ASA-CO symposium workshop emphasizes customer-comes-first shop culture

Westminster, Colo.—The “Sequence of Service” workshop, part of Automotive Service Association of Colorado’s (ASA-CO) Independent Automotive Professional Symposium, Jan. 28, in Westminster, was presented by Scott Hannum, a former assistant crew chief for John Force Racing. In a conference room filled to capacity with independent automotive shop owners, managers, service writers, and technicians, Hannum stressed the importance of setting customer-focused priorities in a challenging business climate.


“In the 1990s, it seemed like anyone could be successful,” he said, but that has changed.


To cope with the struggles of the economic downturn, Hannum suggested attendees first follow author Stephen Covey’s idea of “having a paradigm shift,” or re-focusing their priorities to accept that customers are what make their business possible. 


Hannum asked attendees to place monetary value on a lifetime shop customer.


He said Carl Sewell, founder of Sewell Automotive Companies, implemented his own paradigm shift after he had finished reading retail giant Stanley Marcus’ book, “Minding the Store.”


Through his analysis, Sewell discovered the lifetime value of a customer at his Cadillac dealership to be more than $332,000.


“For the average business, it is six times more expensive to gain the business of a new customer than to retain an existing one,” Hannum said.


He also suggested shop owners adopt the “systems thinking” idea of Michael Gerber, author of “The E-Myth” book series.


“How is McDonald’s so successful, given the variation of the people who work there?” Hannum said.


When purchasing a franchise, the parent company’s “system,” or methodology of operation, is adopted, he said.  The shop owner’s primary focus is managing the system itself, rather than managing the store and its employees. 


Even having an efficiently run system doesn’t guarantee a customer will choose to return for future business, Hannum said.  A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) showed that indifference was a customer’s primary reason for not returning, accounting for 68 percent of those surveyed.


“It takes four seconds to create a first impression and as little as four minutes to establish the direction of a relationship,” Hannum said.


According to the DCA study, other reasons for customers not returning included death (1 percent), moving from the service area (3 percent), another professional relationship (5 percent), competition (9 percent), and dissatisfaction (14 percent).


When a “non-return” situation seems inevitable, he suggested his six-step “Sequence of Service” be utilized:


1)   Project empathy, and acknowledge emotion. 


2)   Ask the customer what they want, or what they feel might be fair. 


3)   Give the customer what they wanted, if it fits your criteria.


4)   If it doesn’t fit, tell them what you can do. 


5)   Repeat No. 4 (if necessary).


6)   Everyone (owners, managers, and employees) must have the same answer.


Hannum said that in building a customer-focused staff, shop owners and managers should seek to hire employees for personality and train for skill, continually educating them on the value of a customer. 


“Is the customer always right? No,” Hannum said.  “But the customer is always the customer — they never care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.