Many dealerships recognize that their service departments are an important part of their business but fail to do anything about capitalizing on their capabilities. They view the parts department as the place where most of the profit comes from and, in terms of volume of business, this may be true. However, has anyone tried to run a parts only business? Eventually, a customer asks for your help to put that hard to reach part onto the unit for them. How you handle this request means everything in the world as to whether that customer comes back to your dealership.
It’s one thing to build and repair new and used units, it’s quite another to make the customer feel like you enjoyed doing it. No one enjoys going into a place where everyone is upset and complaining. No one likes being told their unit will be done tomorrow and then waiting two extra weeks to get it back. There are lots of things you can do to improve the service department, but taking that word “Service” and putting it to good use has to be the best.
The first goal of any strong dealership should be to place more effort on service and focus hard on how you treat your customers. I know as well as anyone it takes a lot of effort to keep a friendly attitude, but, at the end of the day, you have to decide just how profitable you want to be. Do you measure your sales based on first time customer compared to repeat customers? Do you track just how many times a customer comes in to have you repair their unit? These are extremely important matrices to review every few months. I’m not suggesting that you focus all your energy into watching the numbers change, but it is a good idea to know what direction they are going. Any good Dealership Management System ( DMS ) should be capable of providing these numbers in one form or another.
The reason these numbers are important is because they tell you, in a real way, how well you are running your business. If the majority of your customers are new, you may be doing a great job on advertising or you may have an awesome location, but you’re falling short in making a visit to your store an enjoyable experience for the customer. If you sell a lot of units but the customers never bring them in for repair, there is something wrong in service. If customers come in and buy a few parts but never return to buy anything else, perhaps you took to long servicing them or your parts people were rude and unfriendly towards them. Remember, you only have one chance to make a favorable first impression.
Sure, your time as an owner of a business is important, but its not really your time that is important when someone walks into your store. If the customer knows the last several times he stopped in he was taken care of immediately and got out within a few minutes, he’s likely to visit your store even if he is pinched for time, like on his lunch break. If he came in before and it took forever to get serviced, then he’ll most likely place his next order online.
Being the expert in your area is extremely important to making sure customers come back to your store. The best way to be an expert is by having a top notch service department with a friendly staff that is always willing to help. If I walk into a business and need assistance and no one there knows what I’m talking about, or worse, they are rude and act as though I am a bother, I’m probably not going to return. It’s no different than ordering parts and having to wait weeks to get them because the parts department never placed the order or forgot to call me when they arrived.
It’s important to train your mechanics and service personnel in the latest mechanical techniques and processes in order to perform their jobs as expertly as possible, but how many have ever received training on how to treat customers and how to manage their days? Is being a small dealership a good enough excuse to ignore these concerns? Are there no down times in the fall or winter that could be taken advantage of to help in these areas?
While having shiny new units on the floor or having nice, full parts counters get customers to come visit, it’s the servicing of those units and the professional advice they get when they come in that keeps them coming back. Sure, it’s frustrating to be distracted by questions all day while you’re trying to work, but its more frustrating to not get paid because the dealership isn’t making enough money to pay the bills.
It’s also a lot more expensive for any business to attract new customers compared to keeping the ones they’ve already got.
At nizeX, Inc. we make our living and have kept our company strong, not by selling new software every month, but by keeping the customers we already have happy. While you may think we’re different, at the end of the day, we do the same basic things. We work on units (service), we sell new units ( Lizzy ) and we build and create new products (R&D). We never would have kept the company together if we had to sell new products every single day to keep things going. We depend on our customers and they depend on us, no different than you.
The problem I see with most dealerships is they think their customers are a pain. A necessary evil to making money. The best dealerships I’ve been in jump at the chance to speak with and help a customer. The very best dealerships will even have the owner of the company on the floor helping people during the day.
Many years ago a dealership could be run terribly and still make it. They could curse their customers out and the customer had to come back. They could forget to order parts and the customer had to wait. You could literally be an idiot and still make money. I know this because I used to work in a dealership that was run about as badly as you could imagine. So what has changed?
If you honestly don’t know the answer to that question then you probably have more problems than this article could possibly fix. But the obvious answer is the Internet has changed everything. If you make your customers angry now, they’ll stop coming in and wait the extra few days to order parts off the Internet. If you don’t answer their questions, they’ll hit the world wide web to google their answers and may actually discover that they can fix their own problems with just a little research.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the service department is more important than just being another part of the dealership. You should focus your energy on making it front and center along side everything else that is going on. Introduce your customers to your mechanics and show off your shop before they leave with that new unit.
Keep the shop as clean as possible and make sure your mechanics have the best tools and equipment. It shows the customers you care and it goes a long way to making your customers feel comfortable about purchasing something from you. Train your mechanics and shop personnel on how to be friendly and how to help out in this endeavor. To take full advantage of the service department and what it can do for your bottom line, you need to spend the necessary time in making it presentable. Would you leave your car at a shop that has grease stuck to the walls and everyone you meet is grumpy and unfriendly? Maybe if you don’t have a choice, but given one I doubt you would.
Don’t be that dealership. Spend the time and effort to clean up the shop, buy new equipment and tools and show it off!