Chris Collins’ article in Fixed Ops magazine (see p. 18) nicely illustrates a clash in selling strategies in the automotive service world. Collins makes a few straightforward, sensible points about how best to sell tires in the service lane. Unknowingly, I think he has highlighted a problem the industry is coming to grips with.
His first recommendation is for service advisors to use the walkaround inspection as a selling pressure point. These lines stuck out to me:
You look up at the customer and ask them an open-ended question that will plant the seed and get them thinking about tires and how important they are. Ask something like, ‘How often do you check your tire pressures, Joe?’
Now, imagine for a second what the customer will be thinking. Either they are like most of us and know they should check their tire pressure often but don’t, or they check them often and know the importance and value of properly inflated tires.
The tactic of quizzing customers or asking basic vehicle questions is a frequent one in service centers – and a common pain point in ClearMechanic’s consumer surveys. Another example of this quiz tactic involves questions about prior service visits: “When was the last time you had your car serviced?” This question is particularly frustrating because the advisor has the information at his / her fingertips, but still seeks to emphasize the asymmetry in power and knowledge between him / her and the customer. Even if the customer happens to remember the month or day of the previous visit, another question is around the corner…”did you have a state inspection at the time?”…”did we exchange your coolant?” Eventually, the customer is forced to admit a lack of knowledge and, as Collins, implies in his article, feel a sense of guilt about negligence in car care.
Guilt and similar emotions can be powerful selling tools. But they also carry long-term consequences for customer retention. A car owner that is intimidated by the walkaround inspection and the quiz may purchase 4 premium tires. But what is the likelihood that the customer eagerly anticipates his / her next visit to that service center? And, even if the customer does return, will it be exactly when the maintenance schedule recommends?
Selling at service centers often comes off as aggressive to consumers simply because interactions with experts are intimidating – same thing happens with visits to the dentist or doctor. Layering on sales tactics that subtly prod the customer will get sales today but risks losing customers tomorrow.