I was consulting in a mid-sized GM dealership one evening. The service manager and I were looking through carefully prepared pre-write packets (menu, history, pre-write, recalls, MPI, and notes), to determine how well the service advisors had pre-loaded each technician for the next day. We had initiated the shop pre-load strategy so that the advisors could demonstrate that they understood shop loading, especially creating a successful workplan for each tech and each customer. It worked so well, we decided to maintain the idea permanently.
We were examining the usual – workmix/skill-set distribution for each tech, individual and total shop load, additional sales opportunities, time in vs. promise out, customer wait load, carryovers, etc. Generally, we were pleased except in one instance where a skilled tech had a valuable stall tied up all afternoon with a disassembled truck. Worse, the tending advisor still had not received authorization for the fix. As a result, the next morning this highly productive tech would be facing the same salty situation, and stall space was very limited to boot.
Further investigation revealed that the young service advisor had given the customer a whopping $2,900 estimate to replace all the brake lines, hoses, brake pads, and calipers. Here was the catch – this rusty rascal was a very high mileage 2001 model beater. Fortunately, the advisor was still in the building, like Elvis, so we questioned him about the thinking behind the estimate approach.
He explained that the technician said the caliper bleeders were rusted (might not be removable without damage) and that the job was very difficult. They decided that the best thing to do was to construct an estimate with the worse case scenario (and plenty of tech hours too). The quoted calipers were genuine OE and the set of four retailed for around $1,000 alone sans pads. The advisor clarified that he had contacted the customer early in the afternoon and explained the situation in “detail”. The customer replied that he would talk to his parents to see if he could borrow the money from them – no word since. He noted that the customer had been a regular for quite a while according to the history record.
I was familiar with caliper pricing and told the service manager that I have seen those particular calipers (from my own shop) available for $40 to $50 cost in the aftermarket to any walk-in customer. I pulled up some examples on the Internet from local suppliers. The manager was not pleased with the approach the advisor and tech had taken, and he was concerned that the customer might be getting a “rip-off” impression based on the pricing alone.
Follow-up or down
The manager was acquainted with the customer from the many times he had visited the shop. “I better call him right now,” he said to me. Well, the phone call was timely. The customer told the manager that a flatbed was on the way to the dealership to pick up the truck, because he called around and found that a local independent garage would do the job for $1,500. Thankfully, the service manager was able to stop the pick-up process, and using loaded (with pads) Aftermarket calipers a revised estimate came to $1486. Both the job and the customer were saved, and OE parts were used on the rest of the job.
I am certain similar situations are repeated by the hundreds each day in dealerships across the country. Inexperienced narrow-centered service advisors, with no exposure to the whole of the auto industry, are tossing out questionable estimates which end up driving off valuable customers, even when the job is completed anyway (as you know most don’t complain, they just don’t return)
Since most dealer service advisors, even the ones with 20 years of experience (or one year’s experience 20 times), are so ineffective in managing estimates, it seems wise for service mangers to integrate themselves into at least the higher dollar ones before they are dumped on the customer. I can’t help but notice that current-day service managers are being deluged with paperwork, needless phone calls, hour- long management meetings which should have lasted 10 minutes, and customers telling their life stories.
With the upcoming customer RO count collapse in 2011, customer retention has reached the critical stage. Get an admin to run interference or a blow-up doll to occupy the service manager’s chair (not that kind); but in any case it is past time to get the service manager’s experience and skill out of the office and into the service process. Preaching over.