Technology in the bay

Jan. 1, 2020
My business partner has an eloquent saying in his vast repertoire of poignant observations. The line is, "More dangerous than ignorance, is the illusion of knowledge."

My business partner has an eloquent saying in his vast repertoire of poignant observations. The line is, “More dangerous than ignorance, is the illusion of knowledge.”

His point is that so many of us who have been doing business in any market sector for any period of time has the penchant to think they know the business very well. So confident we are in our impression of knowledge we possess that we don’t think we need to engage in research or data gathering to make predictive observations about business practices. That’s where the “dangerous” part comes in. Regrettably, this is a phenomenon that I observe quite regularly in the automotive aftermarket.

Concerns of “the illusion of knowledge” occurred to me as I was listening to some long-time aftermarket practitioners talk about the use of technology-enabled parts ordering by service technicians, Internet parts ordering if you will. What was shocking was how disparate the views of these “long-timers” were. But as I listened carefully, “the illusion of knowledge” was everywhere.

One rather disturbing phenomenon that I have observed over the years is a tendency for many business people to think of the people who buy from them as unsophisticated, if not unwise. I think it feeds this penchant to think we know more than we do about the market and our customers.

Just a few short years ago, I remember people debating if and to what extent technicians at independent repair shops were “using the Internet.” While most aftermarket big thinkers would admit that there were computers in most shops, the prevailing wisdom was, few if any were connected. The pundits suggested that if the typical technician were turned loose, unsupervised on the Internet, he would of course gravitate to the more sordid and lurid sites. It speaks volumes about the accurate, unbiased nature of pundits, doesn’t it?)

Listening now to the assembled group of experts share their observations about techs and their online behavior, a hint of that bias was still present. While most agreed shops are online, some questioned the extent. They spoke with a bias that suggested most techs were not “sophisticated” enough to make full use of eCommerce ordering technology. Read, “They aren’t smart enough to use it.”

PAGE 2

The bold reality is, we are at a tipping point today. My regular interaction with technicians through a variety of research techniques leads me to make this observation: The era of telephone and fax ordering is drawing to a close. There is a palpable shift occurring toward a preference to order on line. The traction for this shift comes from several sources.

One factor is the demise of the “career counterman.” The knowledgeable and skilled pro that used to inhabit the counter of most parts stores is rapidly disappearing from the landscape. Techs speak in glowing terms of the “guys that used to be there to help me” in contrast to “ the guys today who don’t know as much as I do about the parts.”

There is also the techs’ comfort level with the technology. As one said to me, “It’s kind of like ATMs. At first I didn’t like dealing with a machine. I was used to making small talk with the teller. But over time, I realized it was faster and more efficient to use the ATM.” Another tech took things a step further when he said, “You know, I’d really rather not have to deal with another human being if I don’t have too.”

And of course the technology has improved, both software and hardware. eCats, along with supporting applications, are running at much higher speeds and are much more intuitive. However techs remain frustrated with having to use a different ordering system for each supplier they deal with. They repeatedly ask when will there be a single system that lets them buy from anyone they choose.

But the advance of technology is not just on the parts ordering front. Increasingly, techs are turning to the web for information they used to get from vendors, suppliers, eCatalogs and shop manuals. More and more of them are saying that there is better, more complete and more timely information available on line and accessible through Google searches.

One story that drove this point home was told by someone who was helping his son replace a water pump on his pick-up. The father bragged to the boy that he had access to a professional repair manual site that could provide them with step-by-step installation instructions. In less time than it took the father to log into the commercial manual, the son had Googled the installation and come up with more complete installation instructions, including a video, than were available from the “professional” resource,. That is a testimonial to the volume of free, useful data that is “out there.” Were I a provider of “professional manuals” this would strike fear in my heart.

The reality is, technology adoption in the bay is happening and at a rate most so-called aftermarket veterans don’t realize. This is clear a game changing event that will leave those with the “illusion of knowledge” in the same boat as the ignorant. It might be something to think about, unless you’re already sure you know what’s going on.

My business partner has an eloquent saying in his vast repertoire of poignant observations. The line is, “More dangerous than ignorance, is the illusion of knowledge.”

His point is that so many of us who have been doing business in any market sector for any period of time has the penchant to think they know the business very well. So confident we are in our impression of knowledge we possess that we don’t think we need to engage in research or data gathering to make predictive observations about business practices. That’s where the “dangerous” part comes in. Regrettably, this is a phenomenon that I observe quite regularly in the automotive aftermarket.

Concerns of “the illusion of knowledge” occurred to me as I was listening to some long-time aftermarket practitioners talk about the use of technology-enabled parts ordering by service technicians, Internet parts ordering if you will. What was shocking was how disparate the views of these “long-timers” were. But as I listened carefully, “the illusion of knowledge” was everywhere.

One rather disturbing phenomenon that I have observed over the years is a tendency for many business people to think of the people who buy from them as unsophisticated, if not unwise. I think it feeds this penchant to think we know more than we do about the market and our customers.

Just a few short years ago, I remember people debating if and to what extent technicians at independent repair shops were “using the Internet.” While most aftermarket big thinkers would admit that there were computers in most shops, the prevailing wisdom was, few if any were connected. The pundits suggested that if the typical technician were turned loose, unsupervised on the Internet, he would of course gravitate to the more sordid and lurid sites. It speaks volumes about the accurate, unbiased nature of pundits, doesn’t it?)

Listening now to the assembled group of experts share their observations about techs and their online behavior, a hint of that bias was still present. While most agreed shops are online, some questioned the extent. They spoke with a bias that suggested most techs were not “sophisticated” enough to make full use of eCommerce ordering technology. Read, “They aren’t smart enough to use it.”

PAGE 2

The bold reality is, we are at a tipping point today. My regular interaction with technicians through a variety of research techniques leads me to make this observation: The era of telephone and fax ordering is drawing to a close. There is a palpable shift occurring toward a preference to order on line. The traction for this shift comes from several sources.

One factor is the demise of the “career counterman.” The knowledgeable and skilled pro that used to inhabit the counter of most parts stores is rapidly disappearing from the landscape. Techs speak in glowing terms of the “guys that used to be there to help me” in contrast to “ the guys today who don’t know as much as I do about the parts.”

There is also the techs’ comfort level with the technology. As one said to me, “It’s kind of like ATMs. At first I didn’t like dealing with a machine. I was used to making small talk with the teller. But over time, I realized it was faster and more efficient to use the ATM.” Another tech took things a step further when he said, “You know, I’d really rather not have to deal with another human being if I don’t have too.”

And of course the technology has improved, both software and hardware. eCats, along with supporting applications, are running at much higher speeds and are much more intuitive. However techs remain frustrated with having to use a different ordering system for each supplier they deal with. They repeatedly ask when will there be a single system that lets them buy from anyone they choose.

But the advance of technology is not just on the parts ordering front. Increasingly, techs are turning to the web for information they used to get from vendors, suppliers, eCatalogs and shop manuals. More and more of them are saying that there is better, more complete and more timely information available on line and accessible through Google searches.

One story that drove this point home was told by someone who was helping his son replace a water pump on his pick-up. The father bragged to the boy that he had access to a professional repair manual site that could provide them with step-by-step installation instructions. In less time than it took the father to log into the commercial manual, the son had Googled the installation and come up with more complete installation instructions, including a video, than were available from the “professional” resource,. That is a testimonial to the volume of free, useful data that is “out there.” Were I a provider of “professional manuals” this would strike fear in my heart.

The reality is, technology adoption in the bay is happening and at a rate most so-called aftermarket veterans don’t realize. This is clear a game changing event that will leave those with the “illusion of knowledge” in the same boat as the ignorant. It might be something to think about, unless you’re already sure you know what’s going on.