Ray Holloway, director, Independent Garage Association, RMIF
Despite a number of standards and codes of practice available to repairers, the aftermarket sector still suffers from a bad reputation.
Consumer complaints for repairs rose 17% last year to 27,000, and, as awareness of the standards grows, the option to do nothing is decreasing rapidly.
Although this will inevitably involve investment of time and money, achieving an industry standard or code of practice will not only help improve processes, it will set a business apart from its rivals in an ever more competitive market.
With an industry-wide standard due this spring, those who put the work in now will benefit from the head start.
“Accept the inevitable; this change is upon us,” said Ray Holloway.
"Seek guidance, plan the business improvements and achieve the code of standards, but also make sure you tell consumers now about it.
“A code is the only way to satisfy consumer demands, and without it, you’re history.”
Peter Coombes, spokesman for Right to Repair Campaign
The Right to Repair Campaign (R2RC) is urging for the Block Exemption Regulations to be renewed in 2010.
R2RC was created last October to safeguard consumer choice and effective competition for the vehicle replacement parts market.
With maintenance costs continuing to rise, R2RC believes there will be insufficient repairers to meet demand if independents continue to be restricted by access to technical information.
“The independent sector’s infrastructure is in danger of disappearing if consumers can not choose them as an alternative to franchised repairers,” warned Coombes.
“The franchised sector would not be able to pick up the slack if independents disappeared.
“This isn’t a legal battle with vehicle manufacturers and main dealers. It’s all about a level playing field and freedom of choice.”
The new draft for BER will be published in October 2008 and it could be passed by March 2009.
Coombes said dealers should be encouraging the R2RC so they will also be able to repair all marques of cars, which effectively also makes them an independent repairer.
Angela Barrow, sales director, Emac
Dealers need to keep their customers coming back time and time again in order to secure long term success, accroding to Angela Barrow.
Longer service intervals and greater reliability with new car models is an area which is difficult for dealers to have a direct influence on.
However, improved staff retention and enhanced productivity is something dealers can control. “Dealers should be selling service plans at the point of sale; it should be an integral part of the car buying process,” she said.
Service plans allow dealers to lock in customers at the specific dealership. A servicing timetable to keep the customer coming back is sold as an integral part of the process.
“If there’s no good reason for customer loyalty the customer will not stay with the dealer. Dealers need to create added value, it’s not something that will just happen,” Barrow said.
“Pre-committed customers will help dealers to have a bank of resource they can rely on. Sell the car, sell the service and you will become the customer’s natural choice.”
Scott Elliott, UK sales director, MSX International
Modern cars are becoming more similar in quality and dynamics, making the customer’s retail experience increasingly important when they choose a new car and a garage to take it to for servicing.
It has never been more vital to build good relationships with customers.
Yet a recent study by MSX International showed a third of dealerships were not fulfilling basic requirements for customer reception and treatment.
“Teach staff customer service skills and recruit on personality as well as experience,” Scott Elliott said.
The challenge is not to simply keep customers happy, but to provide such good service that they become advocates of the business.
Elliott advised dealers to work at building long lasting relationships, improving processes and to make better use of new technology.
Simon Pilcher, supplier manager, Leaseplan
Fleet companies are starting to snub franchised dealer servicing due to poor communication and average service in favour of independents.
“Dealer networks see leasing work as a necessary evil,” said Simon Pilcher.
However, following changes to Block Exemption in 2002, fleets are no longer tied to dealer networks.
They can now choose where they do business. As a result, independent repairers are capturing a large slice of the fleet market.
#AM_ART_SPLIT# Pilcher said: “We’ve found that not having a franchised dealer stamp from services does not have a negative effect when we come to sell cars on at auction.”
Leaseplan has a spending budget of £30 million for maintenance and has 6,000 garage accounts.
“Just being satisfied is not good enough; service excellence is a must,” Pilcher said.
“We want dealers to offer us a simple, easy to manage process. At the moment, we’re still experiencing a couldn’t care less attitude.
“Dealers offer the same service to a fleet that has 150,000 cars and a fleet that has 5,000 and that’s something that needs to be addressed.
“Do what you say, charge the right amount for the right amount of work and get it right first time.”
Dave Garratt, chief executive, Garage Equipment Association
Environmental and safety pressures, as well as consumer demands, are mounting on vehicle manufacturers, pushing them towards technology-laden cars and creating new challenges for repairers.
Although single user and fully automated test lanes have made the MoT simpler, an increased dependency on scan tools and more advanced vehicle electronics present new challenges for workshops.
Garratt suggested the need for a more wide-ranging MoT for modern cars, addressing the new technology and features that keep them roadworthy.
Some areas not currently examined, such as headlight height adjustment, are set to be included in the near future.
But there are no plans to pressure check run flat tyres, which are expected to be fitted to 80% of vehicles by 2010, and diesel particulate filters are still untested.
“The biggest concern at the moment is particulate testing,” said Garratt. “Over the next two years there may be new instruments required.”
David Fletcher, director, Bluefin AS Ltd
Garages collect huge amounts of information about their customers, which represents an invaluable marketing resource for those who can keep their database updated and spot the opportunities on offer.
Collecting and filtering data from the dealer management system can return closely targeted lists of customers, from which garages can conduct mailshots and telephone marketing for both sales and aftersales.
David Fletcher advised that this needn’t take place when business is low.
Taking a proactive approach can help keep customers coming back and prevent lapses before they happen.
This is a more cost-effective way of boosting aftersales services than trying to win new customers.
“We have a wealth of data, and the ability to drill down and use it,” Fletcher said. “We’re all striving for additional profit and we can get it from this data.”
Nigel Buchanan, divisional training manager, Bosch
Technical advancement isn’t going to stop.
Concerns over fuel consumption, exhaust emissions, safety and convenience will drive further innovations in the future.
“Manufacturers are predicting that half of new car production will be solely electronics based in the near future. This spells a big problem for garages,” said Nigel Buchanan.
“The advancement of technology is far outstripping how quickly garages can keep up to date with training.”
Increased componentry results in reduced physical access to repairs. This means it’s more difficult for a technician to actually diagnose a problem on a car, pushing time working on the car from what might have been a three hour job to six.
It means that there will now be an increased emphasis on diagnostics as a result, said Buchanan. Garages need to be constantly training and should create a programme of continuous development for all staff.