We're all human, and especially with the servicing of automobiles and the severity of climate many of us have to deal with, it is difficult to fix 100% of the cars 100% of the time.

That said, customers will be more forgiving if the dealership's staff are pleasant, positive and willing to help.

This is why some companies are not placing as much emphasis on Customer Satisfaction Indexes and Service Satisfaction Indexes so much as Employee Satisfaction Indexes (ESI).

If your employees are satisfied, that will influence how they treat customers.

As an “in-house” fixed operations trainer, I've seen countless dealerships and countless personnel in both import and domestic stores. One thing that remains the same is that one can get an overall sense of the morale in a dealership within five minutes of talking to staff members.

Blaming others for inadequacies is one of the first indicators of poor morale among staff. Other no-brainer indicators are easier to read: lack of smiles, bitterness among employees, low enthusiasm.

But management might not pick up on those clues because if you work in the same place day after day one becomes de-sensitized to the subtle nuances of poor morale.

Larry Rozumniak, a general sales manager with numerous dealerships, says high morale is linked to “creating a safe, comfortable working environment for all employees.”

This includes not strictly abiding by that adage that the customer is always right. They're not always right.

Therefore a manager should never undermine his staff in front of a customer or side with the customer in front of employees.

Consider this scenario:

A customer picks up his car, and notices a scratch which apparently wasn't there before. The advisor says he noticed the scratch earlier when getting the VIN.

As a service manager or general manager you can do one of the following:

  • Take the side of the customer and blame the lot boy or advisor for the scratch.

  • Tell the customer that the employee noticed the scratch when the vehicle was dropped off, and consequently give it the old “Sorry, we can't help you.”

  • Apologize to the customer, take the heat, fix the scratch and “keep the customer happy.”

  • Check the loyalty frequency of the customer. If they are a good customer (see them 3-4 times a year for both maintenance and repairs), then bite the bullet and say “yes, Mr. Customer our staff did notice a scratch, however you are a good valuable customer. Let's see what we can do to fix this for you — hopefully it can be buffed out!

I'd opt for the last option. At least it would save face for the employee, and hopefully keep the customer coming back.

Considering the current economy, most dealerships have felt a pinch in September and October business. Not so with Norm Jacobs, parts and service director for a medium sized GM store.

He has consistently expanded his parts and service business, even having record months in September and October. We discussed recently some of the ways he has kept morale high in a stressful environment like a service department.

Here's how he does it:

  • Keep incentives fresh.

    If incentives, perks and bonuses stay the same all the time it is easy for employees to take them for granted. “When it becomes a normal thing, it loses its effect,” says Jacobs.

  • Set goals and challenges.

    Develop a winning team attitude. This is why some dealerships pay service advisors on “overall profitability” rather than just individual performance.

  • Build friendships and rapports in and out of the workplace.

    One dealer principal helps his staff members by moving them with his 5th wheel and trailer.

  • Get employees involved in decisions that affect them. Enough said!

  • Follow the leader.

If you are willing to go above and beyond, your employees will too.

One thing about morale — word gets around. Some stores which have consistently low CSI scores probably have consistently high attrition and staff turnover. Poor morale likely causes that.

But before you solve it, you've got to spot it. A good businessman finds out what's wrong with his operation before his competitors do.

It's not that customer satisfaction is unimportant. But employee satisfaction is more important to many dealers. That's because they know that if they have a good ESI everything else will fall into place.

Dave Skrobot, president of Dealer Strategies, is a fixed operations trainer, who's at 403-660-2760.