By Chris Phillips
The quality of manufacturer-backed technician training and diagnostic equipment is largely taken as a given in a franchised dealer’s service, maintenance and repair (SMR) business.
So where is the potential weak spot? Step forward the service desk. Singled out as arguably the most important component in aftersales, if a service adviser gets something wrong there’s a risk of the workshop not achieving a satisfactory fix on a customer’s car – and that could have a knock-on effect on trust, loyalty, CS performance and ultimately dealer profit.
Aftersales market is forecast to decline
The latest Castrol Professional Car Servicing & Repair Trend Tracker report predicts that retail service, maintenance and repair (SMR) volumes will decline by 11% by 2019.
By 2019, the volume is forecast to decline to a similar level to 2008, with servicing falling by 30% between 2013 and 2019, while repair is expected to peak in 2017 before declining.
Trend Tracker’s research attributes this to a series of reasons, including a recovery in new car sales and a general trend among manufacturers for introducing extended five-year warranties.
Mazda’s aftersales director David Wilson-Green said: “In the constant search for improvement, the focus tends to be on people rather than process. When customers walk into service reception the first person they meet is expected to be good at admin and sales, with technical knowledge and the ability to listen, question and empathise. And their pay doesn’t always reflect these skills.”
Malcolm Miller, managing director of training and development provider RTS, agreed, describing service advisers* as “kingpins”, but added: “It’s not just a question of pay, but recruitment. Having a former technician on the desk can carry the risk of the customer being blinded with techno fog.
“While advisers need some technical knowledge, a genuine desire to help people scores higher and their main strengths should be in customer-handling, building trust and confidence. Trust builds loyalty and loyalty builds profits.”
For Kia, the service adviser’s ‘data acquisition’ role is a key feature of a 94-95% first-time-fix rate across its dealer network.
“Asking the right questions – does the fault occur at high or low speeds, long or short journeys, cornering, etc, and even taking the car out with the customer – all contribute to effective diagnosis,” said Kia’s aftersales director Hamish McCowan.
The company, winner of AM’s ‘best training programme’ award last year, has an aftersales section on its website inviting customer comment, with more than 90% saying they would visit that particular dealer again.
With 11 workshop bays and a typical throughput of 30 to 35 vehicles a day, Exeter-based JFE Nissan reports a first-time fix of 98.6%, up from 97% since the beginning of the year.
Aftersales manager Pete Lascelles said the “lynchpin” was master technician Steven Hunt. He’s described as “non-productive” because he doesn’t carry out SMR work, but instead is tasked with technical and parts pre-booking, monitoring job cards, and quality control checks before the vehicle is handed back to the customer.
“A lot of dealers would not have a non-productive by reasoning of overheads, but we believe it’s worth it,” said Lascelles. “Productivity has increased by 12% over the past year, despite having one less technician, and revenue so far is £21,000 above the business plan. Everyone is working harder and smarter.”
Michael Hunt, who recently joined Marshall Motor Group as head of aftersales development from Evans Halshaw, reported that his previous employer’s first-time-fix rate was above 90%. For those vehicles where diagnosis was more problematic, he compared it to a visit to a doctor.
“Sometimes, the prescribed medicine doesn’t work, and the patient has to revisit the surgery. They accept that and similarly we have to manage customer expectations in that we can’t always get things right first time.”