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Automotive Service Management Newsletter
Vol 1, No 2, March 2007

Increasing Service Advisor Sales
While Maintaining Customer Loyalty and Trust

One of the biggest challenges facing automotive service departments is insuring the customer believes the services recommended for their vehicle are really needed. In this current economy, we are in a situation where vehicles are very expensive and the customer does not have a lot of money to pour into their vehicles other than monthly payment, insurance and fuel, especially during the first few years of ownership.

Manufacturers recognize this fact and are working hard to improve the quality of the vehicle so they pay less for warranty repairs and customers have fewer repairs out of warranty. They are also working to lower the cost of ownership for the customer by using better materials, fluids and designs for a vehicle that requires less maintenance at longer intervals between those maintenance needs. Since the mid-90's, service needs on vehicles have fallen by as much as 50 percent, especially in the first 30-60,000 miles of ownership.

To make up for lost maintenance sales due to extended manufacturer service intervals, many service centers have created their own maintenance schedule that is far different from the basic maintenance the manufacturer's setup for their vehicles. Their schedules require more services done at earlier mileages with a lot of these services being expensive, like transmissions services, coolant services and fuel system services. Then the service facilities create unrealistic demands on their service advisors and mechanics to sell these special maintenance services to customers whether their vehicle needs the service or not.

The result is that these folks are pushing services that the customer does not need so the customer is paying hundreds of dollars on each service visit and not liking it. This is also very confusing to the customer with them asking, "Who do I believe, the manufacturer who built this vehicle or the folks at the service center?" So they either find a service center that truly helps them with legitimate service needs as per manufacturer guidelines or just don't have their vehicle serviced regularly, if at all.

We don't have to hit selling homeruns with the customer on every service visit to create a profitable shop because we will probably lose customer loyalty. I am suggesting that over time these little service sales add up and helps the customer feel safe in trusting the service advisor as vehicle needs are presented.

Let me give you an example: Do you believe that your service advisors could sell an average of an extra .1 labor hour per customer pay repair order? Most people feel that this is quite an achievable goal. So if an advisor was averaging 20 repair orders per day, selling an additional 2 labor hours a day, working 21 days a month in a shop with a posted labor rate of $75 per hour, that advisor could generate an extra $35,000+ a year in labor sales, not counting parts. What is interesting is that over the 20 repair orders per day, only about 1/3-1/2 will need any extra services.

Please keep in mind that I am not suggesting that advisors who are already over selling customers would still need to add even more sales. I am talking about service departments focusing on taking care of customers and their vehicles instead of trying to figure out how they can get every last dollar out of the customer on this service visit. Folks, we are not dealing with a one time hit like selling a car and the "be-back bus never comes back here." We are working hard to build long term loyalty and trust.

To do this, we are going to look at two tools that will assist the service advisor in identifying realistic, needed services for the customer's vehicle that will increase sales while building trust and loyalty. These two tools are the manufacturer's scheduled maintenance guide book and the vehicle walk-around inspection during service write-up. If the service advisor uses these tools as intended, then they will be able to advise the customer of real vehicle needs.

Manufacturer's Scheduled Maintenance Guide

Every manufacturer has a scheduled maintenance guide to help the customer understand what they need to do to take care of their vehicle during the time they own it to enhance reliability and reduce expensive repairs after warranty. In fact, a number of manufacturers now require that their scheduled maintenance be followed during the warranty period or a failed part may not be repaired if the failure of that part was due to a lack of maintenance.

This may seem like a no-brainer to review the services needed at different mileages for the customer's vehicle, but actually this can be a problem. Each different type of vehicle has different needs. Trucks have different needs than cars which can have different needs than sports cars and so on.

The rule of thumb I recommend is to ask the customer for their vehicle's maintenance book and sell by that guide. I know many manufacturers use a two tier level for maintenance, normal and severe, depending on usage and location of where the vehicle is being driven. In my experience, I can't find a situation in the United States based on manufacturer guidelines that would not require the "severe" maintenance schedule.

I recommend making it easier to sell and document these services by creating an operation code for each type of basic vehicle maintenance so that it matches the manufacturer's maintenance book for that mileage/time interval and print those details on the repair order. This will insure that the mechanic knows exactly what to do for that vehicle plus the customer is getting exactly what they expect by seeing that what is on the repair order matches the maintenance book thus enhancing customer trust. With each operation code a package price can be created for that particular service.

I know this may seem like a lot of work, but it really isn't compared to minimizing confusion for the service advisor, mechanic and customer. Every major automotive service computer vendor has the ability to create these packages based on your labor rates and parts prices. They can keep them updated on the system during the year and yearly for the new vehicle models at a modest cost.

If the service advisor is consistent in using the maintenance book, then the customer will start bringing the book to the advisor during write-up and the advisor will rarely have to ask for the book. If the customer sees that the advisor is assisting them in taking care of their vehicle by using the maintenance book, then the customer will trust the advisor and will want to return for future services.

Vehicle Walk-Around Inspection

The vehicle walk-around inspection is one of the best ways service advisors can help customers learn about their vehicle needs. Once the advisor has a good walk-around procedure learned, it should take about 1-2 minutes per vehicle to complete. The results would be noted on the repair order, or a special inspection sheet, and reviewed with the customer before leaving the service center.

The strongest point of the walk-around inspection is that the customer can see legitimate vehicle needs before they leave the vehicle with the service department. Then while the mechanic has the vehicle, they can see what needs to be done to correct these needs. The service advisor can organize a price and hopefully have the service included in that visit.

During the walk-around the service advisor will be quickly looking at these areas of the vehicle:

  • Current Mileage
  • Oil change sticker, mileage and who did the last one
  • Inspect the interior for any damage
  • Start the engine to check on any dash lights or messages
  • Test the blinkers with the key on
  • Turn on all the lights, including the emergency blinkers
  • Check for anything of value the customer needs to take with them
  • Pop the hood
  • Record VIN, if new customer
  • Inspect wiper blades, run hand down blade as they can look good but still have rough areas
  • Look at the tires for low pressure, unusual wear patterns and low tread
  • Check for any exterior body and window damage that the customer may not know about
  • Check all lights
  • Check if their vehicle license and inspection stickers are up to date
Engine Compartment
  • Do a quick check of the visible coolant and brake fluid tanks for fill level, then the mechanic can test the quality of the coolant
  • Checking oil is optional because it can take a few moments and can be messy, I suggest that the advisor definitely check it if the customer is complaining of an engine noise at startup or on acceleration
  • Check the belts for cracks, dryness or being loose
  • Check the hoses around the clamps for leaks or swelling
  • Check the battery terminals for corrosion
  • Always give a free top off of the window washer fluid. The best service centers keep several jugs in the write-up area so the customer can see it being done
The rest of the inspection can be done by the mechanic, then a full report of vehicle needs and costs can be presented by the service advisor to the customer during the status update for their main concern.

This should always be a complimentary inspection as a part of each service visit. A special operation code should be used to generate the inspection on the repair order. A value should be shown for this inspection on the repair order, then a no-charge to the customer when it is extended out. This would enhance the value of this complimentary inspection to the customer and something they will expect and want on each visit.

The main reason I see that walk-around inspections are not done more is a perceived lack of time. Both service managers and advisors feel that when the drive gets crowded they need to hurry to move the customers out. From my personal experience working with customers on the service drive, they are rarely in that big a hurry. They know it takes time to properly bring their vehicle in for service write-up and are more patient than we might imagine.

The reality of our business is that there will always be few folks that seem to be in a giant hurry. If they rush the advisor to the point the advisor is not asking good questions or going out to the vehicle to verify the concerns and not properly documenting those concerns on the repair order, then mistakes will be made in the repair. The service department could be liable for damages not found during write-up and vehicle walk-around, not to mention the lost sales opportunities.

I hope by this summer I will be able to create a basic walk-around video to demonstrate how quickly and easy this procedure can work. Until then I hope you will experiment with this tool and help your advisors find a good procedure when working with their customers.

We are in business to make money by taking care of the customer's vehicle needs. These are two tools that service advisors can easily use to build trust, loyalty and create good sales.

I believe that the highest form of CSI is not shown by the good scores on surveys the customers respond to after service visits. I believe the highest form of CSI is when the customers choose to return to spend their money at that facility again and again. What a great way to measure CSI.

Copyright, 2007, J. Daniel Emmanuel

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