In mid-2017, Audi announced its new A8 would be fully self-driving up to 40 miles per hour. Nissan is following suit with a full range of driverless vehicles by 2020.
Meanwhile, robots are performing surgery, computers are diagnosing cancer, and in late 2017 the news media began running articles and commentary on the ability of machines to replace teachers in the classroom.
Welcome to a world driven by Artificial Intelligence, commonly known as AI, where computers can learn and do problem solving. The technology that helped a computer beat a Grand Master at chess in 1997 is now helping drivers automatically parallel park their cars and avoid accidents, and will soon help drivers get around town without touching the steering wheel.
Being able to service this technology is critical for technicians, of course, and continuing training and education will be critical for survival in this industry.
But that’s not the point of this article.
Change has always been a way of life for technicians. Bluetooth is replacing cables and hoses just like sensors and computers replaced the carburetor. Technicians already know they need to keep learning.
The real change is coming for owners. For every early technology adopter, there are two more owners still doing tickets by hand, relying on word of mouth and comfortable with just getting by.
In this new world, teachers, drivers and surgeons are slowly being replaced by algorithms, and shop owners are unlikely to be the exception to the rule. If we don’t hurry up and use the tools and technology available to us to run our shops, somebody else will use that same technology to take our shops.
The mountain in front of us
A 2017 industry-wide survey conducted by a national automotive industry resource found that a full 32 percent of shops do not regularly track their important benchmarks. Of those that are regularly tracking, a full quarter of shop owners aren’t measuring the efficiency of technicians – a basic metric of measuring a team.
And, these numbers are worse than 2015! The industry could see and smell the smoke back in 2015…and rather than extinguish the problem, we decided to wait for the fire to burn itself out.
Even on the surface, this is a monumental problem. It is not less expensive now to operate a shop than it was two years ago, and will not be less expensive two years from now. Ignoring business metrics even in the best of times is suicide.
But this is far from the best of times for the independent shop owner.
I started off this article by talking about AI. Let me use it to bring this point straight to home.
In late 2017, an article I read on a blog called “Medium” shined a light on a program that major cell phone companies created. Those companies are selling real time data about you – your number, your provider, your address, plan type, type of phone and even current location – to purchasers.
Granted, your cell phone plan may not reveal a lot about you. But when it’s combined with information about the vehicle you drive and your online purchase history, this metadata builds a picture of you. Who you are, what you like, how you buy.
This isn’t a warning about your digital privacy, though. I’m telling you that if a large company – say, a car manufacturer – wants to build a profile of a perfect customer, they only need to purchase the data and use AI to identify trends.
They have purchasing power that independent shops do not: to buy massive amounts of data and AI programmers who can turn that data into actions.
We are staring down the barrel of manufacturers being able to target and steal your customers with laser-like precision…and half of the owners in our industry don’t even measure how their employees are performing each day.
How to adapt successfully
First and foremost, you must close the knowledge gap.
Our industry is still dominated by poorly-focused, activity-driven marketing. We still allow marketing companies to cherry pick numbers like return on investment without looking at the actual behavior and trust of the customer base they drive.
In an age of machine learning, that’s unacceptable. If a campaign makes you busy, but ends up replacing your customer base with no-value coupon chasers, it’s wasted money. Doing so when we can quickly measure the effect of marketing is wrong. Doing so when a computer can quickly learn where your best customers are and target them with the right message is conceding that we want the dealerships and chains to win.
That knowledge gap extends to shop measurement.
We already know that half of shops aren’t measuring their employees regularly. Of those that are measuring, only a fraction are doing so daily.
The fact of the matter is that we cannot hope to survive long as independent shops if we’re not willing to do the basics. Too many of us are content to look back at the previous month to try to measure going forward.
Setting aside AI for a moment, this can’t keep happening. If you don’t know how you’re doing until the month is past, it’s too late to fix anything. You can make changes, sure, but the money you lost last month is gone.
Unless you make the change today, you can’t save this month either.
The picture is even more clear with AI. Consider what the dealerships and chains can learn with their resources. They can know their most efficient employees, how to effectively dispatch and can manage inventory based on data from locations coast to coast.
The truth is, shop owners are about to face a reckoning. Unless you think techs will be easier to find in the future, or that costs will go down, or that you’ll face less competition, the only answer is to take a giant step forward. We must do better marketing, we must manage smarter, and we must start measuring our business like the future is already here.
If you want to know how we’re using AI daily in our auto repair shop to measure and market, visit https://autoprofitmasters.com/.
Click HERE to continue reading this article by David Rogers at Motor Age Magazine!