When Mickey Blank became the fixed operations director at Greentree Toyota in Danbury, CT, he inherited a service department that was dead-last in customer satisfaction in their region.

Not only were the auto maker's customer satisfaction survey results bad, but Greentree's own internal customer surveys told a sad story. Not surprisingly, the dealership also was dead-last in regional service-department sales.

Blank helped change the back shop's culture from internally focused to customer oriented. His first task was to identify the problem.

“I found an operational hierarchy issue,” he says. Service scheduling was based upon the service advisors' needs first, the customers' second and the dealership's third.

For example, service advisors tended to make almost all appointments in the morning even if a customer wanted a midday or afternoon appointment.

“This was not what the customer wanted,” Blank says. “Service advisors were more interested in managing their day than pleasing customers.”

To fix that, the dealership took a page from the playbook of independent service centers and tire stores, where he began his career.

Greentree Toyota expanded service hours and began accepting immediate service appointments. That was a start.

“If you create a situation where the customer suffers, everyone suffers,” Blank says. “If you create a situation where the customer benefits, everyone benefits.”

He built consensus from both the ground up and from the top down. The process began with small changes that benefited incomes of the technicians, service advisors and the dealership.

He further addressed the concern that there would simply be too much business to manage, causing chaos on the service drive. Technicians fretted that extra business would mean new hires who would cut into their income.

Blank gained agreement from the technicians to take on the extra work with a promise not to hire new technicians. But one of the concessions was that the current staff would come in early, stay late and do whatever it took to get the work done.

“It created the situation where the technicians were coming to me and asking for technicians to be hired,” Blank says.

This helped the service department to grow in a controlled manner, reinforced the technicians' and service advisors' profitable behavior and increased revenues and customer retention.

When broached the subject of pay, production and open appointments, 30 technicians bought into a change from hourly wages to a variable flat-rate system.

This staff buy-in took time and effort, but was reinforced by his experiences and information gathered at Toyota Performance Groups, moderated by Ed Carman CEO of ATcon, a fixed-operation consultancy.

“I saw the Toyota Performance Group meetings as a tool, a method to test my ideas among my fellow managers,” Blank says.

“In fact, I saw it as an opportunity for internal buy-in with my technicians so much so that I brought two of my top technicians to a meeting so they could hear how Toyota wanted to make changes.”

His message to employees is to take care of customers today so they will come back the next time.

Value is created with retention of customers as their vehicles age, he says. “As customers log miles, you can gather $3,000 to $5,000 worth of business.”

Blank sees no reason to pack on service revenues because well-treated customers come back for more work.

As a result of the changes, Greentree Toyota went from No. 25 to No.3 in regional service sales. It is near the top in regional customer satisfaction.

“It is not rocket science,” Blank says. “It is letting employees know what is expected of them, giving them the tools to focus on the customers' needs, removing the obstacles to success and making sure pay and incentives reflected this customer focus.

“Our experience with ATcon and the Toyota Performance Groups helped enhance customer CSI and retention. It helped develop an environment that drove greater profitability and customer retention.”

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