Expert Offers Free Advice To Web Visitors
Arnold Zalon, president of C & J Auto Parts, answers auto-related questions via the company's web site.
James Battista knew his vehicle was having transmission problems, but didn't know where to go for advice. By chance, he found Arnold Zalon's free auto advice web page.
"I was searching the Internet for an answer and found 'Ask Arnold,'" said Battista, who immediately sent his transmission question to Arnold, president of C & J Auto Parts, Inc., in Chicago, Ill. "Arnold told me it could be the transmission or a solenoid. Since I live in the area, he referred me to a transmission specialist he uses."
The specialist diagnosed a solenoid-related problem, reinforcing Arnold's expertise, and easing any worries Battista had of a more expensive problem.
"Instead of $1,400, it was a $200 job," added Battista. "[Arnold] saved me a lot of money."
The feature, which has been on C & J Auto Parts' web site (CandJAutoParts.com) for two years, has earned the company a dedicated customer following.
Andy Zalon, Arnold's son, said he got the idea for the 'Ask Arnold' web page at an ARA convention, and shared it with his colleagues at C & J Auto Parts.
"We were redoing our web site and I wanted a way for customers to ask questions," explained Andy. "We also wanted to be a resource for the community. After all, vehicles are getting more complicated, which means the same symptoms could point to different problems. We wanted to help people look for the parts they needed."
The Zalons designed a colorful caricature of Arnold to add character to the column. Once installed on the web site, the feature drew several questions that fit into similar categories.
"At first we were getting a lot of questions about window motors and tires," said Arnold. "That's why we posted them on the web site under a Frequently Asked Questions column."
Most questions receive a response within a week. Andy receives the e-mails, and then shows them to Arnold. Sometimes, Arnold asks co-workers for help, but personally answers all questions.
"We have a data service for technical answers that we may not know," added Arnold. "We also talk to some of our technical guys to verify an answer or make sure we're going along the right path."
Arnold believes some customers have sent in questions designed to stump the staff.
"I was asked if I had a radiator for a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle," he recalled. "Well, that particular vehicle did not have a radiator. The airflow would keep the motor cool. Of course, I couldn't assume that the person was trying to stump us … maybe he was legitimately asking. So I wrote him a note, gave him my phone number and offered to walk him through what he needed."
Arnold is a third-generation owner of C & J Auto Parts, a 60-year-old business started by his father, Bud Zalon and grandfather, Nate Zalon. There are currently 20 employees at C & J Auto Parts, which sells recycled and new auto parts, and includes a small service department.
Arnold said the addition of the 'Ask Arnold' feature has been a benefit to customers.
"Most of the time, I seem to be able to point people in the right direction," he admitted. "If they're looking for a product or service we can't provide, I can usually find someone to provide it."