I believe there are three main reasons why a person might want to do their own vehicle repairs and maintenance and not go to your automotive shop. One is to try to save money. The second is a sense of accomplishment. And thirdly, self-reliance.
These are all respectable reasons, yet for most automotive shop owners, there is nothing more irritating than a do-it-yourselfer. They call up for advice when they are stuck, and then bad-mouth us for how much we would charge to solve the problem. Or they buy their own parts and then don’t have the proper tools to do the job, or decide it is too cold out and come to your shop and ask you if you will do it for them. They waste our time, they want advice for free, and then try to make us feel bad that we are too expensive.
My father grew up on a farm in the prairies. Times were tough, and you had to be self-reliant in order not to starve. Fast forward 40 years: my father is changing the clutch in his diesel VW Rabbit on jack stands in his driveway. He is near retirement and is watching his money, but more importantly, he is self-reliant. He would never think of getting anyone else to do this. And above all, he was a problem solver.
He would never ask a shop for free advice, he did not try to supply his own parts, and he respected the mechanics for what they were: hard-working people who deserved to be paid well for what they did.
So from a shop’s point of view, we need to understand that there are good do-it-yourselfers and bad do-it-yourselfers. You will rarely see a good do-it-yourselfer at your automotive shop, because they have looked after themselves. But when they do show up, it is probably for something they are not equipped to do. Treat them with respect, ensure they understand that you will be doing some form of inspection along with their request, and make sure you charge properly for your work.
More often than not, we are going to see a bad do-it-yourselfer. They might be trying to save money, but they realize (often too late) that it is actually going to cost them more than they thought. They might be trying to be a problem solver, but they give up too soon. Or they might think they are self-reliant, but have taken on something that’s out of their skill range. But for some reason, many of these types have an expectation that somehow professional shops and technicians owe it to them to help them out.
You would never call up your dentist, doctor, accountant, or lawyer and ask them for free advice or to do something for free. Even when you try to call a plumber, electrician, or any other trade you are routed to a dispatcher, who helps you make an appointment.
So why is our industry so plagued with do-it-yourselfers bugging us?
Because we taught them that they could.
How many of you reading this used to be do-it-yourselfers, or backyard mechanics, before you opened your automotive shop? How many of you called and asked around for free advice and help? In the ’50s and ’60s when all service stations were full serve, the fuel was usually pumped by the owner and the mechanics during the day, and by part-timers in the evenings and weekends. How much free advice was dispensed at the pumps? How many of you to this day will still take calls from friends and buddies and even strangers and give them free advice over the phone or by text?
And on top of that, do-it-yourselfers talk to each other. If you help one of them, they will tell all their friends. “Go see Joe, he helped me out that last time I called, he is a good guy.”
There is a very simple solution to this: Treat everyone like a “professional” client until they identify themselves as something else.
And then use your systems to eliminate them.
- Be an appointment-based shop: nothing gets in without an appointment. (Most do-it-yourselfers don’t like to make appointments.) Customer: “Come on, it will just take a minute.” Service advisor: “It might be a short procedure, but our next available appointment is tomorrow at 1:00 p.m.”
- Charge for inspections and testing. Customer: “I already know what the problem is.” Service advisor: “That may be the case, but in order to offer you a full warranty and to protect both you and our technician from liability, we need to perform several tests to confirm your concern with your vehicle. These total for these tests will be $150, taxes included.”
- Don’t agree to put the technicians on the phone. Customer: “Can I talk to a mechanic?” Service advisor: “At this time all of our technicians are occupied working on clients’ vehicles. Is there a way I can help? I am the one in charge of all the appointments.”
- And my favourite! Customer, friend, neighbour, relative, etc. at a social gathering: “What do you think it is?” Murray: “I don’t know.” Customer: “What do you mean you don’t know? I heard you are a good mechanic.” Murray: “I am a very good mechanic and I am sure we can figure it out and do a fantastic repair. Here is my card. When you call the shop, ask for Kim. She is the best service advisor I know and she will make an appointment for you and take down your information and concern.”
And little by little they all go away.