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Jason Unrau

Jason Unrau Freelance Contributor

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Improving Service Efficiency for the Customer

As a former service advisor for one of the busiest Chevrolet dealerships on the prairies, I know firsthand how many customer interactions frontline staff have on a daily basis. It becomes so incredibly easy for the job to take on a factory-style assembly line feel. One after another, you check customers in for appointments, send them on their way, call them with an estimate, and call again when their car is ready.

Some days, you feel like you hit a rhythm and things are great. You’ve written 15 to 20 customer ROs or maybe more, you haven’t forgotten any phone calls, and all the work is done at the end of the day.

But for some reason, the customers don’t seem impressed. The problem is this: the workflow has become about YOU, not serving the customer to the best of your ability.

Not Always the Advisor’s Fault

Honestly, I get it. With as busy as it gets in the service department, it’s might be all you can do to keep your head above water. There are days where you just have to push through the heavy, hard parts of the job – expensive estimates, unhappy customers, and people who don’t have the same passion and care as you do. Those days happen.

However, some days become self-centered when the service department should always be about serving the customer. To do that well involves determining the customers’ needs and finding a way to make their experience better.

Making the Shop Process More Customer Friendly

One of the things I hated about being a service advisor was managing expectations, both for the technicians and the customers. There are two very different views:

  • The technician thinks, “My time is valuable. For every five minutes I’m waiting for the customer to approve this work, I lose $XX dollars. I’m kicking it out – I can always bring it back in later.”
  • The customer thinks, “I’m paying my hard-earned money to have ABC Motors service my vehicle. If they won’t respect my time, I’ll just take it elsewhere.”

A technician expects a fast answer for upsells and estimated repairs. A customer expects fast service for the expertise at the dealership.  But only one of those opinions truly matters – the customer.

How Does the Service Advisor Factor In?

To manage these expectations falls on the service advisor largely. It becomes their job to contact the customer quickly, sell the work, add the RO lines, and get the technician rolling. But the customer call isn’t always quick as the tech wants or the call goes a different direction than expected.

With a few adjustments to the service process, it can serve both the customer and the technician well… especially the customer.

  • At service checkin, ask the customer for a pre-authorization. “Mr. Jones, if the cost to repair your brakes is under $300, should I have the technician proceed? Or would you prefer I call you first?” With an option to approve a pre-authorization as well a ceiling for that pre-auth, around 70% of customers will give the go-ahead. You’ll still need to call before the vehicle is ready, but you’ve bought a bit of time.
  • During checkin, confirm the fastest method to reach the customer if necessary. Offer text messaging, phone calls, or emails. With smartphones, most customers can respond quickly if they know it might be an urgent call about their car.
  • Adjust the workflow to diagnose and estimate concerns before preauthorized maintenance and repairs. With a diagnosis complete, the tech can move onto the other services while you reach out to the customer. It’s a common process for many dealers already, but certainly not all.

It’s All Contingent on a Few Basics

Any of these suggestions can be used to improve the service process. For them to be effective, a few things need to be in place.

First, a walkaround has to be done on every service drive check-in. Every time. No exceptions. This builds trust that you’re caring for their car and, ultimately, for the customer.

Second, the customer has to be convinced that your pricing is competitive. If you don’t have regionally competitive service pricing, there could be a delay in an approval if they feel the need to call around for quotes first.

Third, and most important, it’s all in the customer’s hands. Follow the customer’s lead in how they want to be treated. If they want to ask more questions or need some extra time to make a decision, give it to them. Being pushy or trying to fit a customer into your ‘box’ won’t work. You’ll just tick them off.

With new car sales trending downward, dealerships will be relying more heavily than ever on their service departments to attract, serve, and keep the customers. Do your part by making the experience about the customer, not about you.


Carl  Nyman

Jason, excellent treatment of how to improve or at least focus on what's important!  "Making the experience about the customer" is so vital and really is the most important activity. Great post!

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