Regularly I encounter owners, managers and factory folk wondering how much total service department payout is available, and for how many support people. The reality is that the need for additional support staffing has been constantly building on dealer service. Much of this has been created by persistently dropping hours per repair order, persnickety CSI measurements, and growing customer expectations, compounded by the unfortunate promises of no appointment needed to a growing group of demanding and restless natives. Note: more expenses.
It wasn’t that long ago that a dealer service writer could make a nice living managing 15 repair orders per day, while a technician needed four max to produce over 100% output. Now, in many franchises that number is 25 to 30 for the writer and nine for the tech. At the same time, many new facility designs are, well, non-functional to the flow (somebody please tell snooty architects to ask dealer personnel how they discharge business before they design – I beg you), placing even more strain on the high-pressure service process. The icing on this pathetic cake is the quickly disappearing vehicle maintenance requirements, crashing warranty needs and shrinking internal work. What’s a boy to do?
Oh, I left out the fact that the gross profit margin on new vehicles has never been smaller, leaving many, if not most, new car departments bleeding monthly losses like a March downpour. Used car, service and parts departments are left with the heady challenge of overcoming this tempest of red every month. Since “personnel” is the number one category of expenses (by a mile), more and more needed support personnel (say: non-productive, meaning they ain’t creatin’ greenbacks) is tossing more water on this proverbial deluge.
So far, the prime answer to this growing financial fiasco from professional soothsayers has been to establish some type of even faster uncontrolled service offerings, needing additional costly support people, lowering hours per RO and at an even more pathetic effective labor rate. Yikes! Oh, I forgot that creating a gross profit killing coupon-dependent society of penny-pinching service purchasers is a vital part of this answer too. What am I missing?
It’s easy to whine and point out problems, but it does relieve some overt stress. What most franchise service and parts managers need is more meaty repair orders, and satisfied customers, conditioned to continually purchase maintenance services and needed repairs at the dealership, and for the same reasons they choose to use independent shops after the warranty ends and a few more miles are clicked off.
Let’s identify what most successful independent shops don’t provide: shuttle service, free coffee, Saturday hours, WiFi, sexy maintenance menus, dirt cheap oil changes, quick service, tires, car washes (unless it’s raining), loaners, cute cashiers, main street locations or lifetime warranties. Is this stuff working as planned?
What they do provide is aggressive coaching, leadership, in-depth skills, multiple pricing options and fixes, combined with a commitment to top-shelf quality even if a couple teeth are missing. They do stay until the job is done, and they do treat each customer like a family member. No fluff, no energy expended on gratuitous add-ons, and no beating around the bush in any conversation. They don’t refer to an unknown (hidden in the bowels of the facility) tech’s opinion and they don’t refer to anyone else when discussing various parts options. If they don’t know something they admit it, find the correct information, and move on. The only person or entity they have to please is the customer, so that is the 100% focus of their effort.
Here’s some sage advice to your assistant manager staff (ok, service advisor to some), which will in time create substantial customer retention (without cheapening the relationship with giveaways), and even excited referrals (the very best type of new customer).
Rule one: Never, ever contact a customer with an additional purchase option before viewing the need(s) yourself, then receiving three distinct pieces of information from the performing tech. What it is, why it needs to be done and the BENEFITS the customer will receive from the purchase. The benefits (you know, what they are buying) will make them love you.
Rule two: When available, always (not sometimes) investigate the purchase options available to complete the service or repair before the customer contact. Always shop on behalf of the customer – give them all the options and a well thought out recommendation– they will love you even more.
Rule three: If the customer is on the premises, escort them to their vehicle and together with the tech (yes they should meet their tech dude), review the needs and options thoroughly. Always make a reliable recommendation regarding the selection, along with the reason(s). Act like the expert – they will love you forever and you may get a hug.
Rule four: Always save the parts removed from the vehicle – don’t ask, just do it. Make it point to show them to the customer during your active delivery and offer to give them such (they won’t want them, don’t worry). They will love you for the thoughtfulness. Oh, and schedule the next visit now – at least the month.
Rule five: In a couple days call the customer’s home and leave a message checking up on how the vehicle is performing. Tell them you appreciate them and that you look forward to seeing them at the next required service visit – this love will extend to a free adult beverage at Christmas from them.
Rule six: There is no crying in service, so stop it.
I have developed an easy to read and use matrix identifying service support staffing and the related budget for various size service operations. If you want a copy send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put on the subject line: Support Staffing: Dead Weight. I’ll send it on quickly before the next storm.