Thursday, October 18, 2012

YourMechanic Wants to Kill Your Service Business

(And Other Observations from the 5th Digital Summit)
by Brian Crounse

Go check out YourMechanic. Here’s their offer: to repair your car in your driveway or at work, at your convenience. We may scoff at the range of repairs that they can offer, but we shouldn’t – for basic work, you can’t ask for a more convenient service. YourMechanic has an angle on trust and value as well (Convenience, Trust and Value are our three pillars of service). For Value, YourMechanic will give you a price quote for many types of work during the appointment scheduling process, with a low hourly rate (we’ve discussed the optics of labor rates many times in the past). YourMechanic also has a notable take at Trust; since they own the whole transaction, from appointment to billing, they can also own the review. The (few) repairers currently listed on YourMechanic have dozens of reviews, and they’re among the best we’ve seen in terms of timeliness, relevance, and details (see graphic).
YourMechanic is small (~10 employees; service available in pockets of the S.F. Bay Area only), and I have no idea if it will succeed (remember, I was worried about RepairPal, too). But, even ignoring the oil-change-in-your-driveway thing, we can learn from their approaches to Trust, Value and Convenience.

YourMechanic was just one topic of discussion at our 5th Digital Summit, held earlier this month in Detroit. We’ve written a few times about these semi-annual events. We started looking closely at the digital aftersales space in 2010, when we realized that vehicle owners were (finally) starting to make their parts and service decisions—and conduct transactions like buying parts and making service appointments—online. In this respect, motor vehicle aftersales is 5-10 years behind the vehicle sales side of the house, and online e-commerce in general (it’s worth remembering that Amazon’s revenues have grown 12x in the past decade).

The main focus of the day was on Owner Centers and Online Appointments—two areas where we’ve made a ton of progress in the past two years. GM has a great new Owner Center, as do Hyundai and Mopar. Several others have refreshes or updates in the works. The good news is that we’ve collectively come a long way since our first look in 2010. We’ve figured out what content users are looking for (vehicle information, special offers, service appointments, and dealer locators), and are improving on offering up this information quickly and clearly. We’ve figured out that most of this information should be easily accessible, and not stuck behind a registration wall. Of course, we’d like our owners to register so that we can connect with them more effectively. But, it’s well known that people usually don’t bother to register at websites.

I wondered at the Summit why more companies don’t use social logins (logging in via Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc., accounts) to make registering owners as painless as possible. Some, like VW, let you login via Facebook, but most Owner Centers don’t offer this. The main reasons cited for not pursuing social logins were security and privacy. Believe me, I really don’t like the idea of Facebook knowing every time I log into a website—they know enough about me already— but, the reality is, when they are offered, I use social logins more often than not. And I’m not alone!

The reason I think a frictionless login is important is that most of our users simply don’t visit our website often, if at all. We know from our annual End-Consumer Sentiment Survey that most owners who use Owner Centers only use them 1-4 times a year. That’s not a lot. If we want to do any connecting beyond pointing our users to maintenance schedules or the nearest dealer, we have to make registration easy.

Or, make it automatic. Hyundai is the leader here; they’ve instituted Owner Center registration as part of the vehicle sales process, and it works. Hyundai’s Owner Center traffic is off the charts compared to other OEMs. They also have done a lot of other things right: they have a rich dealer locator (minimal clicks/pages to get from start to finish), and seamless integration between Owner Center login and their online service appointment scheduler (this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s yet another non-trivial systems integration challenge).

Speaking of online appointment schedulers, most auto OEMs have implemented them, or are in the process of doing so. While the percent of appointments made online vs. the phone is still relatively modest (less than 10%), the trend is steep (we saw a doubling in the past year). The time to figure out this capability is now. It’s one area where we clearly have a better offering than the independent aftermarket, and we can grow that gap. And here’s an unpaid endorsement – if you want online appointments and don’t know where to start, try Xtime.

Some existing chain players also have online appointment schedulers, but they’re pretty weak (the PepBoys scheduler is pretty slick, up to the point where it mentions – five steps into the process – that you can’t actually make an appointment, after all).

In addition to YourMechanic, ClearMechanic aims to be the “OpenTable of car repair”. While they have a slick user interface, and offer Convenience, it’s less clear how they’re going to nail Value and Trust. Getting your car fixed isn’t quite like going to a restaurant, where the prices are well-defined and customer reviews are (somewhat) relevant and trustworthy. ClearMechanic relies on Yelp reviews, which is better than trying to capture and host their own, but has its limitations (among other things, car dealer reviews on Yelp reflect a mix of sales and service experiences). ClearMechanic does some things right regarding their repairer directory: All dealers are eligible (they even note that “dealerships possess certain technical advantages due to their manufacturer affiliations”), but only “high-quality” independent repair shops are— they’ll only list those with “outstanding Yelp reviews” (4.5 or 5.0 stars) or “prestigious third-party certifications (AAA, Diamond and ASE Blue Seal)”. It’s a start.

So, the good news is that our Owner Centers have collectively improved, dramatically in several cases, compared to what we saw in 2010. Similarly, our online appointment capabilities are gearing up well, just in time. And, we’re leading the aftermarket in both categories. For now. The bad news is that we still have a challenge getting owners to know about and use all these great offerings. Hooking them up at the vehicle sale is one leading practice. Another would be to register them during service events. However, doing so requires a) a compelling reason for both owners and service writers to make the effort, and b) an insanely painless registration process. And the worst news is that players like YourMechanic are looking to disrupt our whole business. Will they?

We’ll hold our next Digital Summit in 2013, date and location TBD. Our focus is TBD, as well, though we’re leaning toward a deep dive on parts e-commerce, plus, possibly, another look at the topic of online reviews. We hope to see you there!

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