Thursday, July 17, 2014

Is Your Service Writer an Order Taker? by Robert Spitz

Robert Spitz
Senior VP Business Development
Management Success!

This used to be a fairly simple business. The cars were simple, and repairs and maintenance were common. The cars manifested problems on a regular basis, and the owners of the vehicles knew something was wrong.

I grew up in this business and started working in shops in the late 1960’s. I worked primarily in import shops, what we used to call foreign cars. The first job I had was a decarbonization job on an Austin Mini with less than 40,000 miles on it. This was commonplace - brake pads every 10-12,000 miles, front end work and clutches, tune ups every 6,000 and 12,000 miles (and boy did those cars need tune-ups!), not to mention constant exhaust work.

We didn't need to be great salesmen. Customers came in and told us what the problem was. We told them we’d fix it, and we’d give them a call when it was done. We didn't even have to give them an estimate. 

That was a long time ago, and a lot has changed, starting with the cars. The modern car is vastly superior to the older cars and does not need the constant attention of the cars of yesteryear. (Did you know a model T Ford needed to be serviced every 100 miles?) However, the modern day car does need to be serviced! One of the problems is the new technology seems to be able to mask problems that used to have customers coming in the door. Engine lights come on, but the car seems to be running fine, until it doesn’t anymore. Then the customer gets shocked with the price to replace some component that might not have needed to be replaced prematurely if the vehicle had been maintained properly. 

It’s not that preventative maintenance is a new idea - it’s just that the vehicles run so much better than the old cars that it can lull customers into a false sense of “everything seems to be okay, I'll put it off until later” attitude.

A recent survey was done on John Q. Public and they were asked, “What do you expect out of your vehicle?” The majority of those surveyed stated, “A safe and reliable vehicle that will last a long time.” When asked, “What does it take to achieve this goal, and what does it mean to service a vehicle?” the answers varied greatly.  31% stated “maintenance”, 23% stated “change the oil”, 19% said, “keep it running”, and 15% stated “I don’t know,” and 12% stated, “fixing it.” From this, we can see that the car-driving public is fairly confused on this point. I can recall a fellow coming into a store I was running and asking how much it would be to rebuild the engine on his car. When I asked him what’s going on with the vehicle, he told me, “Oh, it’s running fine. I thought a rebuild would be good preventative maintenance.” We can see the subject of servicing a car has been a source of confusion for a long time. A service writer or adviser can no longer be an order taker. The orders are not there to take. 

It has long been my experience that there are two kinds of service writers: those that make things happen and those who wait for things to happen. Which one is on your front counter? Here are some things for you to check that might help you with this evaluation:

1.     Does your service writer check the customer’s record for previously recommended services when customers set an appointment?
2.     Does he/she suggest a service at the time of the appointment if called for?
3.     Does he/she note the miles on the vehicle when customers drop off the car and suggest the factory recommended service if the vehicle mileage indicates it’s ready for a service?
4. Does he/she call customers while the vehicle is in the shop and recommend a needed service?
5.     At the end of the day, does the service writer set a new appointment for the next needed service?

The above five points are just an example of what a good service writer should do to generate business for the shop. There are many other points that good service writers do on a daily basis. Another critical point is taking the time to educate customers on what they are driving and how to keep the vehicle in top-notch condition. They should be educated as to why they should do preventive maintenance. 

When this is done honestly and sincerely, the service writer is demonstrating care for the customer. That is what every owner is looking for - someone who will care for the customers the way the owner cares.

The ability to recruit the right people, hire the right people, and train them to do things the way an owner wants is an ability every owner needs in order to have a successful business. I invite you to see how you are doing in these areas. 

Visit and take the Shop Owners Free OnLine Analysis. You will get a visual graph that will show you where you are strong and where you could use some improvement in your business. I’ll even have a consultant evaluate it for you, free of charge. Do it today!