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20-year-old service messages hold true

This morning I was looking for a story from 1988 that a reader was looking for. Among the issues I dug through was a three-part series on “Service in the ’90s.”

I stopped and flipped through these for a while, laughing at some of the concept vehicles and how far off base they ended up, but marveled at how close some things like dashboards really were. Then I found the “Service Marketing in the 90s” story and realized some things never change.

Just take this line from the start of the piece: “Artificial intelligence, laser discs and more computerization will help you perform expert diagnosis and repairs. But busy, value conscious customers will also be looking for an automotive consultant who can meet the needs of their changing lifestyles!”

How about we substitute “online learning” for “laser discs” and see just how far we’ve come? Things 23 years later still are fairly the same. You and your technicians still are working with artificial intelligence (all those fabulous tools and computers you rely on), computers have made diagnostics easier, for the most part, and people are busier than ever. Convenience is one of the top reasons a person will select a repair shop for service (trustworthiness and experience also factors just like in 1988).

Throughout the article, several ideas that still stand today were mentioned. First, “the key is competence.” While talking about the vast availability of information, some owners suggested finding a niche in the day’s market to really build a customer base. Another idea focused on the changing public.

“Consumers are pampered by franchise marketing program, and educated by television to be savvy shoppers.” Again, I think that is still the case today, if not more so. “Think convenience” and “female influence” also were discussed. Nothing has changed here. If nothing else, women have more influence today and people in the repair shop industry are more cognizant of their images and needs to be taken seriously. No one, male or female, wants to be ripped off.

“Don’t ever say, ‘Go home and get your husband!’ That day is over!” Dottie Walters, then president of Walters International Speakers Bureau, a source in the story, was quoted as saying.

Again, where have we heard this before? Yesterday? Last week? A month ago? The messages from 20-plus years ago still ring the same.

Not everything in the piece holds true or came to fruition. “The trend to larger, fewer independent service shops will continue, while consumers will be increasingly selective as to where they take their expensive wheels to be serviced. Those shops with superior technicians will — as they do today — have all the business they can handle. Many of those will get along with just word-of-mouth advertising. But where two equally competent shops compete side by side, the real winner will probably be the one which actively promotes convenient service, as well as quality repair.”

Some of that statement from the article is the case, but I think with the changing economy we have seen multiple times over in the last couple of decades, it’s not all the case. Did it hold true for your shop in the 1990s? I’d be interested to know.

Other statements focused on the program groups targeting you, the end-user more, and oil companies coming into play more. The article predicted the addition of more quick lubes, nationwide warranty networks, inexpensive rental cars and free loaners for customers.

Done. Done. Done and done. In fact, many of our Top Shop winners over the last couple of years prominently feature things like warranties and free loaner vehicles in their business profiles.

Overall, the article was interesting to read and see just how things have changed — and haven’t at the same time. Obviously the technical side of the business is dramatically different than it was in 1988. At that point, we were a few years removed from thinking that one day a DeLorean might take us into the future. But shop management and customer needs seem to have stayed the same.



  • What's the saying, everything new is old? Great hindsight reflection.  I enjoyed your take on this.

    Funny thing, most of my customers that are women come to us because of trust and competence.  A lot of men come for the same reason, but there is a large contingency of men that come strictly because of quoted price and/or our assessment of his problem being the same diagnosis as his.  Women will say 'fix it', men will say put a 'wheel bearing in it because that's what is wrong, and I'm not paying for you to dianose a problem that I already know exists."  Both customer 'types' must be handled differently before, during, and after the sale.  In the end, we cannot take an androgenous approach in marketing our goods and services. Sexism is alive and well, but it predominately is carried in on the shoulders of our clientele as they enter the building.....Mark

    WAP, 3 years ago | Flag
  • Amazing how fast time flies.  It seems like yesterday when I was a rookie mechanic reading the same type of articles in the 90's.  No matter how it's done, being on top of your game and most importantly, being honest, is the way to stay happy in this business.

    transmission_guy, 3 years ago | Flag

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