Maximize Your Service Department’s Biggest Untapped Resource
It’s an interaction that Ridge McCoy says is a dream for any service advisor: He was at a garage sale with a friend and struck up a conversation with the homeowner. After introducing himself, the woman suddenly broke into a huge grin and said, “Oh, I know you!” She turned to her friends next to her and said, “This is the best service advisor in the whole world!” It didn’t matter that McCoy hadn’t been a service advisor in nearly five years; she still vividly remembered the time nine years ago when McCoy enlisted a couple technicians to push her Miata down the street after it broke down three blocks from the dealership at which he worked.
“She was telling her friends about this and at the end, she said, ‘Nice to see you again, can I give you a hug?’” McCoy says. “You know you did it right when, nine years later, the person is asking the service advisor to give them a hug. Those aren’t the stories that we hear in the automotive industry.”
McCoy, now a dealership consultant for Dealer-FX Group, says it’s not surprising that those stories are rare. According to a recent NADA survey, the top two factors customers listed were most important when choosing where to get their cars serviced were customer convenience and relationship with the advisor.
“In some dealerships, they have good customer convenience because they are so big. They have so many technicians, they have more loaner cars, they can accommodate more appointments,” he says.
But it’s the relationship with the advisor that’s often missed, he says, despite it being one of the most crucial positions to generating profit and building relationships within your service department. McCoy breaks down a simple seven-step process that every service advisor should follow to reap the benefits and establish better relationships with today’s customers.
1) Answer the phone correctly.
McCoy says that one of the most common refrains he hears from shops is that they can get any customer off the phone in 30 seconds or less. The reality, however, is that that’s no bragging matter. In fact, it shows you’re not effectively setting up the entire following customer interaction.
“You’re so proud that you’re getting off the phone so quick. You need to know how to set a good appointment and how to set your stage for the appointment,” he says.
By having a quick phone call, you’re not setting the right expectations and, more than anything, you’re likely perpetuating stereotypes about auto repair.
“People counter by saying customers just want to drop off their keys and be done with it, but we’ve trained them that way by using language like, “Drop off your car,” McCoy says. “So customers come in and drop off their car. That’s exactly what we told them to do. I reframe that as “check-in time” with your advisor. It’s a whole different scenario.”
2) Create transparency with the customer.
During his time as a financial advisor, McCoy says that one of the most important lessons he learned was the power of transparency with customers, particularly as it related to advising clients on their funds and their money.
“It’s so important to not be across the table, if you can help it,” he says. “That creates a power structure. When you swing your desk to the side and work side by side with somebody, then we’re working together for your greater good. I think the exact same thing in the automotive industry.”
Think about it, McCoy says: How many times have you walked into your service department and seen three advisors deep in the counter and with the customer on the other side? There’s a barrier between the customer and the advisor, the computer is facing away from them and it’s a mystery to the customer what the advisor is even doing.
“It’s uncomfortable. We forget because we’re so comfortable that they’re actually uncomfortable,” he says. “When people tell me, ‘My customers are in a hurry,’ I always say, ‘Yeah, they’re in a hurry to get out of here.’ Because they don’t like it here. We forget that.”
Instead, he recommends advisors work side by side with the customer to create that consultative style of selling where you’re educating and adding value to the conversation.
“You’re not just trying to sell them something; you’re a valuable resource and they look to you for what they should do,” he says.
3) Look for opportunities.
Think about the last time you purchased a new vehicle, McCoy says. During the decision-making stage, did you notice more of those vehicles you were considering on the road?
“We see what we’re looking for,” he says. “You just weren’t paying attention before. It’s the same thing in the automotive industry.”
How many times have you heard the following complaints: Our customers don’t want to do maintenance. Our customers don’t want to fix their cars. Our customers want something fixed for free? If that’s what you’re looking for, McCoy posits, that’s exactly what you’re going to see.
“If we change our mindset to: Our customers want our help, they want our guidance, they want to take care of their cars—I promise you, you’re going to start seeing it that way,” he says. “I’ll wait a month to go see my dentist because he’s really good and I’ve been seeing him for 12 years. There’s someone down the street who can get me in in three days. I’ll wait because I have a relationship with him.”
So, how do you actually change your advisors’ mindsets? It starts with coaching, McCoy says. Advisors frequently get beat up by both technicians and customers, so it makes sense that they get bogged down with a negative mindset.
“It’s coaching to treat each customer like a new opportunity. My son and I sell a lot of Boy Scout popcorn. We have a saying: Some will, some won’t, so what, who’s next?” McCoy says. “We’re fired up in the morning, we’re going to go after every customers on maintenance. They tell us no. That’s fine. We go to the next customer and they tell us no. Now they feel discouraged. Third customer, they tell us no. Then we say, ‘Forget it, this doesn’t work.’
“That fourth person might say yes to everything. And you could turn them into a lifelong customer because you educated them. You missed it because you gave up three in.”
4) Work around customer objections.
Here’s a common objection from customers regarding vehicle maintenance: “I just came in here to get an oil change, not to have someone tell me everything that’s wrong with my car.” McCoy says that the key to responding to this objection effectively is, again, making yourself a resource. When the customer checks in with their vehicle, explain that a complete inspection will be performed on the vehicle and that you, as the advisor, will go over all the results at the time of estimate. If they object at that time, McCoy recommends a similar response:
I get it, Mr. Customer, but here’s the thing: Remember we were going to do an inspection on your vehicle and share the results? If I don’t do that, I’m stealing from you. What you choose to do with it, that’s your call. But it’s my job to share the information. We’re here to take care of you and tell you what your vehicles needs—those are facts.
Customers need to understand the benefits of what you’re trying to selling them, particularly if it’s maintenance related. It’s easier for a customer to understand the repairs when their vehicle is overheating, for example.
“If I’m coming in and my car is running fine and you tell me it will cost $600 to do some stuff that I don’t even know what it is, my inclination is to say, ‘My car runs fine,’” McCoy says. “We have to go that extra step and get them to understand what it is, the benefit of doing it and why they should say yes.”
Rejection isn’t a comfortable position for anyone, McCoy says, but advisors need to push through that discomfort so they’re able to maximize their opportunity with every single customer.
“Nobody likes to get told no all day long,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll say this: assume that everyone will say no. So then, when someone says no, you’re not surprised. But if somebody says yes, then it’s sweet! If rejection is too hard for you, switch your mindset and get excited for the yes.”
5) Get good information from customers.
To properly build a solid relationship with a customer, you need to acquire valuable information. That starts with the initial phone conversation, but continues with in-person conversations. Compliment the color of their vehicle, McCoy says, and ask how long he or she has owned the car and if it’s been reliable.
"Later, if they say they’re just going to sell it, you can say, ‘I’m surprised to hear you say that because this morning, we talked about what a great car it’s been for you and how reliable it’s been,’” he says.
This could start a new conversation and allow you to act as a resource for the customer as they consider the best decision to make regarding their vehicle.
6) Make sure your advisors have proper education.
Training for sales consultants and technicians is practically a given in today’s industry, but advisor training, on the other hand, is still sorely lacking.
“Advisors still struggle with using the right language because they haven’t gotten enough training,” McCoy says. “Not that they need to know how to fix the cars, but they need a basic understanding of what an ACR valve is, why do we flush coolant. You’ll be an ineffective advisor if you feel intimidated because you don’t know what you’re talking about. We hire someone who doesn't have a mechanical background or technical background, we teach them how to use our management system a little bit, then we cut them loose. Now they’re supposed to advise people on their cars when they don’t even know. They need to be able to explain it to the customers.
“They just need any basic maintenance item that is on the vehicle and a basic understanding of how systems interact with each other.”
7) Set proper expectations.
Here’s a typical incoming call from a prospective customer at a dealership service department, McCoy says: “Thanks for calling such and such dealership, how can I help you? When do you want to come in? Sure, drop your keys off then.” It’s a quick call and one that does little to set expectations or ensure your customer understands what sort of experience will be awaiting them at your dealership. That’s why setting proper expectations during the first phone call is so important, he says—and it’s not difficult. McCoy outlines a simple process every service advisor can take to ensure a successful second interaction:
- Answer the phone in a pleasant tone, state your name and ask how you can be of service.
- Then ask, "What’s your name? Have you been here before?" If they have, look them up in your customer database. If they have not, get all relevant customer information
- What’s the approximate mileage on your vehicle?
- Is there something specific that’s going on with the vehicle or is this for routine maintenance?
- What’s going on with the vehicle? How long have you noticed that? When did it start? Does it seem to happen when the car is warm or cold?
- Were there any other circumstances where it seems to happen? If the answer is no: Between now and Sunday, I’d like you to pay attention to that and see if you notice any patterns.
- If they’re a regular customer, take a peek at their vehicle history and what the recommendations were at the last visit.
- If there’s something they were holding out on last time, ask them if that’s something they want to take another look at during the appointment, too.
- Let the customer know when you have availability and find an appointment time that works for the both of you.
- Email them a confirmation.
- Explain that the check-in process will take roughly 8-10 minutes and that the advisor will use that time to obtain relevant information for the repairs.