Communication needs streamlined, not vacuumed

Jan. 1, 2020
Few shop owners would argue that parts play a critical role in our business. Without the right part, the car doesn't leave the shop. Without a competitive price, I have no parts margin. And without a quality part, I risk alienating a customer. Theref

Few shop owners would argue that parts play a critical role in our business. Without the right part, the car doesn't leave the shop. Without a competitive price, I have no parts margin. And without a quality part, I risk alienating a customer. Therefore, I think of my suppliers as additional partners.

One of the recurring hurdles in this "partnership" is: What do I do when a part is inferior or defective? This has been an issue for as long as I can remember.

Automotive service facilities handle this situation in various ways. Some shops simply mark the box defective, throw it on the return shelf and order a new one. Others return the defect and order another brand hoping that it will solve the problem.

The next step is the parts supplier picks up the defects, issues a credit to the shop and puts the part on a return shelf of their own so the manufacturer's rep can look at it and issue a credit to the parts supplier.

What's missing in this entire scheme is a streamlined way of reporting a problem to a parts manufacturer — and for the manufacturer, in return, to communicate a solution.

Unfortunately, it seems like many manufacturers fail to realize the importance of regular communication with the shop owners and technicians who are using their products in real-world scenarios. Here's a case in point: Last summer, I purchased an A/C evaporator for a Chrysler minivan. In the past, I had purchased this part from the dealer because the technicians liked the fact that it came with the foam insulation and a new "H" valve. My primary aftermarket supplier asked if I would try the part they sold, so I gave it a shot. It didn't hurt that the price was about a third less than the dealer's part. All was going well until the technician tried to put the replacement evaporator in the evaporator case. The aftermarket model wouldn't fit because the tubes were laid out in such a way that the core couldn't sit in the housing without major modification.

I took pictures of the old core and the new core, submitted the pictures to a manufacturer's rep and, at the same time, purchased a dealer part to finish the job.

The rep stopped by a day or two later to look at the problem. He did not seem to understand the issue, so he called a colleague in engineering who informed him that the part was actually outsourced to another manufacturer. I was told that they would correct the problem. That was the last I heard from them.

This year, one of my technicians ordered the same part — unaware of the previous problem. Guess what: The same problem still exists!

This company is not alone in its lack of response. Through the years, I have called a number of companies with issues. Some responded quickly and others seemed indifferent. Those that have been genuinely concerned and took corrective action are who I continue to do business with — and to communicate with. As for the others, if they don't care about the quality of their own products, how can I?

We actively seek feedback from our customers through a postage-paid survey after every service visit, and we seek input through our website, monthly newsletters and a "we miss you" survey. If I don't take the time to listen to my customers, they'll find someone else who will. What about you? Are you going to be among the minority who see the value of soliciting and acting on customer feedback, or are you going to place your bets on building a successful business inside a vacuum?

Chuck Hartogh is vice president and co-founder of C&M Auto Service Inc. of Glenview, Ill. and Vernon Hills, Ill., and is an ASE-Certified Master, L1 Technician. (ASA).