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What is the Value of OEM Certifications to the Customer?

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Despite having one of his two locations just a short drive up the 101 from the birthplace of Tesla, and in the heart of the EV giant’s tech-savvy customer base, San Francisco Bay Area shop owner Jason Wong avoided being an early adopter of the company’s certification program for years. 

But his longtime customers were becoming increasingly environmentally conscious and swapping their Subarus for Teslas. When they had the misfortune of being involved in a collision, they’d call. And in response Wong was happy to provide a list of shops who would be more than happy to do the repair. But the calls and emails continued, asking him to reconsider. Finally he called a Tesla rep.  

“I said, ‘Hey, I’m calling you because I think this is the right thing to do, and I’d like to get in your certification program,’” says Wong, who operates shops in San Francisco and San Jose and was the 2022 CARSTAR Franchisee of the Year. “And I remember his answer to me was, ‘Jason you don’t have to get in our program to fix our cars.’ And I told him, ‘I’m not going to fix your cars unless I’m on the program, unless you give me access to the literature.’” 

For Wong, the 10-plus OEM certifications he holds in addition to Tesla aren’t so much a marketing tool as a safety and quality tool. To do repairs right and to do them safely, he wanted to have that cert. Step into the lobby of his San Francisco store and you won’t find a sign for Tesla, Volkswagen, Infiniti or anyone else.  

The shop does, however, make use of its online presence with ads on Yelp and Google to try and capture customers looking for certified shops. Adjacent to Silicon Valley, Bay Area customers are very much digital-first—”They don’t even want to talk to us,” Wong quips. Customers may or may not know going in that they’re getting a certified repair, but Wong believes the quality of that repair speaks for itself. 

“I don’t really look at the certifications to drive business,” Wong says, “I look at the certifications as like we actually really need the repair procedures to repair your car correctly to be safe on the road.” 

Halfway across the country on another peninsula, that of the state of Michigan, the folks at Riverbend Body Shop in Grand Rapids are a little more out front with their certifications. You’ll find the logos of everything from Buick to Subaru on the shop’s website and Service Writer Zach DeGroot says the shop has invested money optimizing its site to be SEO-friendly when customers Google things like “Subaru certified body shop.” They’ve also made partnerships with local dealerships, with business cards on the desks of the local Honda dealer’s service department. 

The shop was the first one in the state of Michigan to earn Honda/Acura certification, DeGroot says. It was also one of the first in the region to get certified for Subaru. However customers find them, as soon as they call to make an appointment, the shop is happy to inform them of the wise decision they’ve made. 

“Our CSRs are trained,” says DeGroot, whose father Jim is the third-generation owner of the business founded more than 75 years ago. “Once they determine the year, make and model of the vehicle the customer calls in, if it’s a vehicle that falls into one of our certifications, that is one of the first work tracks that they’re using is that our shop is certified from the manufacturer of their vehicle which means that our technicians achieved special training, we have specialized tools specific to their vehicles.” 

The shop educates the customer on even more aspects of the certification, such as there may be actual representatives of Subaru popping in to ensure repairs are being done to certification. Anecdotally, results speak for themselves, as DeGroot was able to relay examples of customers coming from hours away and even other states because they were seeking a certified shop. The results are there statistically, too, as the shop boasts 4.9 stars on Google with more than 600 reviews. 

As in Wong’s shops, DeGroot has noticed that the quality of an OEM-certified repair is evident to the customer in the final product, whether they realize it or not.  

“We have an extremely strong presence in our market with our reputation for our repair quality,” DeGroot says. “I think our OEM certifications have actually fueled that reputation. Reason being is because we are focused on proper, safe, OEM specific repairs, with OEM parts. Our overall quality is evident to the customer when they pick up the vehicle.” 

As the certifications support performing quality repairs, they in a way market themselves. Satisfied customers fuel repeat business and positive word of mouth for the shop. Both Wong and DeGroot agreed that while dollars are dollars, the ROI can’t exactly be measured in the cost of the cert vs. the revenue it directly brings in. There’s an intrinsic value that both men found to be a net positive. 

“As an owner,” Wong says, “A lot of people will look at it as like, hey, they’re always looking on a return on investment, which is very logical. I stopped looking at it that way many years ago.” 

The question that Wong asks instead, of himself and his staff, is though the shop may be having success right now, what is the biggest potential for crisis? The answer, Wong says, is if the shop compromises on a repair and somebody gets hurt, or worse.  

“At that point it doesn’t really matter how much the certification cost anymore because it would never amount to what would end up happening if it’s not done properly,” Wong says. 

DeGroot concurs, especially in light of how he sees the industry changing. Increasingly complex vehicles are leaving customers in the middle, trying to understand the issues facing their repair.  

“Some shops might think they do great work and have great body work and refinish,” says DeGroot. “But at the end of the day if certain parts aren’t utilized in that vehicle, the biggest thing for us in the marketing standpoint is basically just trying to reassure customers that we know how to fix their vehicle and that everything we do is geared with that mentality that that vehicle, the safety features, basically everything about that vehicle even though it was in an accident are not going to be compromised for that customer driving that vehicle forward.” 

With an industry that’s changing, both DeGroot and Wong believe OEM certifications will continue to play an important role in a shop’s business and recommend owners stay informed and aware of current events to make the best decisions for their shops. 

“I think the biggest thing is just kind of making sure that customer feels comfortable with the repairs being done to their vehicle, so I think it’s just an important thing in my opinion to kind of keep a pulse on where the industry’s going,” DeGroot says. “Do the research on what OEM certifications, what that means, from what it can do for your facility and just trying to basically align yourself with the best, safest repairs.” 

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