Friday, January 28, 2011

“Old Dogs” Are Learning New Tricks

Jay Cremins

The big question we must ask ourselves is, “hey, is the internet important to our parts and service customers?” If you don’t think it is much of a factor, here is an interesting story.

I know a retired couple. These folks, in their 70’s, are domestic car people. They own a Ford F150, a Chevy Impala, and an Oldsmobile Delta 88. They aren’t “computer/internet” people. However, in the past year, they have become more literate with this new technology. Last year, they replaced their old 486 desktop (which sat mostly unused in the downstairs office) with a used Mac laptop that sits on the kitchen table. They now constantly “Google” things that come up in conversation, and their use of email has grown exponentially.

Recently, an interesting situation arose. The brakes on their 1999 Delta 88 started to squeal. Their usual consultant on such matters (me) was out of town, so they searched for “1999 Delta 88 brakes” online in order to get a sense of how much those brakes might cost. Of course, they found a page full of choices; what caught their eye was an unpaid result with the following words: factory, dealer, discount.

That link took them to a page that said, among other things,
“Our dealer offers the 1999 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Brake Disc at discount price. Buy the Delta 88 Brake Disc from the factory warehouse and save serious money and searching time. Our replacement Brake Disc is guaranteed to fit your 1999 Oldsmobile Delta 88 automobile as the OE genuine Oldsmobile Delta 88 Brake Disc. Deal with a reliable dealer and enjoy a major discount over the local Oldsmobile dealer!”
The page also had a toll free number. They called the toll free number and were hooked up with a local independent repair shop to do the work. They then dropped the car off for the repair.

A few hours later, the shop called to say that it was the rear brakes that required replacing, not the front brakes, so the price was re-quoted. The shop also mentioned that “all of these 1999 88’s have brake master cylinder problems,” so they should replace that too.

What happened next? Through more “Googling”, the couple found RepairPal and looked up the Olds to see if the brake master cylinder issue was common. Not finding the issue, they declined doing the master cylinder work. Still, the car was repaired and the husband was satisfied with the experience – “Well, they always try to sell you something you don’t really need. Now, I have a way to actually see if I really need it or not” – and said he would do it again.

Bottom Line: If we had to make up a story to illustrate what we see happening in automotive digital aftersales, we couldn’t have come up with a more relevant tale. To review:
  • A couple from a traditionally offline, dealer-loyal demographic…
  • Used Google to research an auto repair issue…
  • Got routed (via an organic search result) to an independent repair shop…
  • Used RepairPal to assess an attempted upsell…
  • And were happy with the experience.
If this story doesn’t keep you, the OEM aftersales executive, awake at night, read it again.

Jay Cremins, a principal at Carlisle & Company, specializes in dealer operations and OEM Field development. In addition to project work, Jay has presented featured workshops at a half-a-dozen NADA conventions, as well as international meetings on five continents.

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