Jiffy Lube Technology is Pretty Slick

Jiffy Lube Technology is Pretty Slick

Lauren Paul, we missed you in November! Please bring your 1998 Nissan Maxima back to Jiffy Lube for a Signature Service Oil Change!The flyer featured a picture of a friendly looking woman named Judy Scholl, vice president of customers for Jiffy Lube. Judy expressed great concern that I had not returned for my scheduled 3,000-mile oil change. In the annals of correspondence, this communiqué was not as intimate as a love letter or as welcome as an unexpected check. But it wasn't just an indiscriminate piece of junk mail either. Once a customer has had two Jiffy Lube oil changes, she gets funnelled into the company's Automate reminder application, which automatically generates a service reminder every three months or thereabouts. A recent convert from the mainframe, Jiffy Lube has built a vast client/ server system that performs a wide variety of customer service functions -- among other business -- critical tasks-such as suggesting auto maintenance based on manufacturers' recommendations and storing individual customer preferences.

Automate gently prods customers to return to Jiffy Lube. If a customer ignores one reminder, Scholl herself makes a printed appeal, asking customers to call an 800 number if anything was amiss with their previous Jiffy Lube visits.

"Just in case they had a bad experience or their expectations weren't met, we let them know we're here and want to hear about it," says Scholl, at company headquarters in Houston. (Pennzoil-Quaker State Co. merged with Jiffy Lube International Inc. and is now an automotive products company.)But Scholl doesn't hide behind an important-sounding title on her door at headquarters. She gets out there, literally and figuratively, conducting seminars in regional locations for many service associates from the company's 1,623 lube shops around the country and teaching them to focus on the customer.

One of Scholl's presentations is called "The Value of Exceptional Customer Service," which she uses to make her pitch-hammering home her message about creating trust and loyalty among customers with a video of interviews with actual Jiffy Lube customers. Scholl has even been known to take a turn under the cars once in a while. When back in Houston, she makes sure employees at headquarters respond personally to all customer feedback-whether positive or negative-that comes via telephone, letter or e-mail. No form letters allowed.

"We build our company through servicing customers, not servicing cars," says Scholl. Thus, the corporate focus-right from the top of the company-is on customer retention. "We're in a people business," confirms Clyde Beahm, interim president of Jiffy Lube and executive president of Pennzoil-Quaker State. "If we can't provide better service than our competitors, we simply don't get the business. We understand that." To ensure the company does get the business, Scholl works closely with the corporate marketing and IT departments on initiatives such as the last-ditch-reminder flyer featuring her picture. Scholl also recently asked her colleagues in marketing to create a giant "Tell Us How We're Doing" poster (with the customer service department's toll-free number prominently displayed) to hang in the lounge area at each service station.

Behind the Oil Change

As Jiffy Lube's customer czar, Scholl makes sure information technology backs up her campaign for great service. Jiffy Lube has just completed a move off the mainframe onto a home-grown client/server system. Service associates in each shop collect customer data, such as name, address, make and model of car, at a Microsoft Windows NT PC-based point-of-sale (POS) workstation (still being rolled out to some stores). The data is sent to headquarters nightly, and the database is updated. The system's Automate application generates the consumer reminders; a partner in the print business (whom Scholl declines to identify) actually fulfils the direct mail needs.

The system includes a database of motor vehicle manufacturer service recommendations, so associates can alert customers to manufacturer-suggested services, such as tire rotation and radiator services, when appropriate for their particular vehicle. Although the system enables associates to sell additional services-and perhaps push the more expensive ones-the company does not emphasise these practices.

"We do not reward the [managers and assistant managers] based on the [average per-visit price]. We reward them on the number of customers that return," says Scholl. Jiffy Lube knows customers don't like to be hustled for an extra buck, and Scholl believes the database of manufacturer recommendations helps associates avoid the overselling habit that plagues the industry. It makes clear what additional services are appropriate according to the auto manufacturer, rather than leaving it to the service associate's discretion.

This helps protect against overzealousness on any individual's part.

In addition to suggesting the manufacturer's maintenance recommendations, Jiffy Lube's system can print a complete service history for a customer, helpful for someone who needs proof of maintenance for a new-car warranty claim. These features aim to make the customer feel Jiffy Lube is indispensable and is looking out for them.

Tracking personal preferences is another way to court that feeling. Service associates will soon be able to record specific customer requirements that will appear with the customer's file, no matter which Jiffy Lube the person goes to.

For example, one customer may not want her windows washed or another may not want his tires filled. Associates will record and then respect these requests, without the customer having to explain.

One might wonder whether Jiffy Lube's application of technology might cross the line from pleasant to invasive. The dark side of one-to-one marketing is the feeling customers get that Big Brother is watching. In addition to receiving personalised oil-change reminders, customers are also greeted by name when they drive in, which can seem downright creepy. As soon as a car pulls up, an associate runs the vehicle's plate number through the system. If it is a repeat visitor, the person's name and service record will appear and the associate can address the customer personally. Most customers are not startled by this level of familiarity, according to Scholl. "Customers say, 'they remembered me,'" she says, and this makes them feel special. Beahm, who has himself greeted customers this way, says they're initially a bit surprised to hear their names.

"We have to do it in a friendly way. You have to be sure there's a smile in your voice and a twinkle in your eye when you do it," he says.

The company currently operates 587 of its own service locations and has 1,036 franchisees spread through 47 states. But Jiffy Lube is not tyrannical about its systems. The franchisees are free to opt out of the company's automated reminder system, for which they pay a fee based on the number of mailers. They can contract with another company or send the reminders themselves. (If franchisees choose to use a system other than Automate, the system must meet quality standards established by the marketing department at headquarters.) Given this option, over 60 percent of Jiffy Lube's franchisees elect to use Automate, which generates over 400,000 letters per week.

Jiffy Lube's marketing department is heading up a data warehouse project that will vastly increase the company's ability to slice and dice customer data.

Targeted for rollout in spring 1999, Scholl expects the data warehouse will enable a higher degree of one-to-one marketing. "We'll be able to look more closely at what motivates our customers to come back in for service and consequently tailor our messages to them more precisely," she says.

But technology is only one piece of Jiffy Lube's three-part approach to retaining customers. People (the grease-stained service associates in the trenches) and processes (the low-tech, tried-and-true tenets of customer service) also share responsibility for keeping customers.

People and Processes

Technology goes only so far in a field that, after all, revolves around some pretty grubby stuff. In Jiffy Lube's culture, the quality of the customer relationship-and not the oil change itself-is paramount. The field employees and the processes and procedures they use are crucial, Scholl says.

For example, the mystery shopper program is a key tool in monitoring for consistent quality. Once each quarter, a third-party company sends unidentified people into the shops, posing as ordinary customers. These people grade the shops on a number of factors, including appearance of the lounge, speediness of service, and friendliness and effectiveness of employees.

The company reports how shops score on a regular basis so that employees always know how well they're doing. A location's mystery shopper scores are taken into account when adjusting the store manager's compensation.

"We de-emphasise corporate jobs and try to emphasise the importance of the front lines. [Shop managers and service associates] are the most important people in the company-this is their company," says Scholl. Four times a year, senior management invites the most successful store managers to travel to Houston for the President's Round Table, an event to recognise achievement and share best practices. "We want to re-create [these store managers'] attitudes in stores across the country," says Scholl. Store managers who don't fare well on the mystery shopper program are taken in hand by senior managers at headquarters. "We use every opportunity to measure performance and offer a road map for improvement," Scholl says. "Additional training may be the answer, or simply a review of the areas the store can improve in."Scholl also propagates best practices via a column called Service Calls in the company newsletter, in which she shares noteworthy customer experiences.

Recently, she wrote about a young woman in the Atlanta area who was caught in a freak snowstorm with a flat tire and an infant in tow. She made it to a Jiffy Lube shop and even though the shop was closed, the service technicians fixed her tire-and didn't charge her. Scholl was proud that the associates at that shop had such good instincts for service.

For his part, Beahm feels Scholl's role as customer advocate is extremely important. Indeed, he's recently empowered her department to make customer refunds when appropriate. "In the past we had made a lot of the customer adjustments at the store level. When you do that, because the adjustments go directly against earnings, [the store manager is] not as objective as he could be." This will take the customer out of the store manager's domain and into the tender care of Scholl's group.

Scholl sees her role as going beyond simply giving customers the personal touch-she sees herself as tapping into her customers' feelings and needs.

"We're not selling a product. We're just selling a service," Scholl says.

"Service companies have to rely on the emotional things that drive people to their business."(Lauren Gibbons Paul is a freelance writer based in Belmont, Massachusetts, and can be reached via e-mail at

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