Switching Gears: Transforming Transmission Repair by Building Processes Around the Customer Experience

By Chris Bucholtz

The auto repair industry can’t boast a history of great customer relationships. Part of it is customer-based – no one’s really in a great mood when their car breaks, and it’s hard to deliver a great customer experience when the customer’s in the midst of a bad experience. But a lot of it is because of the auto repair industry’s own issues – bogus repairs, misleading estimates and the general attitude that customers are ignorant about their own cars can lead to an adversarial relationship between customers and repair shops.

Larry Bloodworth is dedicated to making sure that’s never the case with his shop, Certified Transmissions in Draper, Utah. He has some things going for him; perhaps most importantly, he loves fixing transmissions. He started doing it as a hobby, and 37 years ago he went into business.

He’s also a huge student of the concept of the customer experience. I first got to know him through a discussion of “The Experience Economy” by Pine and Gilmore – how many auto repair shop owners can discuss that book?

Taking the concepts in the book to heart, Larry created a customer experience around getting your transmission repaired – which, he admits, does not usually start as a good experience. He says, in the past, the customer’s initial reaction was akin to someone engaging a funeral home. “No kidding – there are amazing parallels in the (customer’s) demeanor, sales psychographics, sales cycle,” he says. “Nobody is happy when they walk into a typical transmission shop.”

So, Larry says, that meant the first step was to avoid being the typical transmission shop.

“We moved to our current location for, among other reasons, to change not only the customer’s experience, but our work environment as well,” he says. “We used to have the typical shop front office that was cluttered, out of date, and parts laying around. Less than optimal, to say the least.  Now, everything the customer sees, touches, hears, and even smells, are all small parts of our overall marketing plan, which centers around the customer’s experience.  If we are putting ourselves out to the public as being the best choice, everything has to match.”

The office, Larry says, used to be “DOA.” Not any more. Instead, he’s turned it into a gearhead’s classroom, with displays on how the transmission works and what can go wrong. “We call it ‘edutainment,’” he says. The experience goes from one of dread to one where the customer learns something.

But it doesn’t stop there. After the car goes into the garage and the customer goes home, the experience continues. During the repair process, the staff shoots short videos about each repair, showing damage or worn parts and the repairs the shop is making. The videos are e-mailed to the customers, continuing the education process and also helping to foster a sense of transparency and trust. “We can have the world’s best online marketing, a remarkable CRM system, and all the bells and whistles in the world, but it all boils down to trust.  We have found through the simple elementary school exercise of what we call our ‘Show-N-Tell,’ virtually all fear and uncertainty disappear.”

None of this happens by accident. The business’s processes are well planned. For example, the shop takes customers by appointment, because the chief cause of delays in calling customers with updates on their repairs is interruptions from walk-in customers.

“Having a system in place is critical to customer satisfaction,” says Larry. “The more thought-out and automated, and less dependent on somebody remembering what to do to give the customer a ‘wow’ experience, the better.  That’s hard to pull off in any custom made-to-order service business.”

That was where Certified Transmissions’ CRM application (which just happens to be SugarCRM – although I learned this only after starting to write this post) proved helpful. “We knew nobody does business like us and so there’s no way to buy an (out of the box) system to fit our business.  I knew we had to buy something as close as possible to what we wanted, then had the flexibility to hire people cost-effectively to mold the software around the way we do business, not the other way around. It’s mass customization for a local service-oriented business.”

Developing a strategy boiled down to charting the customer’s journey through an interaction with Larry and his team. “It started as a hand-drawn flow chart that I eventually had a contractor on Odesk convert into a Vizio flowchart,” he says. “It’s extremely hard to put into writing, but rather easy to draw the flowchart for the first time once I had the time to focus.  I had been a one-man customer service department for most of my career and there was never a need to teach anybody or put it down in writing. When I realized I had to train others to do what I took for granted, I realized how hard it really was to teach, and drawing a flowchart seemed easier than trying to describe it in actual words. Additionally, as I later discovered, a flowchart is easier to teach.”

The impact has been better business, and a relationship with customers that’s more rewarding for both sides. “Our image now is that of a new car dealership.  We look so professional, we quite often get asked if we are a franchise,” says Larry. “That’s a compliment.”

For a peek at Certified Transmissions’ operations, take a peek at the Larry’s YouTube channel. Then ask yourself: if a company in as customer-unfriendly a business as auto repair can do this, why can’t your business?




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