Tire dealers and service shop operators should recognize that documentation is an essential building block of a business' credibility.
Ultimately, a business that lacks credibility cannot earn the customer loyalty it needs to survive—let alone prosper in today's cutthroat marketplace.
Readers can pare this philosophy down to a two-part formula. First, documentation equals accountability; accountability yields credibility. Second, in turn, credibility fosters customer loyalty.
In the long run, increasing customer loyalty breeds a healthier business simply because people continue coming back and spending money. Long term, improved loyalty may save money on marketing and advertising. That's because it always costs much less to draw existing, satisfied customers back into the bays than it does to attract new ones.
So what's documentation? How do you establish it?
To me, documentation is a written summation of what the vehicle needs now and in the near future. The first thing you do is print out this summation somewhere on the work order or job estimate. If that's too cumbersome, create a separate, official “summation” document that you can attach to the work order. Also, mail or email it to the customer as a reminder.
This philosophy is based on the age-old concept of evaluating a vehicle's condition to the best of your ability—regardless of the reason it's in the bay. As I said a moment ago, put your assessment in writing because verbal warnings tend to go into one of the motorist's ears and out the other. Besides, the customer may not authorize all the work you discovered today.
Instead, you'll likely have to follow up and sell the balance of the work later on. It's infinitely easier, clearer and more convincing when you mail, email or fax a written summation to someone after the initial visit.
A written summation of needed maintenance and repairs also helps combat that nasty trait we call selective hearing or selective memory. That is, the anxious customer clearly remembers your saying that your techs solved the car's most-immediate problem. Then he or she promptly shuts out your verbal warning about the other work the vehicle needs.
Or they hear it and quickly forget it. Some people simply need more reminding and follow up than others do. Plus, reminding them before major failures occur builds your credibility.
To me, performing the “whole-vehicle” inspection/assessment and then putting the results in writing should be instinctive. Better yet, these steps should be shop policy. My field experience continues to reinforce the belief that these steps are a lost art at many auto service facilities.
In many instances, the art isn't lost simply because you can't lose a technique you never practiced in the first place.
Many auto service people I know disrespect doctors and constantly slam the medical profession. Perhaps they should emulate doctors in one regard: Document symptoms in writing immediately. Eliminate or minimize the risk of being blamed for failing to cite dangerous symptoms.
Consider how many people have gone to a doctor for some seemingly minor symptom. Coincidentally, the visit also reveals, for instance, sky-high cholesterol and “pressure-cooker” blood pressure. No doubt, the doctor did more than tell you to live healthier and change your diet. He also recorded those test results and gave you a written summation. He'll also insist on meaningful follow ups.
Money is tight for many families and people don't enjoy hearing that the vehicle needs additional work. But sooner or later, these sophisticated machines all need maintenance and repairs. These factors never change.
But that said, motorists are much unhappier and more stressed when a major breakdown occurs—seemingly without warning. Be a good automotive doctor by politely, professionally and sympathetically providing the warning. Do so in writing.