Charging for diagnosis is the sine qua non of a healthy, successful automotive service department.
This applies to new-car dealerships, tire dealerships, independent repair shops and specialty repair shops of all kinds.
The literal translation of sine qua non is ``without which not.'' A looser translation of this famous Latin phrase would be ``an essential element'' or ``the end result.'' Since I can't quite make it memorable in English, I'll try to imprint this message on your brains with a shameless display of my meager Latin skills!
Almost predictably, tire dealers and service shop operators were out in force recently at the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) and Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade shows in Las Vegas. A group of owners and managers walking AAPEX recognized me and collared me into talking shop. On the one hand, it's flattering to be recognized and to have people seek your opinion.
But it's also disappointing (frankly, frustrating as hell) to find myself restating an old, familiar theme. Specifically: Charging for diagnosis is not just a good idea-it's absolutely essential to success. Period!
At this point in life, I shouldn't be too surprised when bosses ask me about charging for diagnosis. The questions shouldn't upset me anymore, but they still do. Yes, I believe in this concept as strongly as I believe that the Earth is round. Hmmm...Columbus had to sail across an ocean to prove the world wasn't flat.
I respectfully submit that most Tire Business readers needn't travel nearly that far to find successful automotive service businesses that routinely charge for diagnostic time. Probably the quickest way to find owners and managers who believe in this philosophy is to join a good trade association. Historically, the same breed of boss who charges for diagnosis is also the caliber of person who participates in a trade association.
I've repeatedly argued that the most important and selfish reason for participating in a good trade association and attending lots of trade shows is to hear new and different management themes and philosophies. You'll never grow or improve by seeing and listening to the same, tired old approaches local businesses use. Step out, meet new people and visit as many auto service facilities as possible. It's the cheapest advice you'll ever get.
Now let's return to the fellows I met at the show and I'll recap what I told them. If they needed to hear this again, perhaps other readers do too. First, every technician has a limited number of hours available to him or her every day. Common sense dictates that techs want to focus their time on activities that net them the most amount of money and avoid things that don't make them money. Simply put, they'll always avoid diagnosis like a bad rash if you don't pay them to do it.
Second, investing in diagnostic time is a pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later proposition. Either spend the time up front diagnosing the vehicle correctly or suffer the consequences later with comebacks, angry customers and lost business. Consumer surveys always show that most motorists rank diagnosing and fixing the vehicle correctly the first time No. 1 or 2. Only a small percentage rank low price as their top concern.
Third, by about 1990, labor and diagnostic time had reversed themselves. That is, it typically took longer to diagnose a problem than it did to actually repair it. This turnabout only underscored the importance of proper diagnosis and diagnostic time.
I believe that a manager who's truly paid attention to his service department should have learned this fact on his or her own.
Fourth, many regular readers know that I spend as many as 180-200 days per year on the road doing technical training. When I describe and prescribe a diagnostic procedure, some techs in the audience may ask why the technique is so important. However, the question is just as likely to be: ``Why should I perform these tests if my boss isn't going to pay me to do them?''
Just maybe emphasizing the Latin version will make the difference in my argument this time. Again, charging for diagnosis is the sine qua non of a successful service department.