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Category Archive: Service

Steve Hall

Curing the Fixed Ops Hangover

Monday morning again

What a party it was! We showed up, had a great time, talked excessively, drank a bit too much, stayed out far too late and were glad that we did it.

Glad, that is, until the next morning when we woke up and had to face reality. Now, our head hurts, our body aches and we don’t want to go to work! The only reason that we actually get out of bed and go to the office is that we are afraid of the consequences if we don’t. We resign ourselves to the mantra, “Just make it through the day.”

Hangovers aren’t just post-party events—they happen in Fixed Ops, too.

The idea of “Just making it through the day,” can occur in any aspect of our lives. You’ll often see this attitude pop up in Fixed Ops departments after month end.

Just think about it. At the beginning of the month, does your service department get off to a sluggish start? I’ve typically found that work in process is low. The team is feeling the “hangover” effect of closing repair orders while looking for those last dollars to finish the month. Many dealerships have a light appointment schedule around this time, too, as they pushed customers into those final days.

Reacting to this environment, employees just want to take a day or two to catch their breath. As a manager, you can just feel the entire department is coasting. It’s as if they too, have also adopted the mantra, “Just make it through the day.”

What causes the Fixed Ops Hangover?

If you were to review the typical advisor’s monthly sales on a weekly basis, you would find that the sales aren’t spread out evenly. Rather, the advisor sales distribution curve usually looks like this in a four-week month: 15% the first week, 25% the second week, 25% the third week and 35% the last week of the month.

It’s a cycle that feeds on itself. And whether this uneven workload is caused by the month-end hangover effect or a combination of it along with the advisors not closing tickets until the end of the month, it is a major problem.

Stopping the Fixed Ops Hangover

So, how can a manager stop this monthly hangover? I recommend motivating your service advisors with a “fast start” spiff. This could be a monetary bonus or another reward to any advisor who hits a pre-set objective for the first seven calendar days of the month. The idea is to keep your department rocking from the very first day of the month, rather than losing the first couple of days while everyone relaxes after the close.

The spiff can be set at different levels for various types of advisors; you can set different goals for the main shop and express, rookies and veterans, as long as they must work to achieve it.

No matter what goals you set, make sure they are challenging enough that the “just make it through the day” attitude cannot pay off. This spiff can not only be used for advisors but can be incorporated with your technicians’ compensation, also. Be creative, and get out of the starting blocks strong—right from the very first day of the month!

Do your service advisors and staff suffer from the “Fixed Ops Hangover?” Learn how to break the boring cycle and other useful service tips at our Service Management Roadshow

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Wayne George

More Manufacturer Recalls Are Coming: Here’s Your Checklist to Make the Most of Them


Experts believe that we’ll see more frequent and larger automotive recalls in the future, as regulatory agencies increase their scrutiny of the automotive industry. After a record-breaking number of recalls in the last few years—and today’s highly publicized emissions concerns—it looks like that is a safe bet.

Fortunately for dealers, though, owners report that they are pleased with service during recalls. The J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Customer Service Index Study found that “overall satisfaction among customers who take their vehicle to a dealer for recall-related work improved to 789 on a 1,000-point scale, up from 777 in 2014.”

It’s clear that while recalls may strain the service department, they present a great business opportunity for your dealership. Here’s my checklist to help your dealership get the most out of manufacturer recalls.

First, the basics:

  • The primary goal of every recall should be to retain all your current customers by providing them with exceptional customer service.
  • The second goal is to “WOW” any first time or former customers during this visit in order to make them or recapture them as service clients.
  • Every recall comes with problems, so get your team together and create plans that address anticipated issues.
  • Make sure every vehicle serviced is handled as you would a customer pay repair.

Now, how you can make a stellar impression and secure more customers:

  • Make sure your team has a plan in place that assures an email address is captured or verified for every recall customer that comes into the shop.
  • Specifically identify any new customers or former customers. These are people new to your area, customers that have never returned for service or customers you once serviced that have not been in during the last 6 months.
  • Have a promotional package of “Welcome” or “Welcome Back” materials that will bring these customers back to you for future maintenance. Do not sell any repairs or maintenance during this visit. Only complete the recall repair unless something is specifically requested by the customer, or if you discover a problem with a safety related item.
  • Be sure that your Service Manager (not a clerk or an advisor) contacts every one of these “newly found” customers after their visit. We want to know how the repair visit went and also want to take the opportunity to welcome them back for future service.

Have manufacturer recalls positively or negatively impacted your business? What steps have you taken to ensure you’re getting the most from these opportunities? Tell us below.

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Steve Hall

Three Hours Lost: Your Top 10 Service Time Wasters


When we ask service managers how important technician efficiency is to profitability, they most often say that “it goes hand-in-hand” or “if they aren’t efficient, you won’t make money.” While I agree with this, let’s look at it another way: time.

Here are the top 10 time wasters I’ve seen in service departments.

  1. Talking (non-productive talk)
  2. Waiting for the first job of the day
  3. Getting authorizations from customers
  4. Waiting on advisors
  5. Waiting in line in Parts
  6. Looking for or waiting on special tools
  7. Walking to Parts and back
  8. Phone calls, texts, e-mails and using tablets or laptops
  9. Smoking
  10. Arriving late or leaving early

How many hours lost?

I ask managers to make this list during each of my training sessions at the NCM Institute, and then I have them to assign time lost by activity. Sure, there are minor variations each class. But what doesn’t change is that we routinely come up with 2½ to 3 hours spent each day, not working on vehicles!

I know it is unreasonable to think that every minute can be spent on productive work, but how many of these lost minutes can we pick up?

Getting time—and money—back.

Let’s look at an example: We will figure an average shop of 12 technicians and gain just 15 minutes a day in actual production. We will use an $85.00 an hour effective labor rate and a gross profit percentage of 75%.

The numbers would look like this:

12 technicians x 15 minutes a day = 180 minutes of production gained a day (3 hours a day gained)

3 hours gained x $85.00 ELR = $255.00 in labor sales gained per day

$255.00 x 75% gross profit (labor) = $191.25 labor gross gained per day

$191.25 x 300 business days per year = $57,375 additional labor gross profit per year!

Add in corresponding parts gross generated from the labor sales, and you could earn more than $95,000 in additional fixed gross profit per year (and that is figured at 100% efficient). If they are 125%, the numbers are even larger! All of this from just gaining 15 productive minutes per day from each of your technicians.

Take the time to evaluate all of your technicians’ daily time wasters. Find ways to reduce the wasted time. Ask them for ideas and creative solutions. (And, once they know you are paying attention, some of the time wasters may just disappear.)

Go ahead, do the math your own numbers and find your potential: you’ll be amazed!


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Steve Hall

Service Managers: How Well Do You Communicate With Sales?


Processes…even the best processes don’t work if employees don’t understand them. It’s Monday morning in the service department. The day is off and running and a flurry of customer activity abounds.  Things are busy, but running smoothly. Just the way you (the service manager) designed it.

Now it’s about 8:45 and the sales department is just leaving their Monday morning sales meeting. A fairly new salesperson comes into service, walks up to you (the service manager) and says, “I sold a car Saturday, stock number Z1576A. We spot delivered it, but we need to have a spoiler installed that’s not in stock. Can you take care of it for me?”

You look at him, as if he’s a nobody and snipe back, “Where’s the ‘We-Owe?’ Did you already order it, or not? When is the customer scheduled to come back? Do you even know the color code for the spoiler or do you want me to just guess?” The new salesman looks puzzled and slightly embarrassed.

He thought his job was to sell cars, which he did. He thought the service department was supposed to help him when he needed it. Maybe he misunderstood the relationship. He thinks, “They just seem so nice to customers and so grumpy to the sales department. Why?”

What the new salesperson was not privy to was the sordid history, and possibly the proper and much-improved process. The service department knows they can’t order or install the spoiler without proper documentation and basic information from the sales department. That happened before recently, and they got the speech, “Don’t EVER do anything on a vehicle without receiving a sales manager-signed We-Owe.” They also know the salesperson doesn’t get a CSI survey to submit on the service department, so I (the service manager) can “teach him a lesson” on how to interact with service without the repercussions of a negative CSI survey.

Unfortunately, this type of scenario happens way too often. With turnover in the sales department, often times the sales managers are stretched just to train the salespeople on product knowledge and the vehicle sales process…and they never get to train the other necessary dealership processes.

This is where the service managers need to take charge.

We need to realize that if we want the sales department to be a “bell cow” to our customers on how great we are, we need to start treating them great. One way that I have found that improves this relationship quickly, along with strengthening processes, is to attend sales meetings on a regular basis.

When you (the service manager) attend a sales meeting, several positive things happen. Here are a few:

  • You get to know the people, and they get to know you. You are on the same team and this relationship helps everyone. You get to learn who people are. Now they have a name, not just the new salesperson who “knows nothing and wants everything.”
  • You get to answer their questions. Open communication between sales and service…now that’s REALLY a good thing!
  • You can train on a process or two – departmental or inter-departmental – every time you attend. Short, precise instructions to make the processes flow better. Yes, as you have turnover, you will have to re-train the process, but if you don’t, who will? Also, refresher topics can even help long-term people.
  • You will get a better understanding of what they have to deal with and you may become slightly more open to training someone…not just “barking” at them.
  • You may even learn a few sales training tips to help make your advisors more effective.

Whether you attend the whole meeting or just do your part and exit, it will be time well spent with one of your most important clients. The goodwill from this effort pays large dividends. Become a leader, a mentor, and have success the old fashion way: one person at a time.

At the NCM Institute, we believe every department should better understand the dealership as a whole. With that in mind, some of our clients purchase an annual training subscription and cross-train managers in different departments. Sales managers learn about service; service managers learn about used vehicles; parts managers learn about service; and so on. This greatly helps them understand the daily struggles each department has and helps them learn the importance of working together as one unit. Check into a more affordable way to help make your team stronger and ask about our annual NCMi training subscription and bundling options.


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Steve Hall

We’re All On The Same Team: Parts & Service – Helping Each Other Succeed

Parts and Service

Have you ever wondered why Service and Parts Managers don’t get along? In reality, don’t they need each other to succeed? As we examine this, let’s start with some generalizations from dealing with thousands of Service and Parts Managers along with General Managers throughout my career. The overwhelming consensus is that Service and Parts just don’t get along. That’s not to say that there aren’t dealerships where they do get along very well, but those are definitely in the minority.

If you think about it, it’s easy to see why these managers can be at odds. Here are just a few reasons:

  • Service Managers are typically extroverts, whereas Parts Managers are typically more introverted.
  • Service Managers typically have a “whatever it takes” attitude towards resolving issues. At that moment, they just want the customer handled. In the same situation, the Parts Manager will typically revert back to the processes to work through the issue, looking for the reasons why it happened.
  • Parts Managers like to have a place for everything and everything in its place. Service Managers generally don’t.
  • Parts Managers work from an inventory of parts. If a part doesn’t sell today, it will still be on the shelf to sell tomorrow. Service Managers work from an inventory of time. If they don’t utilize an hour today, it’s gone forever.

I’m not saying that one is right and the other is wrong; it’s just that they’re wired differently. That’s what makes each of them good at what they do; they have different mindsets for different types of positions. Unfortunately, these different mindsets can often times cause friction and impede them from effectively working together.

Rather than belabor the differences, let’s work on why and how they must align to achieve their departmental goals.

Did you know that, in a typical dealership, 85% of the Parts Department gross profit is generated from their internal customers, meaning the Service Department (and the Collision Department, if they have one)?

Or, have you ever thought that the Parts Department doesn’t really sell anything? They fill orders and requests. On occasion, they may “sell” an additional item when filling a request, like when a front counter customer is purchasing a timing belt and, at that time, the counterperson suggests drive belts or a timing belt tensioner and the customer purchases them. But most of the time, they are filling requests. Again, this is not an indictment; it’s reality.

Why is it so important? Because it all comes down to knowing what truly affects your department’s numbers. Realizing that 85% of your Parts gross profit is generated from your Service and / or Collision Departments (and that they are truly the salespeople for the Parts Department) is vital in building a growth strategy for your Parts Department.

Let me explain a key correlation for your Parts and Service Departments.

When dealers are asked how much total gross profit they generate for every dollar of labor they sell, we generally hear an answer like this: “We have a gross profit on labor of 75%, so that would mean we earn 75 cents of gross profit for every $1.00 in labor that we sell.”

While that answer will appear accurate on the surface, it actually is incorrect. Remember, I said the Service Department is the salesforce for the Parts Department, and when I asked how much total gross profit is generated from every $1.00 in labor sales, this changes the previous answer. Because there is a relationship of Parts to labor sales, for every $1.00 in labor sold, a typical dealership will generate approximately $1.25 in total gross profit. You have to remember that when you sell labor, Parts will naturally be sold with it.

Realizing that the Service Department generates the vast majority of the Parts Department gross profit, what would be the most effective way to grow both your Parts and Service Departments?

You need to sell more billable flat-rate hours! Both departments must be focused on this primary goal.

Are you starting to see how these managers must start working together for the good of their departments? So far, I’ve focused on why the Parts Department needs to get along with Service. You may be asking, “Why does service care?” It still comes back to the driving factor for both departments — producing more billable flat-rate hours. The Service Department can’t produce as many billable flat-rate hours if they aren’t working well with the Parts Department. Parts can slow down or even stop production, thus costing the Service Department the ability to produce gross profit for themselves.

What we need to find is common solutions that allow the Service Department to bill more flat-rate hours and the Parts Department to achieve more Parts sales through those hours billed. So, how do both managers find ways to increase the amount of flat-rate hours billed? Let’s start with what the Parts Department can do to help. Here are some thought starters:

1) Stock more breadth of Parts and less depth of Parts. With daily stock orders, departments need less depth of parts, or how many of each individual part number you have on hand. Then, you can repurpose this capital into having more part numbers in stock, thus increasing your breadth, or total number of parts that you have on hand. By having better breadth of Parts, the Parts Department will be able to have a higher filled-from-stock ratio. This will help keep Technicians in their bays producing billable flat-rate hours and help both departments grow.

2) Another way to increase billable flat-rate hours is to find ways to keep the Technicians in their bays working, rather than waiting at the Parts counter for Parts. The best way to achieve this is by delivering the needed Parts to the technician right to his bay. This saves walk, talk and wait time for the Technician, as they would normally make their way to and from the back Parts counter.

3) Stock fast-moving Parts in the express Service bays. At the very least, oil filters have to be in the bay, but in reality you should make provisions for additional fast-moving items like air filters, cabin filters and wipers. Service Managers, take note: once these parts are stocked in your bays to increase Technician productivity, the parts are now under your control and any shortages are the responsibility of the Service Department.

4) Aggressively chase parts rather than automatically subjecting the Service Department to the perils of the special order Parts process. If you can pick up the part locally from another dealer and complete the job today, do so.

5) Keep your Parts Department aware of the daily and month-to-date hours produced in the Service Department. Seldom will you have a great month in the Parts Department without your Service Department having a great month. Therefore, the Parts Department needs to know exactly how the Service Department is tracking.

By posting these numbers, this will keep the relationship of hours billed to parts sold fresh in your employee’s mind. Hopefully, this will make them more proactive in finding ways to keep the Technicians in their bays working rather than waiting in line, or talking about their latest fishing adventure.

You can even incorporate shop hours produced into the pay plans of back counter people to keep them focused on increasing flat-rate hours billed. This helps make them more open to solutions.

Those are some ways that the Parts Department can help the Service Department produce more flat-rate hours. But since this is a team effort, what can the Service Department do to assist in this effort?

The Service Manager and Department must realize that the Parts Department is a business partner with them, not a servant to them. The success of both Service and Parts will be greatly reduced if they don’t work together.

Think about this: how is the Service Department staffed? Do you have enough Technicians and Advisors? Are both of these positions selling and producing enough? If you’re short Technicians or Advisors, your labor sales will suffer, thus your Parts sales will suffer. This is a critical element for both departments. Remember: your Service Department is your sales staff for your Parts Department.

Next, track and scoreboard your “Parts sales to labor hours billed” ratio. This will help you determine any shortcomings that you have by individual employees.

The final suggestion that I would like to give is simple. Employees find ways to work their pay plans. If you want to increase Parts sales, include your “Parts sales staff”, meaning your Service Advisors. Incentivizing Advisors (along with Service Managers) will help increase your Parts gross profit and help break down some of the interdepartmental barriers, as they will feel more a part of the same team. Continue to promote teamwork to ensure that both departments are successful, as that’s how the dealership wins. Just like a football team, the offense must be successful and the defense must be successful for the team to win the game. One without the other just won’t get it done.

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Steve Hall

60 Seconds to Gain a Service Customer


Do you have 60 seconds to gain a service customer? Let me restate that: Do you have a structured 60 seconds to gain this customer? Why the emphasis on “structured”?  Let me explain.

Let me start with this.

If you are a dealership that doesn’t already perform an introduction of the new and used vehicle owners to the service department, then you aren’t quite ready to read this article. In that case, set the process in place, and get it started. Enough said?

Now, for the intended audience:

What does your customer introduction to the service department really look like? Think about this. You have just worked hard to gain a vehicle sale, and now your sales consultant completes the dealership “road to a sale” process by escorting the new customer to the service department for an introduction and to set the appointment for the first service visit. The salesperson stands with the customer in the service drive as the advisors are busily moving around. One of them is on the phone, one is with a client, and another is working on something, but we’re just not sure what. Five minutes pass by… OK maybe it’s only 45 seconds, but it feels like five minutes. Once the wait is over, the sales consultant and customer approach one of the advisors. The advisor glances around, looks at the salesperson and customer with a “what do you want” look, and he doesn’t even smile. Everyone can can tell that he’s distracted.

The salesperson tries to make the situation better and introduces the customer to the advisor with an enthusiastic phrase, but the advisor’s response is lukewarm. The advisor congratulates the customer on his purchase and says, “If you ever need anything, please let me know,” and then he hands over a business card.

At this point both the sales consultant and the service advisor feel that they have followed the process and have “done their job”.  But what really happened? Did the customer feel welcomed? Did the customer feel like you really wanted them to do business with you? Did your people provide anycompelling reason why this new customer should do business with you?

Your service department just had 60 seconds to win a customer – and you fumbled. Worse yet, you didn’t even realize the opportunity that you missed.

I am a firm believer that every new customer should be introduced to the service department, parts department, and the collision center. I am also a firm believer that these introductions should make a very positive impression on each customer. This is our time to shine! After all, this may be the only time that members of these departments ever get to see this customer, so we need to make a great impression.

To help you along the way, here is an introduction script that I developed for our NCM InstitutePrinciples of Service Management class.

Introduction Script:

Service Department Employee: Congratulations on your purchase. I would like to be one of the first to welcome you to our family. What type of vehicle did you buy? (as the customer talks, smile, nod in approval slightly, and listen… do not interrupt them.)

Customer: (Answers)

Service Department Employee: Terrific! May I ask what kind of vehicle you have been driving up until now?


Service Department Employee: Well, we’re glad that you are joining our family now, and I’m sure that you will enjoy your (type of vehicle purchased). I would like to share a little information with you, so that you can feel comfortable anytime that you come in for service… 

  • (Point to the service doors.) You can see over here, these are the service entry doors. Any time that you need service, you will just pull up to them, and we will open them up and let you in. 
  • (Point to the service advisors.) Also, you can see the advisors over here. They will greet you and take great care of you any time that you arrive.
  • I would also like to reassure you that we are here for you. There is no reason to worry about anything pertaining to your vehicle, because we can handle it. Whether it is warranty work (which hopefully you will never need), routine maintenance, tires or anything… we can handle it for you. We offer highly competitive prices on everything, including oil changes. We will get you in and out quickly to make it most convenient for you.
  • But, most of all we want you to know that, since you have purchased your vehicle, you are now part of our family and we will take great care of you. 

Are there any questions that I can currently answer for you?

Customer: Not right now, I’m just excited to get the vehicle.

Service Department Employee: I’m sure you are. Here is my business card. Just know that if you ever need anything please let us know, and enjoy your car.

You can see that your employees will need to practice the script, but I’ve underlined the most important points so they are easier to learn. You will also need to modify it slightly for customers that are currently servicing their vehicles with you, but you get the concept. As a final tip, I suggest that the sales consultant carry a color-coded, bright yellow clip board when he escorts the customer to the Service Department. The yellow clip board signifies to the service department employees that the salesperson is accompanied by a new dealership customer and not a “heat case.”

Consistently perform and flawlessly execute the structured 60 seconds approach to win over the customer, and it will become one of the most profitable investments of time ever spent with your clients.

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Steve Hall

Two Quick Tips for Service Managers

Auto Mechanic

It seems these days everyone is pressed for time and running a million different directions. Because of this, your team can feel disconnected and often times alone in their jobs. They don’t get quality time with their supervisor and never get to really hear what is going on in the department or business. They have questions like, “are we doing well or not,” and “am I doing my job to your satisfaction, “or ”am I about to be the next ex-employee?” Most of the time employees don’t actually ask these questions; instead the questions just keep floating around in their mind.

It’s a shame when valued employees feel this way. After all, it doesn’t take a lot of information or interaction to make these questions disappear. With this in mind, today I would like to give you two quick tips you can implement, with no added expense. These two items can possibly help your employees feel more informed and secure in their jobs.

The first tip is the monthly wrap-up and kick-off meeting. According to Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in the book First Break All the Rules, one of the key components to employee retention is making the employee feel they are part of the information stream within the business. One way to help your team with this is to hold a monthly kick-off meeting.

On the first day of the month, bring your departmental team together for a quick three to five minute kick-off meeting. Think pre-game speech for the professional sports team. This meeting can be held right in the service department around the lifts and vehicles during normal business hours. Have the attendee’s stand, so the meeting stays short. For the wrap-up part of the meeting, let them know how the prior month finished up. Cover items like departmental gross profit, or shop hours versus objective, and be sure to cover CSI. Don’t forget to congratulate a few employees that had stellar performance

For the kick-off portion, set the goals for the month that is starting. Be sure to acknowledge upcoming employee anniversaries and milestones. Include anything that is upbeat and challenge the employees to reach the goals that are set.  Giving just a couple minutes of your time, combined with the key information that is shared, will make the whole team feel like an integral part of the organization. This meeting costs nothing, but has a lot of value. By doing this you can bring the team together, and win together.

The second tip I would like to share today is coaching from the sidelines, not the locker room. I think that is worth restating. Do you coach from the sidelines or the locker room? Let me explain what I mean. You would never see a NFL coach hanging out in the locker room while the game is being played. They are found watching the action as it happens and coaching everyone on the team to perform better.

Now, put this into your everyday work life in the service department. Game time for the service department is every morning from about 7:30 to about 9:00. Where are you during this time? Are you hanging out in your office running reports, answering e-mails and reviewing numbers? That would be considered “in the locker room”. Should you be on the “sideline” watching the game and coaching the team while the action is happening? Yes.

Is there really anything more important to a leader than helping their team perform better?  Wouldn’t this also help the employees better understand how they are performing in their jobs? Keep this in mind each and every morning and spend the time directing the team, when the game is actually happening, then perform the behind the scenes work during the non-peak times of the day.

Remember that your team moves at the speed in which you lead them, and to lead you must be in front of them. Don’t focus on the wrong items. Put your efforts into your people and unleash the power of the team.


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Jeff Cowan

The Myths of Writing Service Part 2

Writing Service Part 2As you remember from my article last month, myths can be very dangerous things. They can and will impede your ability to grow, expand, and succeed. I discussed some of the biggest myths surrounding the writing of service and will list a few more here today that have come up and continue to come up in the many meetings I am asked to speak at throughout the year.

Myth: Service writers do not need the same amount of training as the car sales staff.

Fact: A Service Advisor who works with just fifteen customers a day will generate more gross profit for a dealership in a month than a sales person does who delivers thirty vehicles in that same month. In addition, due to the volume of customers they will talk to in a month, they will have more impact on your survey scores and customer retention than any other employee in the dealership, including the dealer. So why would they not need the same amount of training or more?

Myth: Women service writers who are mothers are risky due to parental responsibilities.

Fact: Tell that to Abigail Adams, wife to President John Adams. While John was overseas for many years, she stayed behind and ran the farm, ran John’s businesses, and raised 6 kids, one of which grew up to be our nation’s sixth president. One of my daughters is at the child bearing age. She and ten of her close friends have all had children in the past twenty-four months. While one of them quit her career and became a stay/work at home mom, the other nine not only continued their careers, but eight of them actually increased their hours or took on more responsibility. Why? Because they quickly realized that if their kids were to have a life equal to or greater than their own, they had to work harder and smarter. If all things are equal and I have the opportunity to hire a male service writer versus a female service writer with kids, especially young ones, I will take the female with kids every time. Think grizzly bear with cubs.

Myth: Service writers who work in economically challenged areas cannot sell as much as service writers who work in affluent areas.

Fact: Many times, they can sell more for one simple reason; the more financially challenged a person is, the more important their vehicle becomes to them. Financially challenged customers know that if their vehicle does not run and they cannot get to work, then their financial situation will only get worse. I have worked in countless service drives with countless service advisors where their customers were financially challenged and the sales made were either equal to or greater than those in service departments where the reverse was true. The difference is that the financially challenged customer requires a service advisor who has a slightly different skill set and outstanding follow-up and over the telephone selling skills.

Myth: Women service writers have a tougher time in service because men prefer to talk with men.

Fact: This is not a gender specific problem. A service advisor who is strong at taking control of the customer and exudes confidence, can and will be able to handle your customers. While this myth used to have some validity twenty years ago, it has none today. If I were to list the top ten service advisors that I have worked with over the past twenty-nine years, seven of the top ten would be women.

Myth: It does not take as much skill to be a quick service writer as it does to be a full shop service writer.

Fact: Arguably, it takes more. Think about it. A quick service writer is many times the first person a new customer will work with in service after purchasing a new vehicle. Their ability to handle your customer and convince them that your shop is the only place to go for service, has to be near perfect, if not perfect, to get the job done. Although the path to full shop writer begins many times in express, the express writer should be trained to expertly handle any scenario that a full shop writer would. Again, they are likely to be the first point of face to face contact in the dealership after purchasing a new vehicle. Express should be trained to impress every time on every level.

Myth: It is impossible to train veteran service writers to adapt to changes in their customers’ demands and in new technology.

Fact: Not if you have established a culture of constant change in your department. The service writer or employee who cannot adapt to change and evolution in retail sales will become a dinosaur within five years. When you consider how rapidly your customers and their buying habits have changed in just the past few years, and how rapidly technology changes, any employee who can not keep up is costing you money. In the future there will be two types of sales people; those who sell technology and those who use it. The rest will become obsolete.

Myth: Service writers can handle setting their own check-in times, checking in your customers’ vehicles, following up on those customers throughout the day, closing those customers over the telephone, closing out their own repair orders, contact customers who have been waiting for parts, cashier their own customers, actively deliver vehicles back to each customer as the vehicle repairs are completed, send a thank you note to each customer, contact customers who missed their check in times, contact customers who previously declined repairs, contact customers they have not seen in over six months, while at the same time getting and maintaining high survey scores and customer retention.

Fact: Only if they write ten to fifteen repair orders a day. Just like on the vehicle sales side, you want to free your service writers (sales people) up as much as you can, to talk to your customers.  Sales people make you money when they are talking to your customers.  The more time they have to talk to your customers, the more money they will make you. From the beginning of car sells through the early 1960’s, vehicle sales people answered the dealership’s incoming sales calls, did their own financing and helped people when they came in for service. When dealers realized that those activities kept their sales staff in the building and not out on the lot where the buyers where, it ushered in the era of the telephone receptionist, the F & I department and service staff, and significantly more vehicles were sold. The more you can do to support your advisors by freeing them up to talk to your customers, the higher your retention, survey scores and sales will be.

Myth: Service writers will not sell or are not good at selling additional products like special wheels, extended warranties, details, etc.

Fact: Not true. To sell anything on a service drive requires three things; a great product, great training in how to present and sell it, and a great pay plan.

If you are consistently not hitting your sales, retention and survey goals, it is a sign of great weakness not to try something new. Trying something new can be as simple as taking a look at what you or your staff say can’t be done, and testing to see if the reason is based on fact or myth.

You should make this a common practice and part of your monthly routine to dispel myths that may exist in your work place. I get blamed from time to time for being too willing to test and eliminate these myths and reasons that hold my business back. I am told I need more patience. The fact is, I do have patience for the time it sometimes takes for myths to be tested.  What I do not have patience for is the lost customers and revenues that myths produce.

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Embracing Mobile in Your Service Department

This article was written by Matt Hurst. 

“Mobile” has been one of the biggest buzz words in our industry over the past couple of years. From configuring vehicles on smartphones to F&I product tours on tablets, dealership personnel have discovered that using mobile devices can increase efficiency and transparency – while giving customers more control. It’s an effective way to boost vehicle sales, products-per-deal-sold, and CSI scores.

So what’s the next great frontier for mobile? Your service department. Integrate a multi-point inspection tool with mobile functionality into your service bays and you’ll deliver that same transparent and efficient customer experience that is the key to keeping customers coming back again and again. Here’s what it can do for your dealership:

Drive customer trust

In the automotive space, we have to build trust if we want customers to come back. For the service department, that means getting rid of the smoke and mirrors and instead making the customer a part of the inspection process. Mobile does that. With an enforced multi-point inspection tool that includes mobility, a technician can document every step of the inspection process on a phone or tablet – including real photos of vehicle issues – and show the customer exactly what is going on, right there in the lane. Some applications also channel that information into an automobile status report that can be printed and sent home with the customer.

Using mobile technology to make the customer a part of the process is where real trust is earned. Instead of a Service Advisor sitting behind a desk and telling the customer what needs to be done, they meet in the middle, scroll through the photos and line items together, and make decisions on next steps. This does away with the old school generic process and replaces it with an individualized approach that puts your service department and your customers on the same team.

Increase closing percentage

A clear presentation of what needs to be taken care of on a vehicle, presented right there in the service lane where a customer can scroll through recommendations, is the ultimate way to get customers back in your store. Think about this: not only is your technician making individualized service recommendations to fix why the vehicle was brought in, but he/she can make maintenance recommendations for future services, and display them with details and photographs on a mobile device. The customer sees the leaky oil pan that brought him to your door, but also sees that the brake pads are getting a little worn and should be taken care of before the next service. These images become part of a vehicle service recommendation, which is then presented to the customer in an open and transparent way, taking the pressure out of the sale and increasing your overall closing percentage.

Score higher CSI

Integrating mobile technology into your service department is also a proven way to increase your CSI scores. The J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Customer Service Index (CSI) Studyfound that the industry-wide CSI score when a tablet is used is 838, compared with 802 when a table is not used. The key performance indicators for CSI include much of what we’ve been talking about, including being focused on customer needs (not following a generic approach), providing helpful advice (remember, a picture is worth a thousand words), and keeping the owner updated about vehicle status (showing them with individual automobile status reports exactly what has been done, and what needs to done).

It is worth mentioning that adding technology like mobile functionality to your dealership processes is not a silver bullet. It has to be used correctly to return positive results. The beauty of multi-point inspection tools with mobility is that they force your techs to complete a thorough inspection and sell customers on services they actually need. However, you still need to be sure your techs are documenting issues with photos, and reviewing that information with the customer in the lane, to build trust and the lasting relationships you want.

When you implement a forced multi-point inspection tool with mobility that allows for an individualized approach where the customer is part of the process, you can’t help but do a better job servicing vehicles and customers. Transparency through images and detailed inspections puts you and the customer on the same team, resulting in more trust, more loyalty, higher CSI, and greater profitability.


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Jeff Cowan

The Myths of Writing Service Part 1


The automotive industry is filled with myths regarding service writing. I think they hang around so long because myths are convenient excuses not to change. They certainly give us license to be lazy and ignore problems!

Today, I list some of the most common myths surrounding the writing of service and hopefully, once and for all, make the many believers of these myths see otherwise.

Myth: If you write service and have a high closing ratio and high customer paid repair order averages, then it is impossible to have high survey scores and/or high customer retention.

Fact: I know hundreds of service writers who complete the trifecta month after month year after year.  The difference is how hard you are willing to train a person and hold them accountable. If you expect and allow the myth to come true, it will, but it doesn’t have to. Think high-end restaurant here.  If you visit a five star restaurant, like Ruth’s Chris you will experience servers that please people, sell plenty of appetizers, desserts and drinks, and have people return in the future and request them.  As a matter of fact, if they cannot do those things, their service will not be retained and they will be let go. They accomplish the trifecta because they are trained to and then held accountable.

Myth: It takes at least a year before a service advisor can be a top producer.

Fact: If it takes that long, you simply hired the wrong person, did not train the person to be successful, or the person has no goals and desire to perform. If a new service writer is not meeting or exceeding your minimum standards within ninety days of their start date, it is likely they never will. If this is a concern for you, change your interview practices and/or your training program.

Myth: Finding a great service advisor is next to impossible.

Fact: The average service writer makes $65,000 annually, gets two weeks paid vacation, and has a benefit package that rivals some of the biggest industries.  An employment package like this puts them in the top twenty-five to thirty percent of income earners in the country. It allows them to have a house that will average 2300 square feet and drive a new vehicle in the thirty-five thousand dollar range.  And if they have a spouse that works, add in another vehicle and another eight hundred square feet of house.  All that said and you can’t find these employees? You need help with your ads, your interviewing techniques and help in knowing how to sell a marvelous, highly satisfying, and rewarding career like service writing.

Myth: A great service writer rarely makes a great manager.

Fact: Not if you pull them out of their job writing service one day and then stick them in the manager’s chair the next without any coaching.  The mistake I see here is we constantly put people in management because they understand the technical side of the business, are well liked, and appear to want to go the extra mile.  The first and most important thing to look for in a new manager is their ability to lead, make decisions, and make those around them better. Those are things, just like the technical side of the business that can be taught and learned by a willing student. To develop tomorrow’s leaders from today’s service writers, you have to teach them how to lead and make good decisions as they perform today’s job. Teach them to prepare for the next step up the ladder as they occupy their current step.

Myth: Service writers can handle more than fifteen customers a day.

Fact: Not if you want to have high survey scores, high customer retention, high closing ratios, high customer paid sales and the maximum profits. For years, I have said this in nearly every meeting I conduct. If you allow your service writers to write more then fifteen repair orders a day, then forget about the high numbers in the fore mentioned areas. If you choose that path, you are now limiting your service writers to be high volume clerks.  You can and will make some profits off the high volume sales template, as that is the very way most dealerships allow their service writers to work. But the other numbers simply will not be there for one reason: lack of time.  If you want to have high survey scores, customer retention, closing ratios, hours per repair order, and maximum profits, you have to give your writers the time to sell and work with the customers. You only have the right in my mind to expect high numbers in all categories if you limit and control the number of tickets written in a day to fifteen or less.

Myth: Service writers will not do what is asked of them like walk around vehicles and memorize word tracks or respond well to authority.

Fact: No, they do not respond to weak leaders and weak leadership.  If that is your problem, then your problem is clearly a question of you or your manager’s ability to lead and command respect. Think of your service writers as vendors.  It is a business deal.  You require them to do what you ask, and they either do it and get to remain on your preferred vendors list or they do not do what you require and you find a new vendor.  Easy to do. Read myth three again.

Myth: It takes a special service writer to be able to handle high line vehicles because high end customers are different.

Fact: High line customers are rarely different than the non-high line customer.  As a matter of fact, they many times are the same exact customer. Literally.  For example, I drive a Mercedes, my wife drives a Ford.  Furthermore, look at the very street I live on.  There are fifteen houses.  Each driveway has either a Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Porche, Tesla, or Lexus in it. In addition, each of those driveways is Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, or Honda. Regardless of which vehicle we drive, we simply want to go to a place where they are enthusiastic, caring, honest, can get the job done, and where their skill and approach make us want to return for future visits. My CFO is a perfect example.  When she needs service, she drives past her Infiniti dealership to do business with the Toyota dealership simply because, in her words, “I get better service at the Toyota dealership.

As I have noted many times, I am a student of history.  Studying history I have seen time and time again that once a myth is dispelled, great advances routinely follow. In the future, whenever you hear something that sounds like a myth or hear an excuse from your staff and those in the business that impedes your ability to advance; question it, challenge it, and test it before succumbing to its restraints. Then you will be poised to break free from the myth’s chains that bind and make advances that will make your Dealer Principal happy. Because, in the end, it gets down to one simple fact-like being married, if the Dealer is happy, everybody is happy – and that ain’t no myth.

Jeff Cowan is considered the creator of the modern day walk around and selling processes for service departments everywhere. His company, Jeff Cowan’s PRO TALK, Inc. is recognized as North America’s number 1 fixed operations training company.

©Copyright Wm. Jeff Cowan 2015

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