The understatement of this century might be: “We are in a tough business climate.” Yes, business will improve and all of us will become stronger for having experienced this and for taking the steps necessary to grow in trying times.

Much has been said about right-sizing your operations. This is a step I trust most of you have taken. This month, I'd like to focus on a process that may assist you in right-sizing and provide a higher level of customer service at the same time.

During a recent 20 Group meeting, I was asked if I knew of any dealerships where the cashier position had been eliminated and the work reassigned to the service advisors, parts department and body shop personnel.

Before I could answer, two or three members said, “We are doing that.” They went on to explain the reasons they eliminated this one position and the benefits they have experienced.

Let's consider the customer experience. In many dealerships, customers line up in the mornings to drop off their vehicles for service. Eventually the customers speak with a service advisor and then are taken to a rental counter or a holding area for shuttle service where they again wait.

Now, let's fast forward to the afternoon. In many cases, customers have called in advance to ensure the vehicles are ready, then arranged for transportation to the dealership to get their cars.

Once they arrive at the dealership, they ask the person dropping them off to wait just in case there is an issue. The customers go inside and, in many cases, are directed to the cashier window where they again line up.

They eventually get to the cashier, but may have questions about service performed. The cashier asks them to wait. The service advisor is summoned. Eventually, the service advisor arrives and provides an explanation to the customers, who then pay the cashier.

The customers return to the service drive where, after letting the persons who dropped them off leave, the receipt or their keys are provided to a porter who will then retrieve the vehicles. The customers depart the dealership.

Let's now replay this scene, or at least the retrieval of the vehicle portion.

During the afternoon the customers receive a call from the service advisor making them aware their requested vehicle service has been completed.

The service advisor asks if it is convenient to review the services performed and, if so, could he or she e-mail a copies of the completed repair orders. Once the customers have received the e-mail, the service advisor proceeds to explain the repairs and answer any questions.

Once the customers are satisfied with the explanation, the service advisor asks if they would like to put it on the credit card the dealership has on file. The advisor then tells them their vehicle will be in the dedicated express delivery area.

When they arrive at the dealership that afternoon, they will only need to present identification and they will be given their keys with the convenient location noted. Inside the vehicles, they will find copies of the repair orders and their credit-card receipts.

Let's think about parallels to other services customers utilize today which, by the way, is how we are measured.

We all know at airports we can now skip a rental car counter and go straight to our cars. In selected hotels, you can now go to the front desk, show your identification and be given your keys. In many airports today, there is a service that allows travelers the chance to avoid the long wait in security lines and proceed directly to the scanner.

Is the latter process, I've described one that could improve your customer's experience while eliminating a position in your dealership?

Good selling!

Tony Noland is the president and CEO of NCM Associates, Inc. He is at tnoland@ncm20.com.

Questions or comments about this column? Send us an e-mail at Dealers@wardsauto.com.