The customer trends of 2023 - make sure you are prepared for 2024

Two mechanics repairing a car engine in a workshop.

Overall, 2023 was a good year for the auto aftermarket industry. And now, it is time to reflect on anything learned during the past year, and perhaps this will provide a glimpse at your 2024 expectations.

Cost-of-living pressures

Without a doubt, most commentators have focused on the rising cost-ofliving pressures and the expected slowdown. At this stage, my research shows that the impact on the auto industry has been mild. Many workshops started the year booked out two to four weeks in advance, but close to year’s end that had come back to two to five days. So, although the phone might have been ringing fewer times, most workshops were still fully booked out every day.

With potentially another one or two interest rate rises in 2024, cost-of-living pressures are likely to remain the number one topic of concern. Motorists will most likely react to such pressures by extending the intervals of routine car services past their due dates, or they may choose to ignore a warning light on the dash until the car rego check falls due. (Vehicle inspection requirements vary from state to state).

Consequently, workshops may well see more breakdowns. When customers eventually book in, they will hope that a general service will fix everything and nothing will be found wanting. This is where all workshops must maintain their standards and inform customers of any additional diagnostic or repair work that is needed and that such work will be outside the scope of the standard service and will be additional to the service invoice.

Another trend could well be that customers will be scrutinising quotes in more detail. Over the past couple of years, customers tended to be less fastidious about quotes, with most just giving the go-ahead for whatever needed doing, with few questions asked.

I suspect customer attitudes will swing back to pre-COVID times when they spent more time going through quotes, looking for options to defer repairs or seeking a cheaper alternative. The onus will be on workshops to invest the time to explain why repairs are needed and to help prioritise repairs so that customers are clear on what should be done now and what can be left till later.

Repairing older vehicles

The new car shortages throughout the COVID years were great for the industry, with many customers forced to repair older vehicles rather than buy new ones – if they could find them. The availability of new cars has certainly improved, but for some popular models there are still significant wait times. I expect these wait times combined with continued cost-of-living pressures will have many consumers deferring a new vehicle purchase during 2024. They will continue to hold on to their older vehicle and repair them when necessary. This will be a good outcome for the aftermarket auto industry, and it’s one of the key reasons why I feel it will be reasonably sheltered from an economic slowdown.

Customer impatience

Staff shortages have impacted almost every industry, resulting in the market being conditioned to wait for everything.

Wait times might be shorter than those of early 2023, and this trend can be expected to continue in 2024. Customers, however, expect the good times of instant satisfaction to be turned on and off like a switch, meaning that their impatience levels in 2024 could revert to the pre-COVID levels, when waiting a month for a car repair booking or a part to turn up was barely tolerated.

To meet this trend, workshops should do their best to fit in with their customers’ lifestyles, which could mean outside-hours drop offs, working within promised times, keeping them informed throughout the job or getting quotes back within a reasonable time. Underpromising and overdelivering remains the best strategy by far.

Messaging platforms

Phone messaging is a trend that will continue to grow as more people of all age groups become used to using their phone to send text messages – they don’t even have to type them anymore. Businesses need to adapt to this trend and ensure that they offer an appropriate platform and respond in a timely manner. This is the time to consult with your point of sale provider or colleagues to figure out your best managing option – which may include transferring your messaging responses to the office computer rather than through a mobile phone.

Electric vehicle and hybrid enquires

The electric vehicle (EV) and hybrid evolution is well under way, but the take-up rate will not be consistent across all demographics, with inner city suburbs leading the charge.

It is inevitable that more of your customers will start asking questions about switching to electric or hybrid, so workshops need to start presenting themselves as EV and Hybrid Certified. Electrics and hybrids still need maintenance and repairs, so you need to ensure that when customers do make the switch, they continue to use your workshop as their preferred service centre.

This article was published 19/12/2023 and the content is current as at the date of publication.