I think management’s job can be summed up in a single statement: deliver the highest possible value to the customer at the lowest possible cost.
Fortunately in a fast lube, there are many ways to increase the customer’s perception of value received at little or no cost to the operator. The challenge is to present them in such a way that the customer takes note.
I’m a big fan and supporter of the “keep ’em in the car approach” because with the customer seated at the center of the action, many favorable perceptions can be created without undue effort or time. A well-trained crew in sharp uniforms performing the service in a precise sequence with loud and clear challenge/response, quality control checks makes the customer aware of value-added services by simply observing and hearing what is going on during the process.
There is value perceived in the awareness that the techs know what they are doing as they service my vehicle. That awareness and confidence is lost sitting in a waiting room.
A visual inspection costs nothing and consumes little time but is very valuable to me. The oil and filter change is a routine chore that I need to get done every three months or so. I will value it much more if the condition of my tires, brakes, belts, lights, exhaust system and suspension are inspected and their condition is made known to me. Peace of mind has value, and your service is simply worth more when you let me know that everything is okay down below.
My confidence increases when a strategically placed mirror is there so I can observe the lower tech doing his job, as he calls out such things as, “Ball joints and tie rod pivot lubed. Five fittings. Suspension is secure,” during the quality control checklist.
The vehicle inspection may be an opportunity to sell pre-paid tickets to used car dealers. Many people hire mechanics to check out used cars before they buy. With your pre-paid ticket, the used car dealer can offer a free inspection and fresh oil change with every purchase. Most used car dealers have neither the facilities nor desire for vehicle maintenance, so this would be an opportunity for a value added service for them and more business for you. Once the buyer sees the great service you perform, they might just become a regular customer. If every used car dealer in town is sending their buyers to you, it seems a definite win/win.
Topping off fluids adds a significant value at little cost and when I can observe the lower tech topping off the differential and hear, “Topped off with a half pint 90-weight gear oil” as a response to the upper tech’s challenge of, “Differential?” I’m confident it was properly serviced.
A self-service vacuum at the side of the approach driveway adds value with very little cost. A conventional shop vacuum inside the building piped with PVC pipe to a pullover spot alongside the driveway will keep the vacuum out of the weather and require only a post, control switch and removable hose at the driveway.
The need for a courtesy phone has diminished as a value since most everyone carries a cell, but there is a unique phone company — Vonage — that allows unlimited calls to 60 foreign countries. If your demographics include many immigrants, there is an opportunity to add a significant value by offering free calls to their friends and relatives while their vehicle is being serviced at no appreciable cost to you.
A carwash/fast lube is a great combination because a carwash can add significant value at little cost. If you are a stand-alone fast lube, don’t despair. It may be possible to cross merchandise with the nearest stand-alone car wash by providing them with discounted pre-paid tickets for oil changes if they will provide you pre-paid tickets for the carwash.
There is value in caring. All the things you can add that say, “I care,” can be translated into a perception of dollar value. Just as employees respond to appreciation for their efforts and caring for their welfare, customers value the perception that the owner truly cares for them and appreciates their business. Such things as using fender covers, checking the spare, a friendly tone of voice, genuine smiles, sincere compliments or a chat with the boss aren’t just nice things to do; they all add value and cost nothing.
There is value in efficiency and razzle-dazzle showmanship. Plan your sequenced procedure and staffing so the customer is greeted promptly and cycles through the building, observing and hearing professional work without undue delays. Practice and rehearse the sequence as you would if managing a pit crew or directing a play. A couple interesting subjects to throw out at team meetings might be, how can you cut 30 seconds off the job without compromising quality or safety? Or, how can you better your showmanship without costing more? They are the ones actually doing the job and interacting with the customer. Seriously consider their proposals and give them a try. Motivation is enhanced when the crew has an opportunity to improve their performance with their own ideas.
Value is added when the little things are done. Such things as spraying battery terminals with an anti-corrosive, lubing door hinges and locks or spraying bushings with a rubber lubricant may not be essential maintenance, but this sort of attention to detail increases the perception of value and costs nil.
Customers like free stuff. If it’s free, they want it. In my shop equipment peddling days, I found it was always easier to sell an engine hoist for $425 if I threw in a bench grinder free than if I simply priced the hoist for $350 and the bench grinder for $50. Casinos throw out tons of free stuff as perks while we chuck dollars into their slot machines. Buy one, get one free offers are in most all grocery stores. How much do we spend at that tool store to get the free tape measures and flashlights?
It works. Free vehicle inspection with all oil changes, free lubricant top-offs and free phone service to Mexico are all phrases that will get the dopamine flowing and make a higher price for your service acceptable.
Including a free gift with package deals, such as an Off-road Sportsman package — a drain and refill of all the gearboxes — or a Birthday Bash — a package deal of all the things done annually, such as all filters and wiper blades — may get more customers opting for them. If you like the free gift idea, a tradeshow worth attending is the Associated Surplus Dealers show held in Las Vegas in March and October. There are more than 2,600 vendors selling bulk lots and imported merchandise that make great gifts for less than $1 each. It’s a strictly business show for business owners and is not open to the public. Google it for details. It’s free if you pre-register.
Since there are so many ways to increase the customer’s perception of value, make a higher price acceptable and the cost is nil to nothing. It’s just common sense to do it this way.
JOE HAGGARD writes from a customer’s point of view and is a retired fast lube consultant. He welcomes comments at 352.861.1985 or via email: [email protected]