Complimentary maintenance plans are great values to customers and in the long run to dealers.

The trend for several auto makers is to cover recommended scheduled maintenance, such as oil and filter changes, for the first 20,000 to 30,000 miles (32,000 to 48,000 km), as part of the vehicle purchase.

OEM programs vary, but the benefit remains the same: value to the customer.

Many service managers are having hissy fits and crying, “Look what they have done now. We will never be able to make money. They have given away our bread and butter.”

I try to look at things from a glass-half -full perspective. So let’s look at the positive side.

Compliments to the OEMs for fostering customer retention. Prepaid maintenance is a winner. Customers will make trips to your service department before the free maintenance ends. This gives you the opportunity to earn their business based on your performance. The level of that must be consistent and professional each time.

Plan the process. The process begins when the customer takes delivery of the vehicle. The sales-to-service transfer is the first opportunity to earn the customer’s business.

The objective is to give them an idea of what to expect when patronizing your dealership service department. Hold everyone accountable for participating in the planned process.

Salespeople should invite customers to join them on a tour of the service department, reviewing the investment that has been made in equipment, pointing out the cleanliness of the facility, noting the customer lounge and citing advantages of servicing a vehicle at the dealership. Those benefits can include genuine OEM parts, factory certified technicians, availability of parts, consumer-satisfaction ratings and awards received.

The customer needs to be introduced to someone in the service department, preferably a service adviser. The adviser should follow a rehearsed script to ensure value points are communicated. Part of the presentation should cover the complimentary maintenance services.

But what if the service department is busy and advisers are running around? Options include:

  • The service manager steps in for the introductions and presentations. I would suggest not using this option every time because you want the relationship to begin with the advisory staff.
  • Staff photos are displayed: Several clients use this approach, and it works. On a wall are pictures of advisers. Under the photos are business cards in holders. The salesperson points to the photos and reviews the process of servicing vehicle with your store.

Here are a few of the items that should be reviewed: Hours of operation; what to do when arriving for service; advantages of quick service, if offered; the appointment process; on-line scheduling, if preferred; and maintenance needs.  

The prepaid maintenance needs to have value assigned to it. What does it mean to the customer? My suggestion:

  • Develop a service menu. It is a strong selling tool. You must have one. The market is filled with all sorts of them. Pick one and use it. The requirement is simple: The adviser should review a menu during every customer interaction and sell the value of maintenance. Free or not, it’s sold the same way each time.
  • The prepaid maintenance plan is a great way to show the customer they are smart for purchasing a vehicle from a brand that offers one. It’s all about the presentation. The adviser should follow the script to maximize this important value point.

If you can earn the customer trust and build a solid relationship, you will have repeat business for a long time. As a vehicle ages, it needs more service. That is when developing a strong earlier relationship from the initial free maintenance plan pays off.

Avoid saying, “Poor me I can’t make any money because it’s all free.” Instead, think big and long-term.

Fixed-operations consultant Lee Harkins heads M5 Management Services based in Pelham, AL. He can be reached at 205-358-8717 at leesv40sw@aol.com.