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What Does The Customer Need?

A change is coming to our industry. In fact, it’s probably already happening. If I have not been direct enough about that in the past, let me be so now. What you repair, how often you perform maintenance, typical component failures and the motivating reason for owning a vehicle have already changed, says Donny Seyfer.

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A change is coming to our industry. In fact, it’s probably already happening.

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If I have not been direct enough about that in the past, let me be so now. What you repair, how often you perform maintenance, typical component failures and the motivating reason for owning a vehicle have already changed. Many in our industry have not noticed because we are working on a vehicle population whose median age is 12 years, give or take, depending on how rust ages your demographic. 

In my everyday job, I get to talk to lots of technicians and shop owners about their operations. Filter this against the fact that really only the top few percent ever leave their business to seek out new knowledge to service the products they work on and their comments take on a new urgency. 

What I hear most typically falls into distinct categories: 

• “Oh, I am not tooling up or training on the latest cars. I will be out of the business in a few years.” What about your techs? Will they be out of the business too? In Boy Scouts, they taught us to leave the campground better than we found it. 

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• “I am not going to do that type of work. We will focus on maintenance and brakes.” Well, you had better triple your customer count and figure out how you are going to outsource every time you cannot complete an alignment or an oil change because some system will likely need  your attention following a service. 

• “Donny, I really like this driver assist technology. I am going to make bank with a specialty service center.” 

These self-serving approaches miss the key question and the value proposition independent repairers have brought to the table for years: What Does The Customer Need? For owners, lying amidst these all-too-common statements is a more logical and balanced way to run a business. 

The best answer to dealing with the question of inevitable change is run a customer service center. Be ready to perform ALL services that your ideal customer base needs. If your competition does and you don’t, you’ll lose that customer. Really! 

Put on your own consumer hat. Let’s say you are going out for breakfast and you order bacon and eggs. The restaurant owner says, “We have the eggs but we don’t do the bacon. However, I have a friend down the street that does the bacon.” Would you continue to frequent that establishment? 

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If you believe people who really don’t know anything about auto repair don’t think this way, please take it from me that they do. I did a call-in car talk show for 17 years. Customers are looking for one stop shopping that offers them convenience well ahead of price. 

Driver assistance systems are new – sorta – and create a very polarized group of opinions, but they are just additions to existing systems. If turns out they are in need of service often enough to support entire specialty businesses (I am leaving the collision industry out of this conversation), look for sweeping recalls from NHTSA. As an industry, we worked very hard to introduce the fact that these systems were in production and you should be prepared for them. What is it the T-shirt says – stay calm and read the manual? 

Hands down, the answer is no different today than it was when automatic chokes, electronic ignition and fuel injection joined the vehicle build sheet – train your people in a holistic way. Give them the skills to be absolutely sure that the basic system is rock solid before we start throwing sensor fusion modules at cars over a brake pull. Your challenges right now are finding training that is able to provide this. It is out there but be warned – you need to wade through training that isn’t forward thinking or systemic. 

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The repair environment is changing. I suspect there are still many services that will find their way into our shops that do not exist right now. It could be intimidating if you do not keep in mind the most important thing: What Does The Customer Need? 


Donny Seyfer is the co-owner of Seyfer Automotive Inc. in Wheat Ridge, CO. He is an ASE Master and L1 Advanced Diagnostic Certified Technician, ASE Certified Service Consultant, AMI Accredited Automotive Manager, and the past chairman of the Automotive Service Association.

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