I was pumped to see the number of people smiling again when I had the opportunity to speak at a recent parts and service-department meeting sponsored by an auto maker.

What a welcomed sight to see industry folks in a good mood. We have a lot to be thankful for, and at the same must look back and ask ourselves what have we learned from the last several years.

Let's review some of the lessons.

Customer retention is king!

If we didn't get anything else, get this! The drop in new-car sales has caused dealerships to lose their client base and caused a sizeable drop in repair-order traffic.

We need to be geared up and get focused on taking care of the customers at each and every touch point, starting with the service write-up area. Get your advisor to smile or get rid of them. How hard is this?

Top dealer and customer-service guru Carl Sewell told me one time, “A smile can cover up a lot of mistakes.” Amen to that! The smile is an easy, first step in building a lasting relationship that will benefit your dealership for many years.

Your advisor's main task is to turn your customers into key chuckers: “Here's my keys, do whatever needs to be done.” This is the highest compliment a customer can give us. This is the level we must push everyone to strive for.

Old methods of doing business must change

No pressure! I have been in stores where the dealer said to me, “No, we never apply any pressure on our service customers.” I walk within earshot of the service lane and hear a service advisor saying, “Why not?' to the customer saying, “No, I don't want the pads replaced.”

Some would call this overcoming objections, I call it applying pressure. You have the follow-up systems, (or should have) in place. Just stay in contact with the customer. It's an opportunity that should not be missed. The consumer often is slow in making a buying decision on auto repairs. Be patient.

Customer expectations are continually changing

People are demanding a higher level of convenience. Give it to them. The structure of your service operations must support this objective and everyone in your dealership must understand it. Convenience is your future!

Stop trying to exceed customer expectations

You are chasing a moving target that some of you may never catch. I recommend that you meet the expectation on a continuous basis. Just push for consistency of product. Be consistently good. If we have a hard time getting our advisors to smile at customers each time, do you really think we can exceed their expectations?

It's about hitting singles, not home runs each at bat

Trying to hit the long ball is outdated. Learn to make money in the service department without whacking the customer over the head. Accept that the revenue per repair order has dropped.

That's why customer retention is and will be so very important in the future. I spend a lot of time with auto makers. The conversations we've had is that the future maintenance requirements will become less and less, such as 10,000 mile plus oil changes. This will require us needing every customer we have and then some. It's about the quantity of customers. You need at least three to four customers today in revenue value to make up for one customer value three years ago.

Get into tires sales — big time!

One in five service customers needs or will need tires soon. These customers are in your service department.

Even some dealerships that currently sell tires do a poor job at it. We just finished some mystery-shopping phone calls to see how some dealerships field tire inquires. What a total breakdown.

Lee Harkins is president and CEO of M5™ Management Services Inc. You can contact him at 205-747-8305 and leeharkins@m5ms.com.

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