It's no surprise to service managers that good service advisors are as hard to find as good technicians.

How then does one find a service advisor superstar? More real-istically, how do service managers turn their existing service advisors into superstars?

No easy task to be sure. On the other hand, what separates a "superstar" service writer from a so-so service writer?

Superstars know that Mrs. Jones has to be "out the door" by 3:15 p.m. because she has to pick up the twins at 3:30 p.m. sharp. The superstar knows this because he or she has taken the time to remember Mrs. Jones, her family, her driving habits and her vehicle. This trust and rapport usually does not happen on the first visit. But it begins there.

A primary concern on every service manager's mind should be: How do we increase labor sales while keeping CSI at a respectable level?

Higher than average hours per repair order is one of the better barometers to gauge a service advisors ability to upsell required maintenance.

I dislike the term "upsell." However, it is synonymous with higher profits. And it can be done gently.

This is not exclusive to dealership service departments either. For instance, I recently bought a suit from a prominent men's wear chain. After the alterations were complete I was kindly escorted to the haberdasher section that included shirts, ties, socks and belts. I went there to buy a suit, but I walked out with a full ensemble.

That's not unlike when customers bring their vehicles in for service.

They come in with a primary concern, be it an oil change, timing belt or a complaint that the air conditioning is not working. The superstar realizes that the customer is past due for the 20,000-mile service. More important, the superstar believes that proper maintenance saves the customer money and inconvenience down the road.

Moreover, the superstar can explain the benefits so the customers don't feel like they're being up-sold.

That's why the superstars have consistently higher dollar amounts per repair order while their counterparts are just "taking orders" from the customer.

When I was a service manager, the first thing I did was get the service writers off their butts. Dealerships with service drive-throughs have an advantage over dealerships that do not.

That's because the service advisor can walk around the car and refresh the customer's memory as to other things to fix on the car while it is there. Potential add-ons will go unnoticed if a service advisor is constantly sitting on his or her stool looking at the computer screen.

The walk-arounds also give the service writer a chance to inspect tire wear, door dings that could be touched up or whatever.

Some of you may be thinking that the service advisors don't have time during the morning rush to perform such extra things. Maybe not. But what about the vehicles that arrive at 9 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 10 a.m. or some other non-peak time? Opportunity missed is opportunity gone!

Assertive service departments even go so far as to encourage road tests when the vehicle hits certain mileage. These are test drives with the customer riding in the passenger seat.

Is this aggressive? Perhaps, but analyze the situation. People become accustomed and desensitized to noises, squeaks and poor driveability because they drive their vehicles every day. They don't realize shortcomings until someone else drives their vehicles and points out what's wrong.

In this new age of maintenance times spread out more and more, warranty repairs decreasing steadily and competition popping up we need service superstars now more than ever.

Dave Skrobot is a customer service and retention trainer based in Calgary, Alberta. Ron Brown, service manager at Carter Chevrolet Oldmobile, North Vancouver, B.C., contributed to this article.