Monday, June 14, 2010

Sometimes it is the simplest things

When I took in my family’s nearly 20-year-old Civic for an emissions test, I received some bad news: it failed. Not spectacularly, thankfully. Just in one critical area. The NOxs were much too high, double the allowable tolerances mandated. OK, the car is old and with enough miles on its odometer (it is in miles as this Civic was built in the U.S.) to put me a good deal of the way towards Earth’s moon. Still, I did not want to hear was that it might take over $400 to fix.
Now, it’s not that I did not want to pay the cost of repairing whatever was causing the Civic to fail its test. It had to be done. What bothered me was that the price was quoted before I was told what the problem might be.
What happened next should not come as unexpected. I took the car to another shop. In the end, paid a little over $400 to fix the problem, which turned out to be a broken PCV hose and a burnt-out catalytic converter as a consequence of the hose failing; but the approach this shop took made all in the difference in my willingness to pay that cost. What was it?
One shop decided to quote me a price even before having done anything to diagnose the problem. The other shop took the car in and did something very simple: they had a technician take a look at the engine and soon discovered the broken PCV hose. They even showed it to me and asked that I leave the car with them to replace the hose and valve, and if that did not improve the emissions, they would move onto and test and replace, if needed, the catalytic converter.
Now, the first shop would have found the same problems. It’s hard to miss a broken hose. But the approach they had was all wrong, leading to lost work and revenue.
Try to imagine you are someone who owns an old vehicle. It has provided many years of reliable service to your family and you think that you can get a few more years out of it before it is finally retired. But a failed emissions test can be a make-or-break proposition for that customer. Depending on how you approach them, it could either convince them to simply junk the car and buy a new one, or hold onto the old car a bit longer. Coming out and saying you are going to need to spend X-number of dollars and not telling that customer what the problem is, or what it even might possibly be, might very well convince them that “Hey, this could be very expensive to fix. They say it is $400 now; but what happens when the car is on the hoist? Will I be told it will be more? What else may be wrong?” Soon the customer is eying the new car dealership down the road and mentally calculating leasing rates as opposed to car loans, and trying to find a way to tell the wife or husband the car is scrap.
Now the other shop took a simpler approach: find out what the problem is, show the customer the problem (the technician came out of the bay with the broken hose and service writer explained why it causing the skewed emissions result and why the catalytic converter would need to be checked after), and reassure them that the car will be in fine working order after the fix. This way the owner will not be tempted to get rid of their vehicle for a new one and thereby causing the aftermarket and independent service shops to miss out on business.
It all comes down to how you communicate with the customer.

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