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Mark Begley

Mark Begley National Director of Sales

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Don’t give into tablet mania in the Service Department

I love my tablet! But I don’t let it get in the way of taking care of customers.

It would be great if these devices could guess what customers were going to say before they say it, but that isn’t going to happen. So what you wind up with is a certain limited core of questions that can be asked and easily answered by clicking on a button and hitting save.

That’s great if you want to turn your service department into a transaction-based business, like an express lane for maintenance, where the customer might only have seven choices available.  But after 25 years of working in dealerships, and seven of those spent running large-service operations, I have learned that the service department is far from a transaction-based business - Service is a relationship business.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are two types of people in the world: techno geeks and techno-weaks. I fall into the techno GEEK world. I use digital devices for most everything in my daily work routine as well as the majority of my personal life. However, there comes a time when you have to put the devices down and proactively listen, whether that means listening to your spouse or children at the dinner table or to a customer trying to explain what is going on with their vehicle.

The person standing in front of you is trying to explain or share something. The least you can do is put your eyeballs on theirs and listening intently to what is being said, offering input and taking notes on the important stuff. You should not be looking at your tablet trying to figure out how you are going to record the conversation, how to add that sort of complaint into the system or how to add a note regarding whom you need to contact after the vehicle is finished. The digital device between you and the customer is only adding to the distractions going on around you, shifting your focal point away from what the customer is saying and leading to a less-than-satisfactory visit.

Besides, some of the best service advisors I have met are very experienced at eliciting information out of customers that help us fix their vehicles right the first time. These advisors may not be under the age of 25 and therefore not accustomed to everything in the world having a touchpad keyboard, thus slowing them down or distracting them from what they are so good at. For that matter, some advisors I met have hands and fingers bigger than the tablet or keys they are trying to push. Can you imagine the frustration of not only the advisor, but also the customer watching this whole debacle unfolding?

And we all know how patient some customers can be when they are told to drop off their vehicle “in the morning” along with 12 other people. They are now fourth in line, late to work, and their ride is blowing the horn, urging them to hurry. All the while, the tablet just got dropped and turned off, so now we get to start the whole process over. Patience runs thin for both parties and satisfaction definitely begins to fall.

Instead, why not keep the process simple and let human interaction do what it is supposed to do – create dialog. We can call this a result-based process, but I prefer to call it customer service. How easy would it be to create a pre-write the evening before the customer arrives, ensuring all customer information is there, including address, phone numbers and email address? Highlight any area that needs to be updated from the customer as a reminder when you speak to them next. Go ahead and pull the factory report, such as a GM VIS (IVR), Chrysler VIP, Ford Oasis, etc. Double-check the report to be sure there aren’t any open campaigns or recalls (what should be called opportunities). Inquire as to the recommended factory maintenance necessary at this mileage interval and make notes on the pre-write as a suggested sale to prevent the customer from having to run back and forth to the dealership or (gulp) another service facility. And finally, pre-fill any information on a free courtesy inspection that will help speed up the process. Once this is completed (which takes only about two minutes per customer), attach these documents together and place them in an A-Z file that can be easily accessed when the customers begin to arrive in the lane.

Now when your customers start to show up, anyone who greets the customer and welcomes them to the dealership can ask their name and ask them to stay with their vehicle as they go get the “paperwork that has been prepared.” Then, they can find the advisor responsible for the appointment, place the completed packet on a clipboard and take the advisor out to the vehicle to introduce them and hand off the customer. The advisor can then put the hang tag in the window, get the mileage, review the jobs requested by the customer, perform their walk-around, review the open campaigns or recalls, review the suggested maintenance and write down (with a pen or pencil) any notes or comments from the customer that will help us fix the car correctly or fulfill their requests.

If necessary, flip the piece of paper over for an old time style 8 ½” X 11” scratchpad and take note of any special comments or instructions. Have the customer sign the pre-write just like they would a night-drop form then take them directly to their rental, loaner, waiting ride or to the service waiting area to finish their involvement in the process. The advisor can now go back to the computer and figure out the best way to write up the order or, if necessary, begin to help the next person standing in line.

This process allows you to wait on the maximum number of customers with the least amount of distractions possible. Your advisor is able to work on building or strengthening the relationship by interacting with the customer while still being able to collect all the necessary information. Sales are maximized by the homework and preparation completed beforehand, and the customer notices the amount of effort put forth by the dealership to ensure a fast and efficient visit. The mandatory walk-around is more readily completed because the advisor and customer are already at the vehicle.

** And all of this was done without the use of a tablet or any other device when the customer is present. Nothing prevents the advisor and customer from sharing critical information necessary to complete the requested repairs.

This method is only one example of how dealerships that can’t or don’t want to afford tablets – or for those who do not want to put their staff and customers through the strain of trying to use digital devices while trying to promote relationships – can still create a wonderful experience in the service lane. This method allows your advisors to build trust in the dealership by allowing them to do what they do best: Relate to the customer.

Remember, the old adage goes, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason,” meaning listen twice as long as you speak. The axiom does not include anything about a tablet or other digital device. Therefore, don’t get hung up on technology. Let your advisors do their job and build relationships!

Grant Gooley
I get the point here, human interaction trumps technology. As long as tech is used as a utility to help the process and not interrupt it, it's ok...We do use an iPad as a rewards program at service, seems to work really well. At the end of the check out, customer puts their phone number in the app to generate points. Doesn't seem to get in the way.
Mark Begley
Grant, that is a great example of how technology can fit into our process, not replace our process. Thanks for the input.

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