Knowing me, knowing you

Barnaby Donohew asks if by understanding its customers better, a garage can see itself more clearly and provide a better service as a result

By Barnaby Donohew | Published:  15 February, 2018

Since retirement, I’ve found my Dad reflecting on his time in the motor trade; all the memories, good days, bad days and everything in between.

The one thing he misses is the customers. Not the work, the vehicles, or any other aspects of the business – okay, maybe he misses some of the trade contacts, but this article isn’t about them. We were lucky, we had more than our fair share of fantastic customers, but we also had others that would make your blood boil. And the problem with the latter is that they breed feelings of ambivalence towards customers in general. I’m fairly confident in guessing that you will know what
I mean.
    
Why is it then that a proportion of the people that we deliberately lure towards our businesses provoke these mixed feelings? Well, I think it’s all about expectation. More specifically, the conflicts that arise when there is a difference between what we expect to happen and what actually happens. Some of these conflicts might be avoided by different approaches to communication. Sometimes there are more fundamental issues at stake; maybe the fit between the business and the customer just isn’t right?
    
We’ll return to this idea of fit in a subsequent article as it cuts straight to the heart of our respective business propositions but before we do that, it will help if we understand better both ourselves and our customers. We’ll begin with the troublemakers…
our customers.
    
Is everyone going to be a suitable customer for our business? No, so we need to identify those who could be. For those of us with workshops, it should go without saying that our customers should be vehicle owners (which we’ll loosely take to mean as anyone that has an interest in the successful functioning and care of a vehicle). We can subdivide this group in to private vehicle owners, fleet owners, leasing companies, etc. (note how these groups will have their own more specific interests). Other subgroups might be created using assumed-wealth (poor or rich), make of vehicle (as might be relevant to manufacturer dealerships or independent specialists), or customer and workshop locations (rural or urban) etc. Selecting parameters for such breaking up is never easy; however, once segmented in this way, we are better able to characterise specific customers. On that path lies the understanding
we seek.


Profiling
How then do we characterise, or profile, each of our chosen customer segments? One technique is to describe what they are trying to accomplish in their day-to-day lives by writing down their functional, social or emotional jobs. These jobs will have associated concrete benefits and positive outcomes (gains) or negative outcomes, risks and obstacles related to their undertaking or failure (pains).
    
Listing all the jobs, pains and gains for a given customer segment really allows us to see what makes them tick. Furthermore, ranking the items in each list will emphasise the things that really count; jobs should be ranked according their importance to the customer, pains according to their severity and gains according to their relevance. Figure 1 shows these lists for a ‘private vehicle owner’. This segment is very broadly defined, however, you can see that it still provides a reasonably nuanced overview of the things that might matter to our customers. Note, no profile will provide the ‘perfect answer.’ In fact, your customer profiles should constantly evolve, i) as you learn more about your customers, and ii) because our customers’ priorities will change with time.


Job importance
Look carefully at the jobs in Figure 1. Can you see the job ‘take car to workshop’? No, you can’t. This is because people don’t own cars for the pleasure of taking them to your workshop. Think about that for a bit. If a vehicle owner happens to be in your workshop to ‘meet statutory obligations’ (i.e get an MOT) or ‘protect and maintain assets’ (get their car serviced), they don’t want to be there, they’ve a million other things they’d rather be getting on with. Now, ask anyone how important it is to them to ‘feel safe and secure’  particularly if their children are involved and without hesitation they would answer that it is their number one priority. It seems to me that the actions and wilful ignorance of many of our customers betray their words. Even as a small workshop, we encountered cases on a daily basis where a vehicle’s state of repair would render it unsafe. That being said, insecurity and fears arising from actual, perceived or imagined risks of harm are incredibly powerful motivators (and manipulators) for many, so this particular emotional job merits its position toward the top of the pile. The same cannot be said for getting an MOT, despite its employment as the safety test of last resort. Given the number of customers that miss their MOT expiry dates, it is clear that the risks of being without an MOT are insufficient to raise it from its lowly ranking.


Pain severity
I have to have a car. Even today, the apparent sense of entitlement with which the preceding phrase is loaded still gets right under my skin -my fists clench as I read it. However, we just have to face it, having a car is a necessity for many, particularly in rural areas and anything that is a barrier to the access or use of a vehicle is a major headache, or worse (see the pains in Figure 1). If we can ease or remove these customer pains, then that creates opportunities for us, not problems.
    
As indicated above, a ‘lack of automotive know-how’ does not appear to be a concern for many customers, given the general lack of basic maintenance we observe. Come on-  topping-up levels and tyre pressures is not rocket science. A little more knowledge, not necessarily obtained from Google, would surely help them make more informed decisions about when, where and how they should get their vehicles maintained. But no, they still prefer to try to get things done on the cheap, or in the wrong establishments, then wonder why they get ripped off. Hence, a lack of automotive know-how cannot be considered an extreme pain. It is still relevant to us though as it provides an opportunity for us to differentiate our workshops by providing them with sound advice and a bit of education that should help them to minimise their other pains.
    
In many ways, the gains listed in Figure 1 do not seem hugely significant, not in the way that winning the lottery might be, nonetheless, they are positive outcomes – it is a bonus when ‘things just work’ hence it is an oft-quoted selling point of Apple products. The magnitude of the gains might seem underwhelming because they are skewed by our expectations; we expect things to work, so it is no big deal when they do.
    
You may be wondering whether profiling can help us, as it is likely you will already chew over similar thoughts within your day-to-day business life? Apart from making explicit all our assumptions, thoughts, and experiences which gives us the opportunity to thoroughly review them, it allows us to better anticipate or respond to change. For example, we can use it to map out possible changes in an existing customer segment or the expected characteristics of a new segment. In every case, it allows us to see if our businesses are able to offer things of value to potential customers. This will be the subject of the next article, where we will examine the flip-side of the coin, i.e., what we bring to the table. The bottom line is that if we want our businesses to succeed, we need to understand our customers, and although they might drive us mad at times, that requires empathy, not antipathy. Profiling helps us develop that by the bucket load, so, surely, it's the best we can do?

https://automotiveanalytics.net

Related Articles

  • VLS grows as Comline and Motaquip join 

    VLS (the Verification of Lubricant Specifications), the trade body which provides a means to verify lubricant specifications,  has welcomed Comline Auto Parts Ltd and Motaquip as its newest members. 

  • Autoelectro delivers on obscure references  

    A Maybach 62 and Jaguar XJ-S 6.0 V12 alternator are the latest requests from Autoelectro customers across the UK and around the globe. While Autoelectro stocks its fastest-moving part numbers to ensure rapid delivery, it will accept even the most obscure requests and, in the UK, customers usually receive their order the next working day. As well as the Maybach 62 and Jaguar XJ-S references, Autoelectro recently sold a Lotus Elan M100 1.6 alternator, as well as a 1974 Porsche 914 1.8 alternator and a 2017 Toyota Auris 1.2 alternator – highlighting its capability of catering for the oldest and newest models.
    www.autoelectro.co.uk

  • Don’t join the gold rush, sell shovels  

    Futurologists have predicted it for years, but now, it’s actually starting to happen. The impact of the sharing economy on the automotive industry has upended the status quo and companies are scrambling to gain first-mover advantage within a radically reconfigured marketplace.

    In the US, in March 2018 alone, an Ohio dealership launched a monthly subscription package that allows customers to switch between different brands of luxury cars, and GM announced a plan to allow their customers to rent their cars directly to each other. Meanwhile, ride-hailing is rapidly taking share from traditional car rental in Certify customers’ business travel expenses.
    In the UK, a Mobility as a Service (MaaS) App called Whim is in trial in the Midlands, offering unlimited public transport, hire cars and short taxi rides for a fixed monthly payment of £440. Meanwhile, personal contract purchase (PCP) deals – essentially car rental, with the option to pay off the rest of the car’s value after three years – have already become the preferred method of new vehicle purchase.
        
    The problem is that hundreds of companies in the automotive world have set their sights on the same goal: To be the go-to choice for consumers. That’s fine if you have billions to invest in marketing, but if you’re not at the level of Ford, Uber or Google, that fight is going to get ugly. Rental agencies, dealerships, and business leasing providers – all of whom are used to owning customer relationships in the pre-mobility world – are among those who are going to be out-gunned.

    The good news is that there are two clear ways for businesses to thrive in this new marketplace in a way that won’t be disrupted by technological advances. Both strategies involve selling to businesses rather than consumers, which means they can deliver sustainably higher margins without requiring a huge spend on marketing and customer acquisition.

    Strategy one: Sell a service to the dominant platforms
    The most obvious low-risk, high-reward model is to provide an indispensable service to enable the mobility being sold by others. This would involve contracting with whatever mobility platforms dominate, be it Ford, Uber or Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car unit. A business might decide to become the leading company that deliver services around.
     

  • Auto-motives: Looking ahead to stay ahead  

    It would be tough to overstate the impact and importance of the automotive aftermarket. Its success not only contributes to the success of its parent industry, but it stimulates competition throughout the manufacturing, distribution and wholesale sectors.
    As technology has improved, the aftermarket has only become more versatile and more attractive to customers. The growing trend towards custom vehicle modifications, environmentally friendly cars, and Internet of Things-enabled smart sensors have only contributed to the range and depth of opportunities available to businesses and their customers alike. But with new opportunities invariably come new challenges, and the automotive aftermarket must find its own way to tackle them.

  • All the things YOU could do…  

    If you had a little money, how would you spend it to improve your business? Maybe you’d buy the latest ADAS calibration kit, or subscribe to an workshop management system?

    Okay, now let’s think bigger. If you were given all the money you had ever invested in your business and could start it again from scratch, how would you gear it up to attract customers and make it profitable? Would you build something like
    your current business, or would it be totally different?

    Why do I ask? Because the world changes quickly, which means our businesses are rarely set up exactly as we need or want, and we must make frequent spending decisions. We must work out how to prioritise our spending, to ensure we always offer the things of greatest worth to our customers; i.e. we maximise our value proposition.

    Last month, we sought to understand our typical customer (a private vehicle owner). We saw that they have functional, emotional and social tasks to complete (jobs). These jobs have either good results (gains), or bad outcomes, risks and obstacles, related to their undertaking or failure (pains). For example, taking a car to the workshop is an extreme pain for a typical customer because it makes it more difficult for them to complete their more important jobs (e.g. commute to work or navigate the school run).

    This month, we’ll use the things we learned about our customers to design our value proposition; We’ll use a repeatable technique to ensure our businesses offer the things our customers need and want. The result will be a value (proposition) map, or value map for short.

    Value mapping
    Anything that helps our customers get their jobs done will have value. Therefore, our products and services must aim to help them complete their jobs. If these products and services then eliminate a customer’s pains, they are pain relievers, or, if they produce gains, they become gain creators. By stating the ways in which our products and services create gains and relieve pains, we can communicate their potential benefit to our customers. Hence, by putting a list of our products and services together with the lists of their respective pain relievers and gain creators, we create a guide to the worth of our business to our customers. That is, we make a value map.

    Of course, not all our products and services, and their subsequent pain relievers and gain creators, are equally relevant to our customers; some are essential, whilst others are merely nice to have. We can use these differences to help our decision making: by ranking the items in our value map in their order of relevance to our customer, we can see which can be ignored, and which can be prioritised.

    Figure 1 shows example items that might be within an independent workshop’s value map, ranked in order of relevance to a private-vehicle-owning customer (a value map is targeted at a specific customer segment). As with the creation of a customer profile, there is no ‘right’ answer; this one is based on my half-thought-through assumptions, and previous business experiences. Yours might differ. Hence, we must derive and tweak our respective value maps accordingly. Ultimately, each of us would use business metrics (e.g. profit ratios and customer satisfaction ratings) to tune our value propositions to the max. But that’s a task for another time.

    Products and services
    We saw before that customers don’t like to waste time at a workshop; they want to go through their lives with the minimum of hassle. They crave convenience. Therefore, courtesy cars, a handy location (covered under ‘community-orientated’ services in Figure 1), extended opening-hours, while-you-wait servicing, or pick-up and returns (either vehicle or customer) all represent high value offerings. We don’t have to offer them all - they’re included in Figure 1 for reference. Likewise, online bookings and related management systems simplify engagement, bring convenience, and enhance value.

    Have you ever heard a customer say they like messy and dirty workshops and technicians? I haven’t. That’s because we attach value to our health and safety: If your premises and staff are well presented, they will project professionalism, and your customers will reach their desired emotional state of feeling safe. Even better, properly motivated, well-equipped and trained staff will increase the likelihood that your customers are safe and secure. As safety fears are powerful motivators and manipulators, we must use our expertise to help our customers assess and manage their exposure to risks. They will then be in control and feel in control of their safety.

    Not all customers will be seeking to cut costs all the time, but certainly all of them will want to control their costs. There are ways a business can help customers manage this aspect of their lives: clear terms of trade and fee structures; well-managed engagements with expert advice; warranted parts and labour; and a range of payment methods such as easy-pay solutions, touch-less, or credit card services.

    Surprisingly, some customers want to look after their vehicles. Primarily, this helps them feel safe and secure, minimises the risk of disruption to their lives (from breakdowns), and protects the value of their vehicles. A good service history represents monetary value in this sense. This means we should be offering, high quality parts and labour, and OE-aligned servicing and repairs.

    Pain relievers
    It might suit your ego to think all your customers visit your workshop because of your skill, expertise and professionalism, or your friendly welcome and great (i.e. free) coffee. However, pure convenience can be the decisive factor when some customers choose where to take their vehicles: you’re around the corner; you had a spare courtesy car; you’re open; you were prepared to look at it there and then; you had the part in stock etc. Whilst this reflects the significant value these pain relievers offer to all our customers, it is the case that some of those who value convenience above all else are not able to see the worth of your other products and services. If they don’t understand that your conveniences come at a cost, then point them elsewhere. You will never please them. Nothing has the potential to sour a relationship like an unexpected bill: When my head was buried in an absorbing diagnostic job, adequate communication was sometimes an issue for me. My ‘solution’ was to swallow the costs, to avoid upsetting the customer. This was neither a solution nor a sustainable business strategy. What I really needed was the best preventative medicine of all: Great communication.

    It should be no surprise that there are far more pains than gains in our value map: Servicing and repair workshops are all about pain relief; we are either trying to eliminate a current pain, through diagnostics and repairs, or carrying out preventative maintenance to avoid a future pain. Because this is our reason for being, customers find it intolerable to think our actions have caused them unnecessary inconvenience or costs. Nowhere is this more obvious than when we try to ‘help them out’ -  Every time we ever tried to help a customer to control costs (i.e cut costs), by fitting a cheaper part or trying a less expensive solution, it always backfired. Every single time. Can you guess who suffered the consequences? It always paid us better to ensure the car was fixed when it left the workshop. ‘Try it and see’ tends to translate into ‘you are going to be really cheesed off next time I see you’, It also counted that we supplied quality, parts and labour.

    Gain creators
    When properly delivered, our products and services will help our customers have the following: An easy-life; a car that holds its value and works properly; peace of mind; a sense of feeling special at our premises; and the information from our sound advice to make good decisions.

    However, for some of us, the ultimate convenience is to not have to engage our brain, so if we really want to take our value proposition to the next level, we must be highly proactive and perform our customers’ thinking for them: e.g. by sending MOT and service reminders, with easy to process ‘calls to action’ so that they are only a click away from being sorted. Then, at the allocated time, we would pick-up their vehicles from their homes to take them to the workshop, leaving a replacement vehicle in their place. I know plenty of businesses that do this. And they are successful.

    Money, money, money
    There are many servicing and repair options available to private vehicles owners: Independent workshops, fast-fit chains, main-dealer workshops, mobile technicians, chancers, etc. Next time we’ll see how other business types deliberately tweak their offerings (value maps) to fit specific customer segments. We need to learn to be equally deliberate and well-informed about our investment decisions. What if we don’t? Well, we might waste all our money, and lose all our customers. Which isn’t always funny, even in a rich man’s world.


    https://automotiveanalytics.net


Search

Sign Up

For the latest news and updates from Aftermarket Magazine.


Poll

Where should the next Automechanika show be held?



Facebook


©DFA Media 1999-2018