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How to edge ahead in aftersales

The battleground for aftersales business is heating up, thanks to the revisions made under block exemption. Competition is the keyword, but as the European Commission paves the way for independents to challenge franchised dealers, who's best placed to win a bigger slice of the £14bn aftermarket? Management consultancy Rockingham Northampton assessed 17 franchised and two independent repairers. Key parameters include:

  • Can you see the repair centre from your approach?
  • Is there adequate parking for servicing/repair customers?
  • Is the repair area clean, tidy and free of debris?
  • Is menu pricing displayed?
  • Are advisers easily recognisable, either through uniform or name badge?
  • Does the business provide visual marketing aids and promotional leaflets?

Visibility through well-placed, bold signage is essential to attract customers. If they can't find you, how do you get the business? And it's here that independents have an edge. By the very nature of their business, they need to be noticeable to passing trade – whereas franchised repairers tend to rely too heavily on warranty business handed on a plate by the sales department.

Half the franchised repairers assessed are not visible from the road, but that's only the start of the problems. Finding the service/ repair department once on site is a further headache. It's clear that most franchised businesses are geared up primarily for new car sales, not aftersales – even though it's the repair and servicing work that brings in the better margins.

Several franchised outlets, including BMW, Renault, Mercedes and Peugeot, have separate sales and servicing buildings, with clear signage for customers.

On the flip side, the mystery shoppers describe the Fiat and Vauxhall outlets as “appalling” with minimal customer signage despite the fact that they both have separate servicing buildings.

Shortage of parking facilities is an industry-wide problem. Franchised repairers, virtually irrespective of marque, as well as the independents, make it as difficult as possible for customers to get their cars on to their premises. But for different reasons.

Franchised outlets' spaces are frequently filled with employees' cars, rental vans and vehicles for sale – only Volvo and Land Rover are sufficiently designed for adequate parking. Independents just have a lack of space – if they have any at all. One outlet assessed requests customers to park in the servicing area, where tools are left strewn around the floor. This is a bad enough health and safety hazard for able-bodied customers; but wheelchair users could end up with spilt oil – or worse – on their hands.

Signage directing customers to the service/ repair reception is essential but too many businesses miss the importance.

The Renault, Saab and Volvo outlets have basic, small displays that are easily missed and are a little dull while Land Rover and Nissan have no service signs. The signage doesn't have to be outstanding, but it does have to stand out with bold, large text and be placed in easily visible areas. Again, the independents have the upper hand – although they still lacked a little of that all-important imagination in colouring and design.

Once customers actually get into the repair outlet they want to find it clean and well presented – that's an absolute minimum requirement. Most are of an acceptable standard, but staff at the Vauxhall repairer left scarves, drinks bottles and paperwork scattered about.

The Saab reception, meanwhile, has dirt and mud ingrained into the carpet, making it appear cheap and unprofessional: a daily vacuum and a spot of elbow grease will certainly make all the difference.

Few repairers have price menu boards on display, and of those that did, some had them positioned on the wall behind the reception desk, causing a problem for short-sighted customers. Pricing menus make the repair service transparent and also enable customers to see charges without having to wait for a receptionist – and waiting times are a concern. Either through a lack of training or simple ill-manners, all too often receptionists leave customers hanging around as they chat to friends on the phone, or each other. It's simply not acceptable as a modern business practice.

Reception desk height is an issue few companies appreciate. Toyota, Fiat and Citroen outlets have high-level desks which are unsuitable for shorter customers. They are particularly hostile to disabled visitors.

Several other reception areas have seated service desks which make it easier to view the price guide or menu.

Advisers should be easily recognisable in company branded clothing. Name badges also help, but fleeces and jackets tend to look too casual and unprofessional and this was a problem encountered at several franchised repairers and both independents.

Visual aids are a useful promotional tool, helping customers to understand the services available and sealing their business. Most dealership departments don't exploit them, although Vauxhall displays winter care plaques and desks have small stands advertising its services. In this area, independents have the edge, with an abundance of attractive promotional literature.

Brochures that can be taken away are a good selling point for the future. However these are under-utilised, with many outlets keeping them hidden behind desks.

Only Renault, Vauxhall, Toyota and Kwik-Fit displayed leaflets – at every other outlet customers are expected to request them. Kwik-Fit's pamphlet, in particular, is imaginatively folded to the company's own design.

So from initial appearances, there's much to play for in the servicing and repair sector. It's clear that both franchised and independent repairers will need to improve if they want to attract more customers – and with a £14bn market at stake, they certainly have the incentive.

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