Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Can a Service Technician Really be a Butler?

In an effort to bolster sales and increase dealer profitability Volvo Cars recently suggested that in future Volvo will provide a personal service technician for every new Volvo customer. Each car will be delivered in person by a Volvo expert who will continue to be on call seven days a week for the duration of the vehicle ownership.

What an interesting concept. Imagine a car company that wants to treat customers like a Brand Ambassador rather than as a Mark!

In typical fashion it wasn't long before industry ‘experts’ like journalists and service technicians asked: “who’s going to pay for that? The dealer or Volvo?”.

My question to them is: “why should it cost anyone other than the Volvo owner anything?”

So, where did Volvo get the idea that this might actually work?

The idea that a person would be available for a customer 24/7 is not unique. Many companies make that available. That a customer has a dedicated contact, in this case a service technician, is.

On the whole, technicians feel more comfortable being behind the scenes. It’s the way it’s always been. For the most part it has worked satisfactorily for the tech and the dealer. The pay system, whether hourly or flat rate, is also the norm. So, naturally, challenging both conventions terrifies the industry members.

But for a customer who now owns a relatively expensive and complex car, knowing that they can get answers, repairs or service at any time can be a huge relief. Today’s cars with all the fancy features can be quite a challenge to understand for many owners. Being able to pick up the phone and ask someone how something works or how to do something would be comforting. Technicians know the answers to those questions. The delivery person - in this case the technician - also knows exactly what was not covered during the delivery process and can follow up with the new owner at a convenient time. It is the beginning of a long term relationship.

As time passes and the car becomes due for service, who better to contact the customer and schedule the appointment than the technician?  Texting or email will do. During the service, techs will police the quality of work as well as any additions needed without selling unnecessary items. Owners will come to trust the dealer and not resist coming back for maintenance and more serious repairs even after the warranty expires.

Other value added services may also be included - like pick up and delivery.

True, someone will foot the bill and, like those who don’t mind spending a few bucks extra for a Starbuck’s coffee experience, it will be the car owners. Also like Starbuck’s customers who carry Starbuck’s branded cups or mugs, Volvo owners won’t mind advertising how well they are treated. People will gladly pay extra for value and good service whereas they will be reluctant to return to businesses that provide low quality and poor service.

Occasionally emergencies such as unforeseen breakdowns will test the owner/tech/dealer relationship. How the emergency is handled is key. The customer wants to get going again quickly and with an empowered 24/7 Volvo contact this will be possible.

What a business model such as this requires, though, are the right people. Technicians will need to be hired both for technical proficiency and for interpersonal skills. In fact, they must have the traits of a good butler. Since this is a non-traditional automotive dealership model it will not work under the current compensation plan.

So, maybe that’s Volvo’s plan. Hire the best. Train them, pay them well and retain them thus keeping the customer engaged in the Brand.

Money goes much farther retaining an owner rather than winning one from another brand. It will be interesting to see how it works.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Raising Speed Limits May Not Be The Answer

After many years of government research and lobbying by consumer advocates, British Columbia recently adjusted several of its highway speed limits. To that I say ‘hoorah’.

But, I recently spent a month driving in Germany, Austria and Italy. Before I left people said: ‘Ooo, you get to drive as fast as you want’. And you know what? I was never so scared to be on the road as when I got back to BC.

So why am I still scared to drive on our roads? It has little to do with the limit. It has to do with rules.

Over there I knew that everyone would behave: trucks, caravans (motor homes), vehicles with trailers in the right lane. Unless a sign indicated permission to pass. Passenger cars in the left or centre/left lanes - and pay attention to the mirrors. Never did I fear that a truck or slower vehicle would move into the left lane. Nor would anyone hog the left lane.

Canada and the USA really only have one rule: obey the speed limit - or else. Otherwise it’s kind of like Aussie Rules Football. Anything goes so long as your chasing the ball.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Living in the Age of Irresponsibility

Sixty-five. That’s the number of years the combination electrical-starter switch has been around. First used by Chrysler Corporation, it was a huge leap forward from the floor mounted push button commonly used at that time. Drivers no longer needed three feet to start the car when not parked on the level.

In the space of those 65 years, something has changed to cast a pall over this simple device. It is now being blamed in the deaths of an undetermined number of General Motors car drivers. Whether true or not is no longer the issue. No amount of discovery will ever reverse the negative publicity GM is facing.

But really? Is the poor little switch unfairly accused? Or is it a result of tort law and anti-big corporation sentiment? That, and quite a bit of irresponsibility?

Engines have quit running for so many different reasons since their inception and yet this is the first time that the courts have been brought into it with this much fervor. There has to be a reason other than mechanical failure.

Personally I think it’s because it’s far too easy to say: ‘It’s not my fault. They built an unsafe car so I’ll sue their butts.’

Even if the case goes nowhere, at least the victim has the knowledge that it cost the corporation a ton of money, they had their 15 minutes of fame and it made them feel somewhat better having taken on the big bad giant and won.

Over the years, those of us who have spent time around many different cars saw: keys that will open and start any number of the same vehicles, ignition switches that wear out enough that no key is necessary anymore or a screwdriver will turn the mechanism, switches that won’t shut the engine off and the list goes on.

So what did we do? For the most part we lived with it – until someone took our car. Interestingly though, we all blamed ourselves for letting it get that far.

But not today. Even though most Owner’s Manuals instruct the operator how to deal with ignition switches and some caution against loading the key chain with all sorts of gadgets, who cares? Many of us own more than one car, so that means two keys, two remotes and often a remote starter FOB. Not counting house keys, office keys and a personal item all at the end of a lanyard. Then if the switch wears out we blame poor construction or corner cutting.

So what’s the difference? First and foremost: vigilance and maintenance. Then comes: an intimate understanding of the equipment.

Today’s drivers aren’t taught how to deal with emergencies while driving. When was the last time a tester reached over and turned off the key on a student? Or asked them to do it themselves and coast to safety? I’d bet: never.

Friday, 11 January 2013

It's Not Easy Being Bad

One of my favorite comedy shows on Canadian television is ‘Canada’s Worst Driver’. The premise is to take a driver who is accident prone, easily distracted or otherwise a menace on Canadian roads, put them through a battery of interesting challenges and see who comes out the loser - the one who just can’t learn to drive.

I’ve always wondered whether there was some way that I could fake being a menace and get on the show just to see what fun I could have. Turns out that it is really very hard to be a bad driver. You have to spend a fair amount of energy to create situations where you actually put yourself in harm’s way.

How do I know? I tried.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Speed is Relative - or is it?

There was an interesting video recently posted on YouTube where someone on a Yamaha blasted up the highway on Vancouver Island at speeds into the 300kph range. Reaction from the media and law enforcement was swift and predictable: catch the offender and throw the book at him - it was probably a ‘him’. So was my thought - at first.

Then I read an article posted by the Canadian Press Online where Ontario flatly refused to raise speed limits on its major freeways to 120 kph or 130kph from 100kph. According to Transport Minister Bob Chiarelli one of the points in favor of keeping the lower limit was that “police are kept busy issuing tickets to drivers caught going that (120 kph)fast.”

So what is “too fast”? Was the motorcyclist “reckless”?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Mix of Factors Affects Used-Car Price

I wrote a column about used-car pricing a while ago. It's interesting how little and how much has changed. Craigslist and Kijiji have all but replaced newspapers. Auto Trader type publications are online and buyers are more savvy than ever before. Manufacturers have Certified Used Car programs for their used stock. So can you if you keep decent records. Here it is:

 Q.  In 1984 I bought a new VW Jetta Turbo Diesel which now has over 120 000 km on it.  I like the car very much and it hasn't given me any trouble to speak of but now I would like to sell it and buy a newer car.  How can I determine what the car is worth as a used car?  There just don't seem to be very many models like this one around.

 A.  The problem with guessing the value of a used car is that the seller is never sure that the asked price was indeed right.  If it sold too quickly did you ask enough?  Or, if it never sells, are you asking too much?  Most of the time it is a matter of pricing the car for the current used car market in your area.  This pricing is made more difficult, as you are finding, by the fact that you own a 'rare' car.  To aid you in making an educated guess at the Jetta's value, the following points will give a good idea of what dealers look at when someone tries to trade in a used vehicle. 
There's No Substitute For Research

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Volt or Milllivolt?

In the past month the Chevrolet Volt has been attacked by the press for battery fires that can occur some length of time after a side impact and, by the Republicans, for being an ‘Obamamobile’. And then GM has to stop production because of lagging sales.

Why is the American press so negative about American products? Are Imports really that much better?

Almost fifty years ago, Ralph Nader was ultimately responsible for killing GM’s Corvair while championing the movement toward safer cars. Turns out that ten years later the Corvair’s alleged poor handling was shown not to exist and that the car was actually very safe. But it was too late for the Corvair, and ultimately the 1960's American small car movement.