Sunday, March 30, 2014

Two Strategies to Improve Customer Convenience: Be Faster and Be Easier

By Brian Crounse
Two events got me thinking about customer retention and mobile service this week. The first occurred when I dropped our home printer while trying to clear a paper jam.

I went to Staples and bought a new printer, brought it home, and set it up. I ended up on the HP website to configure the scan-to-email function, and that’s where HP pitched its Instant Ink Replacement Service to me. The basic idea is this: when your ink gets low, the printer phones home to HP, which ships new ink cartridges to you. You can sign up for one of three levels, based on the number of pages you typically print. HP bills you monthly at a lower rate than you would pay to purchase new cartridges.

For me, the benefit here is convenience. I don't like schlepping to Staples on a Sunday night when the ink gets low, while trying to finish a school project with the kids. I also don't like paying full price for OEM ink, but I also don't trust aftermarket ink, and won’t risk it to save a few dollars. Having the OEM ink arrive ahead of time at a discount, and paying for it in smaller increments is attractive to me. Plus, the final cost of HP’s program (3-6 cents per page, depending on your printing volume) is competitive. So, I signed up, and have received the first batch of ink.

Can you see the parallels to car repair yet? The potential benefit of integrating telematics into the vehicle maintenance/ repair part of our business? I really wish that our vehicle telematics systems enabled a level of service comparable to HP’s. Wouldn't it be nice to have a day or two of lead-time? That way the dealer could get the right parts in order to complete a repair in record time.

The other event: I recently discovered the another local mobile maintenance/repair service, Driveway Doctors. Now, I like visiting my dealer, Acton Toyota of Littleton, as much as one could; they have Wi-Fi, a cool solar installation, a cafeteria where they give you free breakfast, and decent work areas. But, as much as I like the home fries (they may be the best dealership home fries in the country), I'd still rather not have to drive to the dealership if I can avoid it. This is where mobile service would come in. Sure, a mobile van can't perform every repair, but it can do enough scheduled maintenance and light repair to make the numbers work, especially when there’s an opportunity to do a vehicle inspection.

After the inconvenience, the next most troubling aspect of vehicle maintenance is the surprise repair. Even a service advisor’s smoothest approach doesn't soften the "Did-you-know-you-need-a-$2,000- exhaust-repair?" moment. You know the feeling – thoughts race though your head, "How can I free up the cash? How long do I have to rent a car? Am I going to make my 10 a.m. call?"

Here's the hidden genius of mobile scheduled maintenance: dealers can't force the issue of surprise repairs, because a mobile van can't do the big, expensive repairs on your site. I know how much dealer service managers dread seeing a car leave the shop without every needed repair performed, but it’s often the trauma of the surprise repair that drives the customer away permanently. With mobile service, the most that the mechanic can do for a complex repair is give the customer a warning about the problem, a quote for the job, and an offer to set up an appointment. This gives the customer time to get over the surprise, feel grateful for the warning, and be relieved by the scheduled appointment.

I know that mobile service hasn't really taken off. A west coast company I liked in 2012, Your Mechanic, was supposed to be the Uber of car repair; yet, it hasn't moved that fast. Mobile service does have traction in niche markets such as glass repair, which has the advantage of being well defined in terms of parts and work, with no need to get beneath the vehicle. But I do wonder why mobile maintenance isn't more widespread. The economics can be challenging, but there's a real opportunity for improved customer loyalty.

Bottom Line: There are obvious perils to sample size=1 market research. I realize that not all customers are like me. But thoughtful n=1 research can still yield some insights.

In the near term, I'd really like it if my dealer would give me the option of mobile maintenance and light repair. Sell me a mobile service contract when I buy the car. I know I'll pay a premium (repair trucks and travel time aren't free, and the F&I guys need their cut), but the convenience of mobile service is obvious and would be valuable to me. I am a member of the “set it and forget it” customer segment. Plus, I like the fact that it would limit the mechanic’s options for up-selling. In the longer term, I'd like to sign up for a service in which my car tells my dealer when to fix my brakes, or replace my battery, or fix my sliding door, with me as the gatekeeper. If telematics could accurately diagnose more problems, mobile service might be able to perform more repairs. This is something – the connected car – that's been talked about a lot, but only a few leading manufacturers are beginning to implement it. Watch this space for more.

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