This week we asked for your help in defining an astoundingly great car repair experience. We summed it up this way: How would Zappos fix cars?
In Wednesday's post, we talked a little about what Zappos does and why customers love them, including the famous I Heart Zappos post. And in the past two days, we've gotten some really great responses on Twitter, Facebook, and here on the blog - including one response from a Zappos employee!
On Twitter, Jim suggested that Zappos "would come to your house and fix it at night while you slept". Allan and Mari joked about needing to buy parts online from Amazon (an allusion to Zappos' recent purchase by Amazon.com).
But the strongest theme running through the comments: The need for greater transparency in auto repair. I'll run through some of the comments, and then talk a little about what Lowell's does (and what we could do based on your comments). On Twitter, Jupiter said he'd like to prevent that "being had" feeling, perhaps by getting greater detail on what was being repaired and why it was needed. Ace Weekly chimed in "They would spoon you before giving you the bill?" Here on the blog, Letha (a Zappos employee) shared a friend's experience with a body shop which sent her daily text messages about the status of her car after a wreck, including a countdown to when it would be ready. Jim added this comment:
"The thing the frustrates me about car repair is the unexpected nature and size of the expense. It would be nice to provide as part of the service an educational piece that says here are the expected life cycles for key systems for your car and what you might expect to pay. And here are indicators of failure so we can start to diagnose these issues BEFORE they happen. At some point, owners need to start BUDGETING for system replacement and failure and that takes planning and information."
What's clear from this last batch of comments is that automotive service is all-too-frequently a kind of mysterious 'black box' where a car goes in one side and nasty, unpleasant surprises emerge from the other.
At Lowell's we try to prevent such surprises in the following ways:
- On each invoice, we print a list of factory-recommended maintenance given vehicle mileage, including a rating of the severity or urgency of each one, and pricing. We try to review that list with our customers when they pick up or drop off their vehicle. We sometimes fail to discuss maintenance needs during busy pick-up and drop-off times.
- We always get customer approval before doing work on a vehicle, providing customers with estimates of the costs before we do the work. If they are available, we'll also offer less-expensive alternatives, like fixing or cleaning a part instead of replacing it. (Ace, we try to reduce the need for 'spooning' whenever possible.)
- When we call a customer to get approval, we tell them what a technician found and explain why action might be needed.
Based on your comments to us, here are some ideas of what we could do:
- Explainers. For frequently-done maintenance and repair service items, we could provide detailed "explainer" sheets, including text and pictures regarding what the service is, why it is needed, and what a part might look like when it needs replacement.
- Schedules. With ongoing maintenance, it is easier to implement Jim's suggestion that we provide more of a roadmap of service. And we do that, to some extent, with our list of factory-recommended maintenance. But it is very difficult to predict with accuracy when something will break and require repair, and for many repairs there are few warning signs until something breaks. When visible, we'll tell customers about signs like brake or belt wear or engine leaks. One idea: We could take pictures of the actual parts that are wearing or of the places that are leaking, to show the thing that needs service.
- Convenience. Not sure yet how we might do something like this, but Jim's other suggestion of working on vehicles overnight is interesting. Perhaps we could pick a car up and have it back in the morning for very basic items, but a big part of our process is communicating back to customers about what we find (and they probably won't welcome updates at 2 in the morning). But Jim's suggestion got us thinking: Are there other ways we could make getting auto service easier?
- Updates. As a mechanical shop, most of our repairs are completed same-day, so we almost never have the 20-day delay in getting completed that Letha's friend had at the body shop. But Letha's post got us thinking: Are there other ways you'd prefer to be contacted? While the phone is our usual way of updating customers, we do frequently find ourselves in a kind of phone tag during the service approval process. We could provide more contact alternatives: text messages, Twitter DM's (direct messages), etc.
Which of these things would matter to you? What other things would create an astounding car repair experience for you?
We really appreciate your thoughts, and please, keep giving us ideas on how to improve.