Improving your customer experience: Lessons from a simple oil change

by | Mar 21, 2019

Normally I take my car to a dealer for service, even for an oil change. I’ve always assumed that the dealer knows my car best and I can be assured the parts and service meet manufacturer’s specifications. My dealers do, however, require an appointment, and waiting times vary depending on the service backlog. Fortunately, there’s Wi-Fi and maybe coffee and bagels in the waiting area. This is some consolation for waiting, often for an undetermined length of time.

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Recently however, I needed an oil change while traveling out of town and decided to visit an instant oil change service center. To find it, I simply Googled “oil change near me” and several options appeared. I liked the ratings and the location of one nationally branded service center and activated my route to it.

Upon arrival I saw three active service bays, two occupied, and one empty. I liked the fact that is was busy, but not too busy. A friendly attendant greeted me and waived me immediately into the open bay. “No need to get out of the car sir, what can we help you with today?” Just an oil and filter change. “No problem. Let me scan your VIN number and we’ll get started right away”. The attendant scanned the VIN number from inside my door frame and pivoted a flat-screen computer monitor so I could see it clearly from my position in the driver seat. I noticed a digital display in the upper right hand of the screen that read “your service time” had begun to tick off the seconds. The screen also instantly displayed complete specification data for my vehicle model and year.  “I see you have a six-quart system, and the manufacturer recommends non-synthetic 5W30 motor oil. We’ll change the oil and filter and do a 12-point fluids and safety check for $49.95. Okay to proceed?” Umm…yeah, great, go ahead.

At that point, a team of specialists sprang into action. One, already underneath the car in the “pit,” was directed to drain the oil and remove and replace the filter. He had access to all three bays from the pit below and would move from car to car for maximum efficiency.  Another worked above in the engine compartment checking fluids and adding fresh oil. The third, the greeting attendant, worked with me to check my tires, lights and turn signals, instructed me how to re-set my dashboard oil light, and brought me the dipstick so I could confirm they had filled the oil to proper level. I looked over at the service timer – it read 14 minutes, and they were done. Then I was asked if I wanted to register my vehicle for email reminders and coupons for future service. As an option this data can be included in Carfax reports to assure a future buyer that oil service had been performed at regular intervals. And finally, I was asked whether I wanted an “oil change due” sticker placed inside the front windshield (no thanks).  As I pulled out, another car was waiting to move into my bay.

At first blush, performing oil changes hardly seems interesting or remarkable, but there are many important takeaways from this customer experience and business model that can be applied to businesses of all kinds. Let’s examine a few of them.

#1. Disrupt through specialization.

The specialization of the instant oil change model has effectively marginalized the non-specialists in the market. This includes both large dealers and small business “generalists”, a.k.a. your local gas station. The dealers are too big for oil changes. They’re better equipped for more complex service. Of course, they’d like you to come in for oil changes as they inevitably find something else (more expensive and more profitable) to work on. Local gas stations can be “hit or miss” because there are too many unknowns. How are their technicians trained? Is your mechanic a professional or the owner’s nephew picking up some work between jobs? Do they have experience with your vehicle’s make and model? Do they have inventory on hand to meet manufacturer specifications – or are they using parts “just about” as good? Do they know the small details, like how to re-set a dashboard oil light, or would they forget this step entirely? When you’re thinking about transformation, growth and opportunity consider the essential services you might focus on where you can disrupt your market by doing one or two critical and important things for customers much, much better than everyone else.

#2. Improve Speed and consistency.

Superior customer experience is achieved today by delivering equivalent or better results with greater speed and consistency. This national instant oil change franchise made this the linchpin of their value proposition. Everything from the facility design, to data access through VIN scanning, to the division of labor is orchestrated to move you through the service process quickly and efficiently while delivering a consistent experience with each visit. It used to be that getting your car serviced could mean a morning or afternoon off work. Now, you can get some important basic car service done (without getting out of your car) and still have 45 minutes left during an hour lunch break. Time is indeed money, and loyalty can be achieved by placing a premium value on your customer’s time. Robotic Process Automation, or Repeatable Process Automation (RPA) is a fast-emerging discipline that automates repeatable tasks by implementing software “robots” to work alongside people. It’s easy to see how both physical and software robotics through RPA will continue to be applied to create competitive differentiation and advantage in the automotive service industry. The lesson here is: Analyze your workflows and product and service delivery processes. How you improve and automate them now will make or break your competitive position in the future.

#3. Instill confidence through transparency

As mentioned, one of my main hesitancies in trying an instant oil change service center was “do they know my car, are they qualified, and will they service it to manufacturer specs?” These fears were ameliorated immediately through the transparency of the process and the way scanning technology was used to access real-time data. By connecting their service process to a larger network of vehicle specification data – and by displaying this data transparently to the customer through a large display – I could see that there was no guesswork involved. In addition, I received a firm price quote before any service was started, and my confidence was bolstered further by the fact that each technician is required to complete 240 hours of training, a benefit this franchise widely promoted online and on-site. Businesses thinking about creating advantage through better customer experiences should put transparency high on their list of options. The more you can bring your customers into the way you build, price and deliver products and services, the more loyalty you will achieve.

#4. Add-value to build a digital relationship

Critical to the success of the instant oil change model is transaction volume. That means nurturing customers for repeat business and new services. This service center had expanded beyond oil changes into tire service, batteries, lights, differential fluids, transmission fluids and more. By creating incentives for a digital relationship with each new customer (Carfax integration and coupons) this national brand did not miss the opportunity to build a digital relationship with me – not only to nurture brand loyalty but also to introduce new services. In fact, my digital wallet now has a $10 discount coupon sent immediately to me as “thank you” for my visit. This was accompanied by a satisfaction survey, which was appropriately short and to the point, making it easy to fill out and return – resulting in more valuable data points for the franchise.  When developing customer experience strategies, keep in mind new customers are especially valuable and should be treated accordingly to engage and build immediate brand preference. The national franchise I visited is not the only instant oil change company in the market, so it’s not enough to get me sold on the instant oil experience in general, rather it’s critical to get me sold on this specific national brand’s experience.

They say, “data is the oil of the digital economy.” As we have seen here, creative franchise entrepreneurs in the automotive oil service business are continuing to grow, take market share, and disrupt traditional service providers by improving customer experience through specialization, transparency, data and process innovation. Theirs is a model worth noting for any business. I expect they’ll soon have a coffee and bagels option as well.

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