It’s National Car Care Month! Did you know that women play a leading role in 85% of auto purchases, and play a large role in how it’s serviced?
At this year’s New York Auto Show, we attended a panel discussion, hosted by Lexus, about women buying and servicing vehicles.
Panelists were (left to right below):
- Audra Fordin, ASE-Certified Auto Mechanic, owner of Great Bear Auto Repair; founder, Women Auto Know
- Brandy Schaffels, Chief Editor of AskPatty
- Lauren Fix, The Car Coach® and automotive expert
- Peggy Turner, Lexus Vice President of Customer Service
- Moderated by Melanie Batenchuk, founder of Be Car Chic
Virtually everyone noted the power of word-of-mouth communication, and that if dealerships and service centers treated customers well, word would spread. If they treated customers poorly, word might spread even more quickly.
The discussion began with how service centers can better serve women.
Lauren Fix observed businesses insisting, “‘We need more women!’ Women make 85% of the buying and maintenance decisions. We own over 60% of cars on the road, and we have 95% veto power! We’ll say ‘No, we’re not going there because I don’t want that guy in there looking at me in that weird way.’”
In response, some service centers are getting female service writers, and, according to Fix, “It’s interesting when you look at the studies. When a male or female walks in, they gravitate toward the female,” and that those businesses are selling more as a result. “In order to get women in, and realize the power of the purse, we need to meet them at their level.”
Brandy Schaffels noted, “AskPatty trains and certifies dealers so that they can be more cognizant of their women buyers. … We teach them important things like have a clean bathroom. … Women are usually the ones who are bringing the family car in for service. We’re often there with children, so we need a place where our children can wait with us that’s clean. … A lot of [the bathrooms] don’t even have soap. So we teach them things that will improve the retail experience. These are things that will make female customers feel appreciated and confident. … And it’s not just about educating the consumer. It’s about educating the employees, too.”
Audra Fordin addressed one obstacle that shops have to overcome – that attracting people to become auto technicians in the first place is a challenge, but that “a stereotype is just that: a stereotype. By changing the perception, and having people feel comfortable about the respectful profession that it is, more people will come into the industry, and we’ll be able to change the way it is now. We’re suffering on every level.”
She believes that people perceive technicians “as though we’re greasy, and meanwhile, it’s high tech… we’re reading computers, like it’s an EKG. Communicating that will help.”
When a service center is dealing with customers, she says, what’s most important is “authenticity, transparency. If you can’t prove it, people know. Communicating needs is the nuts and bolts” that will help to make consumers feel more confident.
On the Features Women Look for in a Car:
“Don’t pigeonhole women, because we have the same interest in cars as men. We want safety, we want performance, we want style,” said Schaffels. As a point of proof: “The Mustang captured 36% of the entire sports car purchases by women in 2015.”
“It just depends where we are in our lives.” She noted that she’s waiting for her youngest to get old enough, “so I can get the two-seater I’ve always wanted. … I’ve been waiting all my life.”
Fix noted that many consumers don’t know how to use the complicated technology that’s in their vehicles, and that it’s helpful when dealers have someone available to explain.
Schaffels point out that many of the autonomous features now available – related to pedestrian safety, lane-departure assist, and accident prevention – serve as assistants to be better, safer drivers.
The rapid changes in technology will affect the service side of the business, and Fordin warned, “You’ll need more than an oil change,” and that just one example of a part that will require attention is the steering-angle sensor, which will need to be well calibrated if it will be playing a key role in changing lanes. She suggested that marketing should play a role in helping drivers to pay attention to all the new, more electronically-focused service a car needs.
Fix agreed, “You can just look in the glovebox. Underneath all the napkins, and all the ketchup packs, take the plastic off and find the service schedule. And that’s what you need to have done! The Car Care Council says, ‘If you’re proactive, and you have all that done, you take care of all that basic maintenance in advance, you could save up to $1,200 a year. You don’t want to wait until it’s so bad that it’s going out to Audra’s shop on a hook, and then [the technician is] going, ‘Whoa! You didn’t do anything.’”
For those who don’t have an owner’s manual, Schaffels noted, “Every manufacturer has a location on their website, you can go online and find an owner’s manual. … About one out of every five questions that I answer every day, I’ll say, ‘Here’s a link to your owner’s manual. Your vehicle requires service at these intervals.’”
Batenchuk noted that the people who took the time to write those owners’ manuals would appreciate knowing that drivers were checking them. Fix said she reads every manual for her vehicles, and that she’ll sit down with a glass of wine and do “light reading,” which was met with laughter.
On Advice on Car Buying & Service
Fix: Do your research, know what you want, and what things you absolutely need. Never be afraid to walk away from a deal that doesn’t feel right. Bring the printed information with you. Seating comfort will never, ever get better. And visibility is important. And never, ever pay retail!
Schaffels: Do your research. Dealer invoice is available from any car site now. The dealerships need to have a profit, and they have families to support. They’re expected to have a fair profit, and you’re also expected to have a fair price.
The test drive is really important. And if you’ve got kids, and a car seat or equipment, you need to bring those items to the test drive. Know what it’s like to install them. If this is a family purchase, you need to be sure they’re involved in the purchase itself. Some people buy a car before realizing they can’t get their kids in and out of the third row.
Fordin: If you’re going to take ownership of the keys, take ownership of the driver’s seat, and take care of your investment so it lives a longer life.