All he remembers is service personnel appeared to go over the car thoroughly but it still broke down shortly afterward.
Second, it's not uncommon for the motorist to conclude, ``I just got a free diagnosis!'' When you return to the store, this fellow excuses himself and he and his car are gone in a flash. Instead of paying what he perceives to be premium prices at your store, he bolts for the local low-cost provider or alley mechanic. He may even tackle the repair himself.
Third-and possibly the most painful for conscientious service personnel-making the diagnosis look too easy sends the wrong message to some people. These consumers have taken such a beating from service providers of all kinds that they automatically conclude the quicker and easier the diagnosis, the cheaper the repair job should be.
They'll never admit it, but they don't value the knowledge you've acquired telling you which screw to turn and how far to turn it. All they know is you demanded a lot of money to turn a screw.
Likewise, they may not value your expertise at distinguishing one bump or vibration from another. However, the visual and psychological impact of withholding judgment until you complete the road test, thoroughly check the vehicle back in the service bay, prepare a vehicle inspection report and write an estimate often does the trick.
These procedural steps, which ought to be followed any way, reinforce the impression that you did something to earn your fees as well as the customer's respect.
I remember an executive telling me that when he spends the bucks for a first-class seat, he wants to see the airline is waiting on him more attentively than the ``peons'' in coach class. Similarly, the customer who might take your quick but accurate verbal diagnosis to a competitor may need additional reinforcement that you're really doing something to justify your price.
That's why more and more owners and managers I know refuse to go near the most obvious problems until they have gone through the motions I described here and in other columns. Until they get to know the customer better, they don't want to cheapen the value of their knowledge with straight answers given too quickly.
They act like doctors: Examine the patient thoroughly and very politely, but offer no conclusions until all the test results are in!