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Diagnostics, The Inside Track – The Magic Box Myth – James Dillon

By autotech-nath on May 24, 2016

A few times a year, auto repairer and diagnostics guru James Dillon opens his workshop in Somerset to a small group of like-minded repairers for a training lock-in. But what goes on after the roller door shuts? In this series of articles, autotechnician brings you valuable business and repair advice from one of the UK’s top automotive repairers, in his own words. 

This time, he busts the magic box myth and shares with you the secret of ‘win-win or no deal’.

Ask yourself, what does your customer understand diagnostics to be about? For most customers, it’s about a magic box of tricks. This box is great. All you do is plug it into the car, press the button and it tells you what to do to fix the car.

We’ve all heard it a million times, “Can you just plug in your box? We hear you’ve got one of those better boxes because your box does stuff nobody else’s box can do.” Your customer is focused on the box. If they had that box, they would do it themselves. To be honest, it’s a bit of a joke and a giggle but unless we take some action to correct your customer’s perception, we are in trouble. If they think you’ve only plugged a computer into the car, when you start talking about an expensive £70, £80, £90 charge, there’s a mismatch. We have to educate the customer to get them to realise that what they’re buying is a very complicated service that costs money. Every time you let them go with the perception that it’s just about plugging in a box, you’ve lost money.

Now I want you to promise me one thing… you’ll get back to the workshop and you’ll give yourself a slap on the back of the head if this happens. OK, so what I want you to do is as follows: The customer comes into the workshop. You’ll be up to your ears in all sorts of other stuff. They say, “The light has come on, I need some help.” You will not say, “Don’t worry I’ll grab the box and just take a quick look for you”. Slap yourself firmly on the back of the head, you need to book the car in. All of my customers have a half day booking slot. Why is that? Perceived value; I can’t just do it quickly; you need to book it in. Sometimes they say they can’t spare the car. I know then, we probably aren’t going to get on. If you can’t spare the car for a couple of hours now, when it starts to get messy and horrid with the car problem further on, you’re going to be on your phone all the time. You probably shouldn’t take on that customer. So that’s another filtration process we’ve got going on there. What we are talking about is trying to earn money from diagnostics. If you do it the way you do your mechanical stuff, then it’s not going to work. Try it with a customer and see what happens, get some sort of plan together to make a change.

Win-win or no deal…

Sometimes, we do the initial investigation and then we try to set a budget for the repair. The customer says they don’t want to spend anything and we hear all of these stories as to why they need to keep the cost as low as possible. Maybe the car is going on eBay next week… Some of these customers we see four years later still driving around in the same old banger, am I right?

What we have to do is to establish this thing called win-win. We win and they win. So if the customer wants the car done for free, then that’s a lose-win, you lose and they win. If you want to charge a million pounds to do the job then that’s another lose win, this time the loss is the customer’s. So we have to get to a point where the customer is getting a reasonable service and they are paying reasonable money and you are earning a living. That’s what we call a win-win.

The customer that can’t leave the car with you is a win-lose straight away. So explain, “I just don’t think I can have a look at your car right now and there’s a guy down the road who might be able to.” It’s better to break it off before it starts and try and get yourself out of it now. You have to be a little bit selective and it does take a change of mind-set for anyone who is self-employed. When you have 30 days to make the mortgage, every customer is profit on the bottom line. Yet we have to try and balance that with the reality of work. So remember, it’s win-win or no deal.

If, after the assessment and reporting back to the customer, we can agree to a budget which I think is reasonable and allows us to make some progress in the job, we can proceed. If we have that conversation and it turns out that the customer wants to spend £50 and no more, OK then we don’t proceed.

Tools for change

  • Offer a fixed price assessment for a given time slot
  • Do the initial investigation
  • Report back to the customer
  • Agree a cost not to be exceeded for further work
  • Be brave enough to turn a customer away if the relationship isn’t ‘win-win’

In the next issue, James discusses how to delight your customer by building in an element of contingency.

If you can’t wait until then, take a look at where you can find out more about his upcoming courses and technical support.



About Autotechnician
Autotechnician is a magazine published nine times a year, delivering essential information to independent garage owners and technicians in the UK. Delivered both digitally and in print, autotechnician provides readers with technical, training, business advice, product and news, allowing our readers to keep up to date with information they need to run and work within a modern workshop.
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