No Lines in the Sand Drawn at Hires

Jan. 1, 2020
Understanding customer perception is Step 1 at Indiana Shop
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At Hires Automotive in Fort Wayne, Ind., the service writers are trained to make sure the customers’ perceptions are the right ones.

“It doesn’t matter if we think we serviced the customer properly or not. What matters is what the customer thinks, because if they don’t think we took good care of them, they won’t come back,” says Tom Hire, president of Hires Automotive Center.

He says in the past, some service writers would draw a line in the sand and stay firm to what they thought was right, regardless of what the customer thought or their side of the story. That’s not the way Hires, in business since 1927, believes it should be done. All service writers now are professionally trained by ATI and R.L. O’Connor, and learn all about customer perception.

“It is just about putting yourself in their shoes, understanding, listening and taking care of them,” Hire says. “It is not always about who is right or wrong. It is about making the experience enjoyable so they come back.”

Hires Automotive, with four locations, the main one being this year’s Top Shop honoree, communicates the importance of its customers’ perception at its shop-wide monthly meetings. How they can improve customer service is just one item discussed each month, according to Hire. Others are: What can we do to make your job easier, better and more enjoyable? How can we help you be more productive? Finally, there is a review of the previous month’s sales, goals and results.

Additionally, a different subject is discussed each month. Starting in January with a review of vehicle inspections, Hires employees learn more about safety; cores, defect handling and inventory control; shop cleanliness, summer specials, labor times and “Summer Spiff”; building the average ticket; communication in the shop, maintenance sales; fall and winter specials and labor times; employee benefits; the coming year’s training plan; and the coming year’s sales projections.

This helps back up the reasons Hires’ employees have stayed with the company for so long. Four of the eight technicians have been with the main location 21, 18 and 16 years respectively. Hires provides its techs with current factory scan tools and a plethora of training. The shop makes vendor Internet training available, and sends techs to local training and to other schools sponsored by vendors. A local trainer gets the best of the drivability techs in the area together for training twice a month.


“We are fortunate to have local training that our drivability techs attend. We are also lucky to have technicians who want to continue to learn and they seek out the training,” Hire says. “Training is like buying tools: They know it is an investment they need to keep making to stay current. If we are going to be a premier shop in the area, then we need to make the commitment to training and equipment so we can diagnose and repair most any vehicle that comes in our shop.”

The Next Generation
While the shop strives to stay current in the bays, it also is making strides in its marketing plan, staying current with text message promotions and social media. Hire says the shop is working with a local radio station on a texting promotion. The radio station announces that listeners can text the word “oil” to a certain number to win a free oil change. There are 10 winners per week, and the non-winners receive a bounce-back coupon for $10 off an oil change.

Hire says the shop is lucky to have a great sales rep who devised that program and started the shop’s Facebook page, promoting the texting feature there as well.

“It has worked well for us. We have only been doing it for several months. It will be interesting to see how many of the texting winners we turn into loyal customers,” Hire adds. “We have seen a lot of new customers come into our facility. In fact, most of the texting winners and texting coupons have been new customers. That has been encouraging. It has been amazing how many young adults are into texting.”

The fourth generation of Hire family members getting into the business has stepped up to the plate to keep this new technology implementation going. Hire says they are working on the social networking side, including profiling a different technician each month on the Facebook page so that customers can learn more about the shop and its employees.

These same folks are working on plans to grow the current 2,000 e-mails in their system to 10,000 during the coming year.

And while the shop works to stay ahead of the curve in marketing, it does still use proven methods like postcards and a free oil change after buying five. The shop also is staying ahead of things with its waiting room, which Hire says helps attract female and professional customers.

Top Accommodations
The drive-in lobby offers a convenient area for customers to drop off their vehicles. Off of that, the 2,000-square-foot waiting area accommodates more than 30 customers. It features wireless Internet, a children’s play area, free coffee, hot chocolate, cappuccino and popcorn and more. An area dealership also advertised the recent renovation of its waiting area as an attraction based off the success of Hires Automotive.

“We wanted to have as nice of a facility as any dealership in the area,” Hire explains. “We felt that the dealer was our number one competitor, and wanted to offer as clean and comfortable environment (as possible). We spent a lot of time and actually hired an interior decorator to design our waiting area. I am sure that we were not the only business the Toyota dealer tried to emulate, but we probably did have an influence in their waiting area renovation. It does feel good to be ahead of the curve and be a leader in innovation.”


The customers also come for the experienced technicians to work on their vehicles. In addition to the training, the employees also receive solid benefits packages with insurance, uniforms, holidays and more

“Our shops are also large, so a technician can work out of at least three to five bays. We do a lot of marketing to help keep the bays full,” Hire says. “They feel good working in one place for a long time. They have a customer following and they enjoy their fellow employees.”

The relationships also give the shop as a whole a chance to give back both to the community and the industry. The shop is a member of the Automotive Service Association (ASA), Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) and AAA. The lobby gives the shop an area to tie the industry and community together through car care clinics twice a year and various car shows.

Across the board from customer service to the industry and community, the shop will not draw a line in the sand. It will work to do what is right by the customers.

“Value is defined by the customer. It is an individual thing, one that can be defined only form the perspective of the individual customer,” Hire says. “Different customers value different things in different situations. We need to be aware of what they value and what their expectations are.”

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