Training for Transparency

As a fast lube operator, if you weren’t aware of it already, you should know your customers have some very uneasy feelings about having services completed on their vehicles. Their likes and dislikes are very definite, especially with regard to one aspect of the automotive service process, transparency. Surprisingly, at least to me, their feelings haven’t changed very much over the past 25 years.

One fast lube survey, which was done over 20 years ago in the early ‘90s, showed, “Over 80 percent of customers equated getting an oil change on their vehicles on par with going to the dentist.” In the same survey, women actually ranked going to the dentist as less stressful.

A friend of mine, Kay Olsen, who participated in implementing the original focus group survey in the early ‘90s, sent me the results of an online survey completed in 2014. The results, though not fast lube specific, showed “84 percent of customers equated auto service with going to the dentist.” Once again, female customers felt less nervous about seeing their dentist than having their car serviced. In my opinion, it’s incredible that in the last 25 years no progress has been made in improving customers’ perception of automotive service.

The online article went on to state that while all customers appreciate clear, straight-forward communications, “women especially appreciate absolute transparency in every aspect of automotive service.” They expect service providers to communicate in a way that takes the mystery out of the equation when they bring their car to you for an oil change.

So, if customers’ desire for complete transparency hasn’t changed in 25 years and their doubts about getting honest service still exist, what must that tell us about the service experience being provided by the bulk of auto service professionals, including fast lube operators? Well, it tells those of us in this business we haven’t changed much, either.

Despite all of the mission statements hanging in fast lube waiting rooms declaring service first, or the numerous commercials that promise an honest, clear and trustworthy service experience, customers just don’t see, feel or believe it to be true.

So what can be done to change our customers’ lack of trust and move the customer perception needle at least a few clicks in the right direction? Obviously, whatever it is, it’s going to have to be different than what’s been taking place since the industry’s inception. So, what must be done? In this column I’ll offer my candid take on how fast lube operators must train for transparency or remain satisfied with the service standard and the wary customer feelings that haven’t changed in over 25 years.

Form a Transparency Committee
Consumers, women in particular, say not being able to verify a few important facts about their routine service before taking their car to a service center is the most significant frustration in automotive service. They simply want to know, beforehand, what they should be paying, who the most reliable provider is and who will provide clear understandable service descriptions. More and more often, they’re resorting to online price comparisons and customer reviews to make their choice of service providers.

So, if women are leading the charge in verifying reasonable pricing, reliable service and clear, no-nonsense service explanations, wouldn’t it make sense to make your female customers a trustworthy gauge to help you perform better in those areas?

With that in mind, I suggest you form a transparency committee by inviting a group of female customers, both current and those who’ve never used your service, to participate in a twice annual, or more frequent, review of how your staff is performing on a list of hot-button service issues. The list may include:

• Pricing and transparent price comparisons
• Clear service descriptions
• Service quality
• Perception (Why non-customers don’t give you a try)

For the cost of a few free services, you can have a valuable gauge as to how you are doing in each area identified. Allow the group to determine the issues on the list, and then simply have the courage to listen and respond by implementing the suggested changes into your current process.

Training for Transparency
The next obvious step in your transparency transformation is to trust what your gauge — your trusted committee — is telling you. Transparency training is simply a matter of putting into practice the kinds of things your customers tell you are important to them. That can only happen with consistent training.

The online survey claimed, “Over 40 percent of women have a negative view of vehicle service experiences, and slightly more than 10 percent view it positively.” Because of this, it makes sense to train your service staff to implement the changes they’re asking for. So, what are they asking for?

First, over 80 percent of women in the survey wanted to know the price up front and that there would be no upselling. In other words, they wanted to know they won’t drive away after the service having paid $80 when they only expected to pay $40. Next, over 70 percent of women felt having a qualified technician, with proof of training, was a must. Finally, the women in the survey relied on the opinions of other women — over 60 percent would check online, at least occasionally, for customer reviews about a service center.

With this information, how should it affect the training you provide your service staff?

1. Train your customer service rep to be clear about your pricing. If there is a potential for additional services, with additional charges, be up front about it from the start. Train your staff not to continually bombard customers with new services and charges after the service has started. Cover all of it from the beginning. For most fast lube operations, that would necessitate a change in the service order process by offering all potential services before the customer takes a seat in the waiting room.
2. Have your service rep point out that each technician is certified and draw attention to training certifications, which should be posted near the service counter.
3. Have your service rep note customer survey responses about your service and your business. Have customer reviews posted in the waiting room or available to look at online.

It’s a Matter of Trust
Transparency is simply another word for trust. Taking seriously what your transparency committee recommends and being willing to adjust your training and processes are essential if you expect to change what very few have managed to improve on in over 25 years.

But transparency and trust can only begin with you, the fast lube operator. If you want your customers to trust you, you must first have the trust and confidence of your employees. It was Roger Staubach, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, who said, “If you don’t have trust inside your company, then you can’t transfer it to your customers.”

After all, real trust is a way of life, not a sales gimmick.

John Hickey

John Hickey is the Channel Marketing manager for Castrol brands. He can be reached at: john.hickey@bp.com