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July 31, 2001 20:15:35
Fixing the Service Lane Cattle Drive

Ed J Kovalchick
Net Profit Inc

The list of weighty items a professional service advisor has to be able to perform well is quite extensive, and when reviewed in detail, creates an exhausting array of seemingly impossible accomplishments.

Some of the more crucial skills necessary include the ability to sustain a friendly, but empathetic problem-solving attitude, maintain an aggressive pace, be up-to-date on vehicle functions and technical aspects, type expertly, demonstrate phone skills in a multitude of situations, while practicing people, estimating, memory, and learning skills. Whew!

As I was teaching a training course recently, I was discussing how important the analysis portion of vehicle write-up is, and how “problem location and confirmation” can only conducted at the vehicle with the customer present. Everyone lamented the fact that the computer had taken the place of the customer's vehicle as the center of attention during the typical morning repair order write-up chaos.

While discussing how to conduct the mandatory what, where, when, who, and how long customer questioning process, we performed the function both at a standard desk and then at an actual vehicle, during the role-playing sequences. While going through the analysis process at the vehicle we were able to examine the actual concern, attempt to duplicate it, and explain the important functions of many of the vehicle's components.

My experience is that service customers are looking for the “car doctor”, and we had better be able to demonstrate our doctoring abilities if we are serious about maintaining long-term relationships. It's no secret that after customers abandon the dealership, they tell us in focus groups and mail responses that they were looking for someone they could trust. It would not be difficult to ascertain from that observation then that they don't trust dealer people. They will bear with our lousy write-up processes when the vehicle is covered by warranty, but when they are paying they simply bailout.

The kicker of this training course was that all 14 service advisors and two service directors absolutely agreed that write-up at the vehicle was far superior as well as necessary. However, under the current cattle-drive process of customer write-up there was no reasonable way to get to the vehicle with the customer to spend time analyzing their concerns. The perfect service lane melody would have to be Rawhide, commonly known for its whip-cracking sounds and connection to the famous Blues Brothers movie hit.

That's where management's insistence on having service lane controls, plays a role in creating the kind of environment that a professional service advisor can function in effectively. No matter how dedicated a service advisor is to detailing, and even better, finding a customer's problem, the advisor can not achieve much if an aggressive, in-a-hurry group of customers are gathered like vultures waiting for prey around a prison-like computer and desk.

So here are a few mandatory service lane controls:

  1. A greeter to immediately recognize and instruct arriving service customers. The greeter's wordtrack should keep customers where they can serve their own best purposes, in their vehicle. Prospective greeters can often be found within the dealership, talking to friends, hanging around the corner smoking, or wasting time in some other creative way. Otherwise hire the Wal-Mart greeter for a couple hours in the morning.

  2. Directional and instructional signage beginning at the entrance of the property. Just be sure and answer a couple simple questions: Where do I go, and what do I do? This also helps the customer with the “who am I?” syndrome of confusion.

  3. A real honest-to-goodness appointment system, that actually controls arrival times and the shop's pre-load of production hours. Make sure your appointment system has a word track so everyone says the same thing! Most effective is the use of “Tee Times”, that is providing the customer with an arrival time that is memorable, such as 8:46, rather than 8:45.

  4. Expand the Early Bird write-up system to a 24-hour write-your-own repair order plan. Why does a customer bringing in a vehicle for a 7500 mile service need to see a service advisor anyway, while a customer with a real problem is hustled through the system to make room for this person?

  5. Assign every customer to his or her own service advisor. Make that service advisor responsible for his or her own group of customers, and provide the customer with a trained professional that they can learn to trust, and remain loyal to in the future, when the real money is spent. Customer remain loyal to service operations for two reasons only...someone who works there and the ability to execute commitments. Everything else is just fluff.

Let's be real, taking control of the service lane environment isn't rocket science, and it's probably little more than the exercise of good common sense. Unfortunately, in my service advisor class, not one service advisor said they were in control of their morning environment, but they certainly became excited about the possibility of getting control. It's no wonder that the average employment time of a service advisor is just over two years!

Ed J Kovalchick is CEO of Net Profit Inc, a 22-year-old international automotive manufacturer and dealer training and consulting firm located in Alabaster, Al. Mr Kovalchick is a featured speaker and instructor at conventions, 20-Groups, associations, and other automotive-related events. He also is a former dealer with six franchises. For questions call 205-663-1962, or visit on the web.





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