After sales service, keeping cars young

After sales service, keeping cars young
Each year, Indian roads welcome a host of new car models. Carmakers are on the front foot in terms of delivering the best toys on four wheels, and cars often bring with them an element of fascination and novelty.

While a new car is almost always in its best condition, it is the period succeeding its purchase that a carmaker’s true capabilities in keeping the car as best or as new that comes into focus.
And, it isn’t merely the feature-packed car that is in question, but the seamless aftersales service that a carmaker provides later, which becomes the differentiator in the market.

A carmaker’s reputation and standing in the market obviously rests on the cars he sells. But once a car is sold, the efficiency with which the carmaker provides service to his customer, keeping the car runningfit, determines his supremacy in the market.

The auto industry is a fast-growing one, and at a time like this, when competition is at its peak, only manufacturers with robust service networks are better equipped and in an advantageous position to sustain their customer base.

While the Indian car market is flooded with cars of all segments, essentially, affordable to mid-premium cars are the price-catch, and manufacturers have unlocked many delectable service schemes and packages. Deccan Herald spoke with several carmakers to learn their service mantra, and see what sets them apart in providing that easy ride to, and from the workshop.

Miles ahead
When it comes to taking care of its customer even after the latter has driven home a car, Maruti Suzuki boasts that it is miles ahead in the after sales service race. “The area of service has matured over the years. Like any other service industry, Maruti Suzuki has evolved not only understanding the customer’s demands, but also efficiently satisfying their needs,” a spokesperson for Maruti Suzuki India (MSIL) says.

By servicing 17 million customers across its networks, the company has created several touchpoints in order to connect with its customers. It is true with proud Maruti owners, who state that they can get their broken down cars fixed anywhere in India, thanks to the ease of finding ‘authorised’ people to fix these cars, as also the reasonable costs that entail it.

With over 3,000 workshops in more than 1,400 cities, MSIL has the largest sales and service network in the Indian car industry, and the company has significantly expanded its network through the services it offers to meet customer demands.

Fellow Japanese auto behemoth Toyota has built a niche for itself in India — not only for its cars, but also for the world-class service it assures customers. Affirms N Raja, Senior Vice President and Director (Sales and Marketing), Toyota Kirloskar Motor: “TKM believes that customer service plays a very important role in creating a loyal and lifetime customer. The approach what we follow is happy employee with high level of operation standards that yields customer satisfaction, and we thoroughly instill this philosophy at all of our dealerships too.”

Currently, Toyota boasts of a modest, yet state-of-the-art, bunch of 240 service outlets spread across 185 cities in India, catering to all its customers.

These centres service around 200,000 vehicles per month. “We have more than 20,000 service staff at our dealerships who service our customer’s day-in and day-out to cater to all their requirements,” Raja says.

Not wanting to lag behind, homegrown Tata Motors claims that after sales service is one of the biggest factors in loyalty and advocacy for a brand.
The company unveiled its new mission statement in December 2012: “To be passionate in anticipating and providing the best vehicles and experiences that excite our customers globally.”

Tata Motors’ service rests on three core customer-desired service promises — ‘Responsive’, ‘Reliable’ and ‘Best value’. “We offer a host of distinctive facilities to deliver each of these promises to customers in the company’s nationwide service network of approximately 750 service centres, which are spread across 500 cities and towns,” says Dinesh Bhasin, Head (Customer Support), at the Passenger Vehicle Business Unit, Tata Motors.

Best service wins
When it comes to after sales car service, Maruti Suzuki claims to be notches ahead of the competition. It has revolutionised the levels of convenience being rendered to customers, making the entire car service routine, hassle-free. Through Maruti Mobile Support (MMS), which offers free services at the customer’s doorstep, cars can be serviced at home, and the company claims to have reached out to a total of 75,000 customers through this service. In the pick-up and drop facility introduced by the company, MSIL associates at the workshops pick up the vehicle from a customer’s residence and bring it back for servicing the same day.

There are currently 1,368 MSIL workshops providing this facility. “The 7-11 service workshops is a new concept by MSIL, wherein the service centre remains open for extra hours from 7 am to 11 pm, which provides convenience to customers by servicing their vehicles, when it is not in use. Currently, 198 workshops are operating on the 7-11 concept,” the spokesperson said.

All the said end-to-end services has brought Maruti the coveted position of India’s top carmaker.

Meanwhile, Toyota has its own goodies to offer in the after sales service scheme. Most importantly, its warranty is one of the best in the industry — 100,000 kms or 3 years, whichever is earlier. “Express Maintenance or Express Service in 60 minutess is a key industry differentiator from Toyota, wherein we ensure delivery of the vehicle in 60 minutes after servicing, without compromising on quality of service,” Raja says.

Priority appointment
Toyota boasts of service packages under a programme called ‘SMILES’ — a prepaid maintenance contract where the customer gets the benefit of priority appointment and discounts on Parts & Labour for General Services.

Customers can also avail this programme in multiples of the mileage and dealerships also provide consultation on the same for customer convenience.  “After sales service plays a key role in bridging between sales and repurchase. At Toyota, we strive hard to delight each and every customer through our exceptional service experience so that we create a ‘Customer for Life’, and which will in turn support to enhance our sales,” Raja adds.

Toyota also claims to assure consumers replacement cars, under a service offering — by the name of ‘Toyota Convenience’ — wherein dealerships offer customers the option to drop the vehicle and continue their other engagements.

In the past year, Tata Motors has conducted three campaigns to offer discounts to customers on service and purchase of spare parts. “Lakhs of customers have availed benefits through these service camps. We also have special schemes for various segments of customers, apart from various regular schemes like Annual Maintenance Contracts (AMC), Extended Warranty (EW), etc,” Bhasin says.

The company is also focusing on Customer Connect & Convenience initiatives. For customer convenience, mobile service vans, pick up and drops of vehicles, same day resolution of complaints, and mobile application offered.

“For Customer Connect, our ‘Mega service camp’ initiative, held every 3-4 months, is a huge success, thereby helping us connect with thousands of customers pan India in a week long extravaganza. We are also trying to make the total workshop experience more pleasurable for our customers, by initiatives like revamping workshop front office, offering customer lounges, integrating technologies like VTABs (Vehicle Tracking & Bay Scheduling), Speed-O-Service, and Tata Motors Service Application (TMSA),” Bhasin says.

In terms of technology, Maruti Suzuki has progressed to develop a more customer-friendly service network by including technological innovations — from being greeted with tablets at a service centre to mobile workshops for upcountry customers, and the recently launched Maruti Care app.

Meanwhile, there are few challenges in the after sales service arena — firstly the network and service capacity to cater to the remotest customer with the cost for establishing facility being very high, secondly dealer manpower retention and availability of quality manpower are also issues.

Raja rues that availability of spurious parts, service quality at unorganised garages and accessory fitment leading to risk of safety, for both vehicle and customers are rampant.

Better technology
“Also, the rise in component costs is also associated with better technology, quality and reliability. This is largely beneficial for a customer on a long-term basis in terms of lesser number of visits to the workshops for unscheduled repairs/maintenance,” Tata’s Bhasin says, adding, “There are many low-cost, low-skilled, poor quality and non-genuine, unauthorised service solutions available in the market. Their solutions are unreliable and our customers face the hassle of recurring problems in their vehicles, which causes a damage to our brand.”

“Secondly, we are constantly working on our channel partner manpower. Skill development and high attrition at our CPs is a major concern. To address this problem, we organise a skill contest called ‘SkillNext’,” he adds.

In the wake of the major skilling drive and manufacturing initiatives taken by the government, carmakers may find reasons to smile. Though after sales service is always a challenging and highly competitive area, it emerges as one of the biggest factors in building the reputation of a brand.

It ensures that cars and their owners are well taken care of, years after they have formed an integral relationship, cementing far solid ties between the buyers and car manufacturers.

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