Competitive prices and fixing it the first time are important to dealership service department customers. Yet, service that stops there falls short of building loyalty.

What customers also want from their dealership are transparency, choice and control, say fixed-operations experts and dealers.

“In fixed operations for AutoNation and now in field services for a service-technology provider, I have seen how hundreds of service managers run their departments,” says Gregg Manson, vice president-field services for Xtime, a fixed-operations software systems supplier.   

“Those dealerships having better retention, put more of the service process under consumers’ control, engage them in ways they appreciate and then sell value not price,” he says.

Otherwise, “it is my observation that $1 walks out the door for every $1 sold in parts and service, because staff isn’t engaging customers as they should be,” he says.

Dealerships still have much to learn about delivering a customer-centric service experience, says Tom Wiegand of 1TeamSynergy, a customer-retention coach and author.

“Harris Interactive says 86% of consumers stop doing business with a company because of a bad experience with the business’ people,” he says.

“The goal is to get 100% customer loyalty in dealerships and we can’t get that without the right kind of face-to-face interaction with customers,” Wiegand says. “All dealerships are stuck in process modes that are production centered, which is price-centered and not customer-value-centered.

“Price-centered engagement fails to address what the customer wants, which is a personal relationship with the dealership,” Weigand says. “Unfortunately, we’re still focused on getting customers in and out, which is not the culture that builds customer loyalty.”

In a blog, Weigand asks rhetorically why dealer service-work market share and customer loyalty continue to shrink. The LinkedIn posting quickly garnered more than 285 comments from service directors, parts directors and industry consultants.

“How about if we start treating customers like we want their business,” asks a parts manager from Minnesota. “Explain in plain English, not shop jargon, what their needs are.”

Johnny R. Skaggs, a former senior operations director for AutoNation and now a fixed-operations consultant says: “We definitely need to understand the customer and start looking, acting and performing more like those businesses to whom we gave away our service work.”

To this point, a survey by onlinemechanix.com notes 75% of aftermarket customers say the ability to schedule service appointments online is important/very important to them. Consumers want 24/7 flexibility.

Nearly 70% of customers would like online access to their vehicle service history, according to the survey.

Many service managers and advisers act as if sharing information with customers will cost the dealership money, Manson says.

“When we fear consumers, we erroneously withhold posting service prices online,” he says. “We fail to equip advisers to engage customers in price discussions because we secretly doubt their ability to adequately present and sell.”

This can drive consumers elsewhere. Manson offers tips to increase service sales:

  • Set aside concerns that posting prices online will drive consumers to get service-department prices but buy elsewhere. Use online service menus to give scheduled-maintenance prices. Use online appointment scheduling and chat to give customers control and convenience.
  • Don’t rely heavily on customers to call for appointments. Their prior experience with dealerships has conditioned them to expect the call to be put on hold, transferred or sent to voice mail. 
  • Establish pricing. In many shops, advisers set prices by default, as management has no set policy for them to follow. There’s often no agreement on price from adviser to adviser. That can create chaos.
  • Train advisers in product knowledge and interaction skills so they establish rapport with customers quickly. Train them on shop policies, procedures and retention goals for both individuals and the shop in general. Equip them with technology to support these goals. Train them to use it.
  • Stay engaged. Service managers should walk the shop and interact with technicians, advisers and customers. Where leadership is absent management fails to set goals and hold staff accountable, advisers set their own goals, sell what they want and can stumble in customer retention.

“Ninety-eight percent of adviser training still focuses on ticket and upsell production that pushes advisers to sell hard,” Wiegand says. “That does not encourage trust or build transparency and relationships with customers.”

Manson promotes offering full disclosure, readily answering customer questions and providing a reception and write-up experience that is fast and succinct.

Dealerships doing that “have the mindset that because the customer took the time to book an appointment, the shop had better be prepared and ready to engage with them the minute they arrive in the drive,” he says.

“In other words, the customer is expecting to be treated like we care.”

Jim Leman writes about automotive retail operations from Grayslake, IL.