So after working first as an advisor, then to a service manager, and then to a fixed operations director for an Asian Manufacturer franchised dealership, I can tell you that maintenance plays a huge part in your shop’s productivity, your guest’s happiness, and your profitability. It’s a win-win-win.
I think the Asian imports got a reputation for being better in quality a year ago. Now while I don’t really know the planned obsolescence of these vehicles vs. Domestic vehicles, I can tell you that most of the Asian did NOT have huge breakdowns, and the repairs per ownership were less.
When Asian vehicles were released in the U.S., people were told that these vehicles would last longer and would be a better investment but you have to follow the maintenance. In fact, our dealership’s service department spent just a few minutes at the guest’s initial visit to review the upcoming services. There was a booklet with the vehicle that had each service, and we had a rubber stamp that we would certify the service had been completed in that booklet. Guests, once trained, would bring us their booklet when they brought the vehicle in for service. And when we had completed the service, the owners wanted to be sure that the booklet had been stamped.
Now things are a little different. Manufacturers are looking at ways to delay service visits, whether that’s in the form of synthetic oils with longer lives, or engineering of stronger suspension parts. In fact, little information is shared as to the expense of maintaining a vehicle. But the truth is that you MUST maintain your vehicle if you want to reduce repair expense and inconvenience. No one can argue with the thought that if you maintain your vehicle, you have less chance of bad things happening. In the service business we take that for granted.
So what’s missing? Communication. Back in the day, maintenance books were a mere 20 pages or so. They were easy to read, and easy to understand. Today, a maintenance booklet can be as many as 400 pages plus. People will take the time to read a 20-page booklet as in the past. Nowadays, people want things simple and easily fed to them. Oh, yeah, it’s the same. We just make a more complex engine and system that requires much more service, right? Wrong.
The manufacturers have continued to stretch the recommended maintenance on almost every vehicle. Let’s just look at the oil changes at 3,000 miles. Some of you may still be recommending this, but I urge you to Google information about some aftermarket oil change centers who are up against charges because of their business practices. Back on topic, the manufacturer’s then moved the oil changes to 5,000 miles, and NOW some are at one year or 10,000 miles.
The bottom line of all this is our responsibility to communicate these needs with the customer. Most people think that doing an oil change is enough; and, if they are going to really keep great care of their vehicle, then they will rotate their tires. It is not the norm for a guest to bring in their maintenance book and ask what they should be doing.
The role of the service advisor is to interrupt this thinking and to begin the old process of bringing awareness to what additional maintenance on the vehicle the guest should have performed. Listen I am not talking fluid flushes only. And here’s the problem with fluid flush programs: We concentrate on the flushes, and NOT what the guest needs. I have seen a guest or two in my consulting years leave a dealership with $600 worth of flushes and they won’t be able to see when it rains because no one checked the wiper blades. I’m not saying that flushes are bad; I’m just saying that we can go sideways when we rely on flushes only to serve our customers. We need to follow a guide, a program, which will allow us to be thorough and help our guests. Most manufacturers have this program on their websites. But rarely do I see an advisor reviewing these with their guests.
Multipoint Inspections. Multipoint inspections do NOT serve as a replacement for suggesting maintenance. In fact, I review Multipoint Inspections to see if technicians are making maintenance suggestions. They shouldn’t be. Here’s why. Technicians usually don’t review the history of the vehicle. And, when I ask the technicians why they are recommending maintenance, they tell me that they do it because the advisors don’t recommend. When I ask them how they recommend the maintenance, I am told that they recommend the maintenance based on the mileage. This can leave you in a very uncomfortable position if your advisors sell a service which may have just been completed earlier this year. Don’t take that risk. Our advisors should be reviewing history and making sound maintenance recommendations based on the manufacturer’s severe conditions. In most states, this will apply…um…maybe not Hawaii. Most states’ temperatures either go over 100 degrees or way under 0 degrees. That’s pretty severe.
With the average age of a vehicle now over 11 years, would you think these vehicles need more maintenance, or less maintenance? If you guessed “More,” then you are correct. Yet, when I see advisors pricing out repairs, rarely do they price out the maintenance needed to get the vehicle up to date. If a guest is making a decision to spend the money on the repair, wouldn’t it be nice to have a total estimate so that they can put their mind at ease? What about if a guest is financing the repair through a loan or credit card and we haven’t quoted them the whole scenario, aren’t we presenting ourselves as incompetent? I know, that’s rough, but you get the idea. And the idea is not wrong.
So, once you make a commitment to communicating with the guest about maintenance, then you will have some successes. When you have these successes, your shop will become more productive. Most technicians can perform all of the services that you have just sold. And, most technicians can beat the clock-time to perform these services. That means that a commission technician will take home more money this week. And, because you have a happier technician, life is better for you. Ok, maybe not. But if you’re on commission, you will also take home more money.
Ethics. The best way to ally guests and earn their loyalty is to be loyal to them and do what is right for them. If you sell prematurely or sell too much, then you are taking advantage of them. If you don’t communicate and undersell the guest, then you are NOT taking care of the guest. If they don’t know what they need at the end of your write-up, then you are negligent. I know that’s rough, but I always tell advisors that I want them to treat their guests like they are my Mom. My Mom doesn’t read her owner’s manual, and if she understands the importance of a service and sees the value, she will buy. We owe it to our guests to be prepared for their visit, to review the maintenance history, and to make great recommendations for them. Our job is to keep their vehicle in the most safe, most economical condition possible.
Extended Service Contracts. If your guest has an extended service contract, performing recommended maintenance in the correct cycle is imperative. Remember, extended service contracts are insurance policies against breakdowns and failures. In every contract it is stated that the customer must maintain his/her vehicle to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Are we putting our guests at risk if they have a problem? It would be horrible to be faced with a guest whose bought all that we have recommended, but is turned down by the extended service contract company because we didn’t recommend enough.
It’s more important today than ever. In 2013, the average guest visited service 3.4 times per year. If the manufacturers have their way it will be one time for an oil change, and twice a year for rotation. We are going to see our guests less than ever. We have got to quickly adopt a plan for recommending maintenance in order to serve our guest correctly.
While it would be nice to be able to rely on technology like iPads in the service lane to assure that this process is happening, it is still up to the advisors to perform. In about every instance of iPad recommendation, it is easy for the advisors to skip through this process. And, many iPad providers still don’t have metrics on this, meaning who is presenting and who is not.
- Are you currently satisfied knowing that your advisors are reviewing histories, and making recommendations with every guest?
- Are you currently convinced that your advisors are adding recommended maintenance to each quote?
- Do you have a written process that each advisor follows for recommending maintenance?
- Do you allow technicians to recommend maintenance?
- How do you know and can verify that the advisors are making recommended maintenance suggestions to most/all guest?
Author: Greg Criss
Greg is currently the President of Criss Automotive Consulting, LLC, which specializes in Fixed Operations including Service, Parts, and Body Shop. He is a customer retention and net profit expert and has helped dealers throughout the country. His 25 years experience in Fixed Operations, along with his teaching background, assures that he connects with his clients. He has worked with some of the top dealers in the country to improve results, and has developed the newest teaching techniques in fixed operations, and his clients include large and small dealerships throughout the United States. You can reach Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.