DETROIT-A new gimmick used by some new-car dealerships may prove to be a cheap fix for customer-relations problems. The idea could translate into increased service sales for independent shops, as well.
Shops in Texas and Florida are spending just over a dime per cassette tape for personalized audio tape explanations of repairs-and seeing 20-50 percent fewer repeat repairs.
Thus far they've found that customer satisfaction survey scores are up, and the taped discussion of repairs clears up confusion about work performed on customers' vehicles.
Here's how the program works:
Dealers purchase cassette players and 5- to 10-minute tapes in lots of 500 to 1,000. Recorders of acceptable quality cost about $20 each.
Technicians describe all the services they performed, from oil changes to diagnostic work. Generally, technicians take each complaint or line item on the repair order, state the problem they found, and explain what they did to correct it.
They then hang the tape from the rear-view mirror or staple it to the customer's bill.
Service writers still go over repair orders with customers. Dealers find that the tape reinforces the visit with the service writer and makes customers more comfortable with the repair.
The procedure also lets technicians build relationships with customers, potentially establishing a loyal following. Although many techs aren't known for their people skills, most everyone seems to adapt to making the tapes.
``People will ask to have the same technician they had last time,'' said Chip Perry, service manager of Porsche Volvo Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Repeat repairs are down more than 50 percent from six months ago when Porsche Volvo Center began using the procedure.
``We probably get just three a month, if that, vs. six to 10 per month'' before the program, Mr. Perry said of the shop, which handles about 800 repair orders per month.
The tape is a strong sales tool, he said. Technicians perform a 40-point inspection, which they address on the tape.
They also let customers know if future repairs and maintenance are necessary. In turn, customers are impressed with the detailed inspection, he said.
``The tape helps justify the dollar value for everything done to the car,'' Mr. Perry said.
He uses the taped message to check repairs, and takes vehicles on road tests before returning them to customers.
The tapes have helped raise customer satisfaction index scores, particularly when it comes to getting customers to understand repair work performed.
Before trying the program, Point West Volvo of Irving, Texas, had received scores in the survey in the low 40s on communicating repair orders. Now it scores in the 70s and 80s, based on a scale of 100.
Tapes also are particularly useful for explaining diagnostic work when technicians can't seem to find out what's wrong.
``It is better than writing `NPF'-for no problem found-on the repair order,'' according to John Witt, service manager for the suburban Dallas dealership. ``On a tape, the technician can go into detail of everything he checked so customers know he made an effort to duplicate the problem.''