Many dealerships have paid for service-advisor sales training, only to learn they wasted their money.

Dealer principals and managers often tell me they didn't receive a return on their investment of time or money in such training.

It usually comes out that their main expectation was to turn the advisory staff into “selling machines” and increase the hours per customer repair orders.

But an increase in that alone will not increase your bottom line. That way of thinking is a recipe for disaster. If the advisory staff only focuses on getting business, they show little interest in the details clients have formulated in their minds prior to the service visit. It appears to the client that the advisor doesn't care.

Focusing strictly on hours per repair can work for a while. Hours go up, and things look good for a few months.

Then the wheels fall off and the repair order counts start to plummet. The clients refuse to return because of the perceived pressure placed on them to purchase products or services they don't think they need.

All of this could have been avoided had the dealer and service management staff developed a clearly defined set of objectives for the service advisor training.

So, the following are top 10 ways to help you maximize your investment in advisor training:

No. 10. Stop looking for the magic pill! There is none! It's all about relationships!

The service advisor has only minutes to project an image to a client. This is more important than selling the business. Our objective should be about long-term clients. A good relationship establishes creditability. A retained service client is an opportunity to sell another vehicle. And we are in the car selling business, right?

No. 9. Improve your “non-verbal” communications. Your advisors are “the dealership” to your clients. Their words are often drowned out by their body language. Place a video camera in the service lane for a day. When you play it back, ask yourself, “Is this the level of service I want to offer?” Do your advisors look like the kung-fu fighters from the movies with all the movement? Are they really showing a genuine interest in the client's concern?

No. 8. Don't try to change the basic belief structure of advisors. We often hold beliefs instilled from childhood. Trying to change someone is difficult. Learn the behavior and basic personality of the advisors, then design a presentation to maximize the skill sets of each individual, while still accomplishing your objectives.

No. 7. Stop using “cookie cutter” presentations. Your service-sales process must be designed for you and your dealership. It must be based on your products and your business philosophies. These are key components of a successful process.

Your trainer should develop with you a customized process. You don't need them to force feed your people a process they will not believe in. Otherwise, the first chance the advisors get to stop using it, they will.

No. 6. There are no “advanced techniques” or “advanced levels,” just the advanced application of the basics. The basics have not changed. Cars need repairs and maintenance. The needs of the client have not changed, the way we perform these services has, and they require a thorough explanation to the client. An active delivery process is mandatory with every client, every time.

No. 5. The highest level of selling is when someone is being sold and doesn't know it. Can you recall a place where you felt undue pressure to make a purchase? Do you remember the negative impression you had when you left? In most cases, you will not return to that place of business.

We will buy from people we like. Consider this: How much selling is required to sell someone an oil change? As the consumer, I already know I needed it. If the client is in your service department, 60% of the decision to buy is done. Don't screw up the other 40% by pressing the client to buy unneeded services.

Focus on hitting singles, not home runs with every client. Establish creditability and recommend only the services or repairs the clients need.

No. 4. The advisors must know when to stop talking and start listening. One of the hardest lessons is to know when to shut up. I have seen countless advisors talk themselves out of a sale because no one has ever taught them to listen to the client.

A dealer gave me a saying that has stayed with me for years: “The devil is in the details.” If your advisor misses one little detail of a client's needed service, you run the risk of losing the client.

No. 3. The dealer/general manager must get involved. Most dealers and general managers are very comfortable in getting involved in a vehicle sale on the showroom floor.

But how comfortable are you with writing a repair order with a service customer? It's worth doing. Look at your financial statement and see what percentage of your net profit came from your service department.

What if you got involved with service and became as comfortable with it as you are with the sales side of the house? The results will be enormous.

Sit in on the training provided to the advisory staff. Become comfortable with the service-sales process and, from time to time, interact with service clients. You don't have to know how to fix a car to write detailed service orders. You just need a process that you and your staff are comfortable with.

Number 2. Stop focusing the advisory staff on selling business. If they are focused on selling the business only, you'll run off a lot of service clients. Our business is about convenience. Sell the effort to accommodate the client based on their agenda, not ours. An accurate work completion time is a must every time. The advisor must be trained to meet the time promised. Technicians must do their part to support this.

No. 1. Service-sales management must be involved, too. Often, the management of the process is the part that is first to stop working. As an advisor, if I'm uncomfortable using a new and improved process, I stop using it, given the chance. Management must monitor the process daily. The first excuse offered by management is: “I don't have time.” Make time. A minimum 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the afternoon can provide great returns. It must be made a priority in the daily work plan. The dealer and general manager must expect it to happen and they must follow it up as well.

In addition, service managers must be capable of providing supplemental training to their advisory staff. Once a week follow-up training on each step of the process is beneficial as well.

Service operations should have two focuses. First, they should build personal and friendly relationships with clients. Second, they should provide convenient service, based on client needs, not ours.

Lee Harkins is the president of ATcon, based in Birmingham AL. He is a 22- year dealership consultant and often speaks to dealer associations and groups. He is at 800-692-2719 and LHarkins@ATconSSE.com.