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More reasons to charge for diagnosis

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I've said it before, I'll say it yet again: Charging for diagnosis should be standard operating procedure at every professional automotive service facility.

If you aren't convinced of this, consider these factors before condemning the practice.

My field experience has been to examine the auto service providers that have demonstrated staying power and durability over the last 20 to 30 years. Without exception, the tire dealers and service shop operators that enjoy long-term health and stability are those that, first, establish a professional image.

Once they have established a clean, attractive image, they routinely charge for diagnosis. Experience shows that a percentage of the motoring public appreciates and values getting a vehicle repaired correctly the first time. Coincidentally, these types of motorists also end up being the best long-term customers.

Experience also shows that diagnosis is not a penalty or needless charge. Rather, it's a priceless investment in performing the correct repair the first time. By doing this, the diagnostic fee ultimately saves the customer money simply by guiding the technician to an accurate assessment of the car's ills.

For years, critics of diagnostic fees have told me that motorists simply cannot afford these charges?especially during tough economic times. How far back do I remember hearing this argument? How about during the first major oil embargo of 1973! But since then, two factors persist. First, diagnosis has to be sold and sold effectively. Some service sales personnel have the innate skill to do this, or else they've been trained and constantly coached in the technique.

Sadly, many service people are glorified order takers. Sell? Watch them firsthand and you realize they couldn't sell cold lemonade in the middle of a desert. To me, two of the essential skills sales people must master are selling both diagnosis and maintenance successfully.

If they can't accomplish these two tasks, then I ask why they're stationed at the service counter in the first place.

The second persistent factor is that every motorist does not perceive value in diagnosing the car correctly. For a variety of reasons, these car owners are skeptical?they expect service personnel to gaze fondly upon a vehicle and intuit what the car needs and what these repairs will cost. Equally preposterous is how many owners and managers behave just like distrustful motorists: They actually expect their technicians to be mechanically clairvoyant.

Today, some motorists face the same decisions car owners faced in previous tough times such as the '73 embargo: Fix it or not. The best value may be to repair the existing vehicle. Service sales people may capture this repair work and ease the financial burden by intelligently prioritizing the repairs. Sensibly spreading the repairs over several visits may be the approach that convinces the motorist to spend the money and spend it with you.

Nonetheless, that ?clairvoyant? approach?chasing the known, pattern failures on vehicles?only takes you so far. Sooner or later you have to know what you're doing. The sophistication of today's vehicles, not to mention the cost of parts and labor, are forcing more service personnel to get smarter sooner rather than later.

Finally, consider the law of supply and demand. Ask yourself how many auto service providers within your market perform the quality of work you're providing. How many competitors routinely diagnose and repair the kinds of problems your team does? How many competitors save motorists money by testing instead of guessing?

If you are, in fact, meeting the demand for accurate, effective repairs, then there's definitely a value for that effort.

Since diagnosis is the foundation for providing a correct fix the first time, charge for diagnosis accordingly.

If nothing else, try bundling some diagnostic expenses into the actual labor bill for the job.

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