In the sales department, well-trained personnel are trained to “slow the customer down.” Why's that confined to the showroom? Why not sit the customer down in the service department?

Service departments really should take a lesson or two from the sales department.

In the sales department, well-trained personnel are trained to “slow the customer down” or the customer will get the best price and bolt. That's not selling, it's price quoting. Who can't do that? To counteract that, good dealerships create an atmosphere conducive to selling — such as having the customer have a seat at some point in the process.

Why's that confined to the showroom? Less than 5% of dealership service departments in this country follow suit.

In the service department we see customers first thing in the morning with arm outstretched, keys in hand saying: “Hi, here to drop off my car, just the oil change and tire rotation. See ya at 4 p.m.”

The poor service advisor says: “OK,” hardly having time to get a word in edgewise, not to mention having the time to discuss services that could save the customer time and avoid inconveniences and offer services that could enhance dealership revenues.

This is the whole idea behind sit down, self-contained work stations much like the sales people's closing offices.

Why not sit the customer down in a service advisor station and discuss candidly, calmly and collectively the ifs, ands or buts of the customer's vehicle work?

That's the beauty behind service advisors' individual self-contained work stations as opposed to all those stand-up podiums from which advisors do business.

Curtis Goodwin, service manager at Southgate Pontiac Buick in Edmonton, Alberta found that the podium style “stand-up” stations unwittingly tend to rush customers out the door when they drop off their vehicles. Even General Motors Concept 2000 stores are designed with service drives and podiums where the advisor quickly collects information and prematurely bids the customer farewell.

Hours per repair order increase

When the situation is slowed down, inevitably the advisor gets more time to elaborate on the benefits of, say, new struts. Or further explain why a water pump should be replaced along with the timing belt. Or generally discuss maintenance, preventative and otherwise.

With further time to explain needed services, the hours per repair order markedly increase. At Southgate Pontiac Buick, for example, the hours per repair order for four service advisors are much higher than other stores in the region.

Improved customer satisfaction

Two common concerns for any service manager are keeping NFFs (no fault found) low while keeping FFRs (fixed first repair) high.

By slowing down the vehicle drop-off service consultation, customer satisfaction can improve. This is of course, due to the fact that situations that discourage NFFs and encourage FFRs are most often remedied by service advisors' further inquiries and broader explanations when talking to the customer. It's easier to do that sitting down.

Privacy

Privacy is an important part of self-contained work stations at the service department.

Take the customer who has a recurring problem with his or her transmission. It reflects badly on the product and the dealership's service department when everyone within earshot can hear the frustrations expressed by the customer with the troubled transmission. That's not the type of vocal customer one needs in the middle of the service drive.

“Sit down” work environments are not for every service department, nor can every dealership accommodate them in the layout of their facilities.

But the idea behind them can work in varying degrees at any dealership. The more time spent consulting and developing rapport with service customers, the greater are the chances of increased departmental revenues and increased customer satisfaction.

Dave Skrobot is president of Dealer Strategies specializing in fixed operation training, based in Calgary, Alberta. He can be reached at 403-660-2760.