DEALERSHIP SERVICE DEPARTMENTS: MAKE A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION
As the recession loosens its tight grip on our economy and businesses, vehicle sales have begun to steadily climb nationwide. As a result, a very important decision is looming for auto dealers. Many of the customers that are purchasing today are doing so for the first time in several years. As they return to the dealership, what customers find and experience today will redefine their expectations and impressions for the foreseeable future. We are getting a second chance to make a first impression.
The auto industry, from the manufacturer down now has an unprecedented opportunity to alter the once speculative impression that most consumers have had regarding the dealership service business. So far, in my opinion, only General Motors and Ford have seized this opportunity and began to campaign to change the image of the dealership service department. Their television ads are compelling and insinuate that things are different and for the better. They push to inform customers about the advantages of factory trained experts and products. All good and long overdue.
But when a consumer returns to the department, is what they experience going to be different or just more of the same? Is anything really going to be different?
The following recommendations are mandatory for every dealer and manufacturer that strive to prove that things really are different and the dealership service experience is worth the customer’s time and effort.
- Drop the aged mind set of “Service and Repair” and embrace the mindset of “Service and Service Retail”. You are in a retail business that sells services and products. For this reason, the experience your customer receives will have to match that of what would be found at any major retailer. You have to look, act and feel like a retail establishment. If your customer is a Nordstrom’s or Macy’s customer, mimic them. If they are comfortable with Target, or find themselves steering towards Wal-Mart set out to mimic the corresponding experience. Although all of those retailers are vastly different in what level of product and service they offer, all are bright, exciting places to visit. The have set an expectation that consumers expect.
- New service and product displays are a must. It pains me as a retail salesman to walk into your service departments and literally get smacked in the face by all of the missed opportunity. If you even have displays, as most do not, they are often so outdated and irrelevant they are more an eyesore than anything worth displaying. Your retail space should be used to generate sales and inform customers. For example the average tire stores have set the benchmark with tire walls that have 30 plus tires on them with three rows from floor to ceiling. The top row labeled “best”, the middle “better” and the bottom “good”. All the tires are either mounted on chrome wheels or have perfectly fitting center product information cards. These displays are engaging, clean, and exciting! They have these world class displays not only for the tires they sell, but similar displays for all the products they display and their sales staffs know how to sell from them. The bottom line is, if your displays do not look as crisp and sharp as the aftermarkets stores you will perceived as not being so. Even stores that are low on space can create displays through the use of monitors and flat screen televisions.
- Quick lube or Quick Service. This is a decision that many have been straddling the fence on for years. The bottom line is you have to be in this business and the quicker you get in the better. You exist to serve your customers automotive needs, and customer’s demand full service. When McDonalds’s restaurant first opened it was known as McDonald’s Hamburgers. Today it is simply known as McDonald’s. You know why? Because they realized that they existed to fill all their customer’s needs. Today the menu offers hamburgers, chicken, fish, salads, breakfast, desserts and kids meals. It’s not just fast food hamburgers anymore, its fast food everything. Their insight into identifying and meeting customer’s needs has been one of the biggest contributors to their worldwide success and why they outnumber other food franchises by 3 to 1.
If you can expand your preconceived notions of why you exist to be just a bit broader you can put a big hurt on the independent and chain quick lube stores that still view themselves as existing only to serve a narrow market. All they exist to offer is quick lube and very little else, just like KFC offers chicken and very little else.
You can offer Quick Lube plus repair, maintenance and warranty – and you should. Be a true one stop shopping experience. What has kept the quick service business from catching on at most dealerships is that the idea is being over thought. It’s really not that hard. Hang a sign that says “Quick Oil Change” or “Quick Service”, make some very minor internal adjustments, promote from within and promote outwardly to the community. Make sure that your staff understands that “Quick” is on the outside of the building to bring the customer in, their job on the inside of the business is to inspect the vehicle and make the customer aware of all needs. This insures profitability through Quick Service.
Although building separate buildings, service lanes and the like are not bad ideas if you have the room and means to do so, it is not an actual requirement for your dealership to accommodate the extra business.
- Extended Service Agreements. There is simply no excuse for not selling extended service agreements on the drive. Period. With people driving their vehicles longer, putting more miles and wear and tear on them, the need for this product has never been greater. And with the recent advancements in software, it has never been easier to sell it on your service drive utilizing the skill of your service advisor. This is another idea that has been over thought. This is one the easiest and most profitable products that you can sell on your drive. It is a product that is a true win – win for everyone. The manufacturer, dealer, manager, service advisor and customer all win. America loves insurance. And more now than ever customers are taking measures to protect themselves against unexpected crisis.
To make this venture successful you have to be willing to do four things; pay the advisor the same as you would pay an F & I salesperson, allow the profits to stay in the fixed ops department in which it was sold, be willing to invest in the very inexpensive software to make the transaction lighting fast (less than 3 minutes), and be willing to train your staff how to expertly execute. What’s at stake? Consider this, if your F & I department has the national average of a 46% penetration at the time of the vehicle sale in extended service agreements, that means that potentially over half of your customers that purchase a vehicle at your dealership and return for service do not have an extended warranty. Imagine what the profits could be if you got just 5% of them each day to invest in one? Huge profits are at stake. So don’t allow shortsightedness and some whining from the F&I department to be your excuse for not buying into this sure fire profit maker.
- Late night and weekend Hours. This always causes a firestorm as we saw from the last few issues of Fixed Op’s Magazine, but this is an issue that not only needs to be discussed but discussed and reviewed on a semi-annual basis. You have to look at the community that you are in, what your competition is doing and then decide from there what is best for you and your business. I know that late night evenings and weekend hours are never fun to consider, let alone actually work, but your complaints will fall on deaf ears. Years ago when my team was in the Super Bowl for the first time, I spent the first quarter on stage at the NADA convention presenting a workshop. Three out of four of my last four birthdays I was flying to, was at or flying home from a workshop. And since the start of this year I have spent 3 out of 4 weekends, out of town away from my family working. My situation is real simple, if I refuse a job when someone calls, they will simply pick up the telephone and call someone else. The NADA, a manufacturer or a dealer group is not going to plan an event around my schedule and a customer won’t plan their schedule around yours when they can find someone else that will accommodate them just as easily.
In closing this article out, I believe that you should act to the affirmative in all of the areas to some degree or another. The sooner you do, the sooner you will reap the rewards. The “new” economy that emerged over the past several years has created a very unique opportunity we all must seize, we are getting a second chance to make a first impression.
Right, wrong or indifferent, that is the way I see selling from perspective.
About the author: Jeff Cowan, in his 30th year of Service Department Sales Training, is recognized as the creator of the modern-day, walk-around and selling processes for dealership service departments and after-market auto service repair shops.
You can see him on a weekly broadcast of CBT News and read many of his published articles on various automotive publications. Currently partnered with NADA, EasyCare, NCM, Marellen, and other vendors and manufacturers, Jeff is the nation’s authority when it comes to training service advisors and service support staff.
Visit his website at AutomotiveServiceTraining.com get info on On-Site Training, Public and Private Workshops, DVD Training Program, Webinars, and a FREE trial of Virtual Training! For more great tips and advice, follow Jeff on Twitter at@JCowansProTalk. He’s also on Facebook, and Google+. You can also watch Jeff Cowan’s videos on YouTube!
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