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.