Just Who Are You Anyway? Focus Group Learnings on Emerging Digital Service Customers
There are some pretty brilliant service parts executives out there who know just about everything. Sometimes I envy them. I have always taken a certain measure of pride in my ignorance … coupled with the ability to figure important stuff out. In my training book, “Handbook for the Recently Hired,” I talk about thinking dumb and unlearning. This comes in handy…real handy when listening to our weekly focus groups of EDSCs. Just who are these people, anyway?
EDSCs are 22-32 years old and have almost no brand loyalty. I say almost, because three brands – Honda, Jeep, and Subaru – seem to arouse passion; other brands are white refrigerators. Our focus group EDSCs are all college educated and seemingly have good jobs. But, money is very tight. It will probably be tight until they are senior citizens – we are in a prolonged post-boom period and things have changed here in the states. Male/female car maintenance role models have evolved; men are just as clueless as women were thought to be in the 50s. Sexism is still alive, but it has gone underground. It is largely irrelevant, but still annoying, to today’s educated female. This customer base is our legacy; baby boomers are very, very different and dying out.
EDSCs generally don’t read print media, “People” and “Us” excluded, unless their parents give them their magazines. They get their information online from customizable news and information aggregation sources like iGoogle. They love coupons and specials; they comb the internet looking for them. They rely on Yelp and Google for reviews and actually take the time to read them, because they distrust the star ratings. They read these reviews carefully, as if they were movie reviews crafted by Manohla Dargis.
EDSCs who really do love their Honda, Jeep, or Subaru dealers talk unabashedly about how they will switch out of dealer service once they are out of warranty. They have already abandoned the dealer for LOF maintenance due to cost and convenience issues, whether real or perceived.
EDSCs generally do not know how often to get an oil change and depend on the sticker in their windshield or their car’s oil service reminder warning. They don’t know how to reset the service reminder because they do not read the owner’s manual (after all, most manuals are printed and not digital). They generally have no idea what synthetic oil is and whether or not they should use it. EDSCs explanations of “genuine” parts are amusing – or frightening from the OEMs’ perspective. Aggressive IAM advertising and misappropriation of certain terminology has led them to believe that they get genuine parts from NAPA, AutoZone, Jiffy Lube, Goodyear, and their local “My Guy”. Are “genuine parts better?” It’s hard to convince them that anyone would put a bad part on their car.
EDSCs say that safety is a big factor when selecting the car they drive. But, when asked about parts safety, they say, “I have never thought about that.” They distrust big car companies because of past violations – they cite Toyota’s recalls in particular. They still love their Toyotas, but are not so passionate about the brand. They have divorced the product from the company. Ford, Chevy, and others are generally in the same boat as Toyota.
EDSCs read headlines, but will only click on something that shakes their beliefs and/or is about their specific make or model. They are very careful with their clicks, as if clicks were in short supply. They are extremely cynical and sensitive to OEM propaganda in any and all media. They can’t imagine a good reason for going to an OEM’s website unless it was to look at new cars.
Bottom Line: We identified some of the characteristics of EDSCs through previous end-customer surveys, but these focus groups have added a third dimension to a formerly flat picture. Unfortunately, the picture is rather bleak – EDSCs are entirely uneducated about genuine parts and suspicious of dealer service due to cost and trust concerns.
Timeout: This is the next generation of service customer that we are handing off to our next generation of corporate aftersales management to handle. This legacy is not unlike the riddle of national debt that our politicians are handing off to today’s 20 and 30-somethings. The easy thing to do is to deny their existence, and then take early retirement. I certainly would not want to be 55 years old and stuck with this customer base and today’s dealer processes. Can’t tweak the system enough to get through this one.