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Guest opinion: How franchised dealers can learn from fast-fit competitors

Nick Squire BTC 2015

Industry statistics showing that the market for franchised dealer aftersales has dropped by 20% in the last decade demonstrate the effect of fast-fits aggressively targeting franchised dealer customers.

While independents and fast-fit chains have grown their share, franchised dealers have typically been slow to respond to the threat.

Why are motorists taking their business elsewhere?

Much of it is due to fast-fits winning over the owners of older cars. Many outlets are adding hi-tech diagnostic equipment to their workshops in an attempt to match main dealers for levels of service.  

Furthermore, poor aftersales retention of used car buyers, and consumer preference to use fast-fits for MoT tests and tyres, is costing dealers millions of pounds in lost opportunities.

Cost has always been presumed to be a big factor but quite often this idea is misplaced. 

While it’s true that main dealers are often the more expensive option for brake and exhaust work, research carried out last year by WhoCanFixMyCar revealed minimal differences in costs for many other procedures.

For example, main dealers typically charge £64 to fix air conditioning, while fast-fits charge £60. Similarly, transmission costs and electrical work typically fared cheaper at dealerships than fast-fits.

As WhoCanFixMyCar said: “It’s a common assumption that a main dealership, with its comfy facilities, manufacturer-original parts and high overheads, must be more expensive than the high-street alternatives…The truth is however, that dealerships have fought back in recent years, with fixed-price ‘value servicing’ and up-front ‘menu pricing’ for common repair types, while retaining many of their traditional added benefits”.

Changing customer preferences

Customer behaviour in the aftersales world has changed significantly over the past few years. Consumers are more demanding and expect higher levels of service.

This includes flexibility over when and how to drop their car off for servicing. 

The pressure is on dealers to innovate and adapt to consumer behaviours and they have realised that the loss of business to fast-fits is likely to be linked to the convenience and speed of service that such outlets can offer to customers. 

Customers are increasingly interested in options such as overnight servicing with drop-off and collection from home, or while-you-wait servicing within an hour.

Managing work schedules

One way dealers can combat falling aftersales volumes is by taking a leaf from the fast fits’ book by offering greater convenience.

The problem is that main dealers have typically been hampered by the way they manage their work schedules.

All too commonly we see dealers strive to book out their workshop capacity and it may be the case that this isn’t always best for business.

On the surface, a full day’s work looks positive but imagine a situation where, following a service, a customer is advised that several repairs are needed.

The customer agrees to have the work done, only to be told to book an appointment for a later date because the workshop is fully booked for the remainder of the day. Is the customer likely to return to the main dealer or just go to a fast-fit who can offer a same-day appointment for a similar price?

Capacity may be an issue for many dealers, both in terms of physical space and time available in the day. However, steps can be taken to improve capacity in a number of ways.

For example, dealerships could look at introducing shift patterns for employees which would enable them to open early, close later and offer a full weekend service.

Another ongoing issue is the type of skilled and unskilled workers being employed and what their job roles entail.

It’s often the case that a fully qualified technician has time taken up with simple repairs like tyre replacement and brake replacement when these tasks can be carried out by apprentices and non-qualified technicians.

As is the case in the fast-fit sector, this will leave more qualified technicians to carry out the more intricate work.  

Satisfying new customer needs

With speed and convenience clear pull-factors for customers, dealerships should be making more of an effort to meet customer expectations.

They need to re-evaluate the way they organise their work flow to accommodate customers who expect a quick turnaround on repair work.

While an all-out ‘no appointment necessary’ approach would be unrealistic, dealers should look to retaining a small portion of the day which can be dedicated to unscheduled work; an 80 – 20 split for example.

This way, if a customer is previously booked in for a service, any necessary work can be carried out on the same day.

Similarly, it gives motorists the flexibility to ‘drop in’, at a time which suits them, for non-urgent repairs which have been previously identified.

Deliberately leaving gaps in the workshop schedule may seem daunting, but it will certainly pay-off in the long run.

Work is kept within the franchised sector and more importantly, it pays dividends in terms of customer satisfaction and ongoing loyalty.

Author: Nick Squire (pictured), operations manager at BTC

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