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Do You Know Your Service Customer?

Do You Know Your Service Customer?

Jeff Cowan

The year 2008 changed our lives and our businesses.  Most of us were forced to take a close look at our personal finances and our businesses and make hard, fast, deep cuts. It was a matter of survival and most of us were successful.

Although we were forced to change the way we lived our lives and ran our businesses, by and large, as an industry, we have not recognized the fact that our customers were forced to do the same thing.  Our customers were up against the same challenges that we were and they had to either change or fail, so change they did. They too were forced to make their own personal financial cuts. In doing so, they have changed the way they do business. Their expectations have changed. What they were looking for in a business partner has changed.  How they conduct business has changed.  They have drawn a hard line as to what they will and will not accept.

Most dealerships and their service departments are using business strategies that are not suited to this evolved, transformed customer.  As a result, customers are feeling let down, frustrated, and underwhelmed. To make matters worse, the after-market segment of the service business has identified your weaknesses and is moving full-steam ahead. They plan to take more and more of your service customers.  It is not too late to make adjustments and grow to meet your customers’ new expectations, but it soon might be.  Today’s complacency will result in tomorrow’s lack of financial security.  Here are some easy changes you can make to bring yourself up to date.

What doesn’t work: Advisors sitting behind a desk or counter, waiting for customers to approach them

What does: Being proactive

Even if you do not have a service drive, you have to get up and greet the customer. You may even have to meet the customer outside.  Weather is no excuse.  Get advisors off their butts and over to the customer’s vehicle with enthusiasm, a smile, a snap in their step, and an eagerness to serve.

What doesn’t work: Not walking around a customer’s car

What works: Walking around every car, every time, with a watchful eye and the skill and willingness to point out the good and bad.

You cannot sell a car sitting behind a desk and you certainly cannot sell service sitting behind a desk.  Would you take advice from a doctor that did not do an examination first?

What doesn’t work: Asking questions like, “When do you need your car back?”  or “When can I call you?”  

What works: Taking control of the situation and telling the customer how things work in your shop

Some great examples of proactive phrases to use with customers include the following: “Based on the information you have given me, your vehicle will need to be seen by __, his schedule dictates that your vehicle will enter the shop at __.  Based on that, expect a call between __ and __, where I will explain our findings.  Based on our findings, I will then be able to give you an approximate time that your vehicle will be ready.” This approach tells the customer that you know what you are doing. How can they tell you when they want their vehicle back and when they want you to call if they do not know how long inspections, repairs, and services take?

What doesn’t work: Not having a full inspection performed by a technician on every vehicle, every time

What works: Offering a full inspection on every vehicle, every time

As vehicles need to be in a shop fewer and fewer times each year, the importance of a full vehicle inspection has never been more necessary and welcomed by a customer. When you return a vehicle to the customer and say, “It’s ready to go,” they assume you have completely inspected their vehicle and that there will be no problems until their next due service. If you do not fully inspect every vehicle, how can you make that claim? The number one service you can offer your customer is a complete vehicle inspection every single time they visit.

What doesn’t work: Failure to have the latest tools and technology

What works: Innovative resources that save time

I am not just talking tablets and new software. I am suggesting having the latest in testing methods like the “sensor pads” you can place on your floor.  In ninety seconds, you can simply drive a vehicle over a sensor pad and show your customer the condition of his or her tires and whether or not an alignment is needed. If you’re really on the ball, you can also perform a battery test and check codes at the same time. I live very close to one of the largest Honda stores in the nation.  Less than ten miles from it is one of the smallest Honda stores in the nation. The smaller store employs these tools and outsells the bigger store in alignments, tires, and batteries, four to one. Customers love these tools!

What doesn’t work: Not having up-to-date, true retail displays

What works: Crisp, bright, inviting, and informative retail displays

Even the smallest shops with the least amount of space have no excuses anymore. A flat-screen television hooked up to a small computer can attract the customer’s attention and sell a ton of products.

What doesn’t work: Not having a staff that knows how to deliver an expert level of customer service and salesmanship

What works: Having a full sales culture throughout your shop

Customers are not dumb.  They see you as a retail business and have certain expectations that must be met if they are to consider you as a solution. They know that advisors and service staff are paid commissions and bonuses and they have very little problem with that.  What they can’t and won’t accept is a staff that is not educated in their products and can’t professionally solve their concerns.

What doesn’t work: Service managers, fixed operation directors, general managers and dealers who say, “I can’t get my people to do these things.”

What works: A person standing on the right side of your business’ door that is a true leader and CAN get your people to do these things

As my trainers and I continue to travel the United States and Canada, we see very few dealerships that have made the adjustments necessary to efficiently address the needs of the transformed customers they now have driving through their service doors. What we do see is a surprising number of aftermarket service retailers who are making these adjustments. The aftermarket retailers are your true competition. They do not have the luxury of padding revenues by selling vehicles. Their livelihood lies in selling service, and this makes them a serious threat. They seem to be figuring out today’s customer at a quicker pace than the average dealership.

Use the coffee business as a comparison.  Do you think the producers of drip coffee makers thought Keurig was a threat ten years ago? Today, one in three homes has replaced its drip coffee maker with a Keurig coffee maker and the number continues to grow. How did that happen, you ask? Keurig saw coffee drinkers changing.  They addressed that change. By doing so, they redefined the way people buy and consume coffee.  You have an edge. You don’t have to change the way people buy your service, you just have to change the way you deliver it.

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