Every dealership service department has had customers who come in and then, for whatever reason, decline recommended maintenance and repair work. Rarely, if ever at some dealerships, is a second effort made to get that business.

Second efforts are fundamental practices in the new- and used-car sales departments at dealerships. The service department is simply one more dealership sales department. So let us apply the same logic to our service departments.

From personal experience, I found that, after calling service customers who allegedly turned down work, many of them had not been followed up with. Worse, many of those “customer declined repairs” reports were bogus. Dealers may want to consider requiring that customers, who turn down recommended service, be handed over to a manager for a save-a-customer second effort.

Here's why. First, our customers have many choices of where to service their vehicles. Dealerships sometimes are regarded as the least convenient and most expensive option, but nevertheless, many of them still end up at our stores wanting to do business with us.

If they considered our business but then turned us down, we need to know why so that we can try to save the deal and save the customer.

Second, if we let customers go, and they seek service and repair work elsewhere, why would they ever need to return to us? Can we cavalierly afford to allow our customers to defect?

Third, improved quality, reduced maintenance requirements and longer maintenance intervals mean fewer customer visits. With reduced traffic and possibly lower yields per customer, we must increase our closing ratios.

After checking the customer's service histories (both with the dealership and the factory), a manager might want to use this format when following up with a customer.

“Hi Mr./Ms.__________, this is (first and last name) at (________). I am the service manager here. First, I want to thank you for all your past business. (pleasantries may ensue, then continue) My service advisor (first and last name) advised me that you were here for ___________, and we recommended that you do ___________. I'm curious, if you don't mind my asking, why did you decide not to get the ___________ done here?”

A few customers simply will state they are not interested in servicing or repairing this vehicle with you, period, and don't call back. But most customers at this point will express their true feelings about their decision.

Some possible reasons for declining might be that the customer:

  • Was not asked for this sale.
  • Felt maintenance recommendation was unnecessary.
  • Felt repair recommendation was unnecessary.
  • Felt he or she did not have the time.
  • Needed alternate transportation.
  • Felt the price was too high.
  • Felt warranty should cover this repair or service.
  • Did not care for advisor's approach or attitude.

With initiative and creativity, every one of these reasons can be overcome, and the customer agrees to have the service work done at the dealership.

At this point, the advisor is given the repair order back or it is dispatched directly to the appropriate technician with full instructions so that “we don't fumble the ball in the end zone.”

Keep a simple log of these save-a-customer second efforts. Process customers by repair order number, advisor, reason for declining, and success or failure.

The results may point out training needs, pricing problems or personnel issues. These matters will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, then acted on.

The dealer or general manager might like to see these results along with copies of the repair orders of “lost customers.”

There may be something in this information that can help you retain more customers and create more yield per customer on needed and legitimate maintenance and repairs vs. costly marketing efforts that may yield some additional traffic at very low dollar yields.

Lloyd Schiller is chief operating officer of Dealer Service Corp., a division of NCM Associates. He can be reached at 561-575-9979.