Getting Back to Basics: A Guide to In-Drive Customer Service

Mike-Stein-newsletterI have been fortunate to see some great ideas, innovations, and solutions to service department processes in my travels over the past few months.  In my last article, we reviewed the customer’s perspective in regards to the ease of doing business with your service department.  This time around, we are going to take it a step further, I am going to outline the “Essential Building Blocks” that you can use as a framework in establishing Real Value for Your Business.

Be the customer, not the employee

When performing this assessment, the first thing you have to do is check your experience and automotive background at the door.  A customer (most likely) does not have this type of background and neither should you.  To perform an unbiased assessment of the operation, you have to start with a blank slate – only then will you see what is actually going on.   The questions you need to be asking yourself are:

  • When you first approach the drive, or customer area, is it organized or is there controlled chaos?
  • Was someone ready to greet me when I pulled up?
  • Was I given time to “tell my story” / Did the consultant LISTEN to me?
  • Was I hurried along, or was I given an appropriate one on one consultation?

Be the “New Guy”

It’s always fun to play the new guy, no one really knows who you are, or what you can do.  You can ask questions (even dumb ones) without being looked down upon, you can work at a slightly slower pace and most importantly, you can talk to everyone…because you don’t know anyone.  The next time you are in the shop, act as if you are a new employee and ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Is the equipment up to date? 
  • Are the floors clean?
  • Are you walking into an atmosphere where the cars of tomorrow will be fixed or does it feel like a stray spark will cause a 5 alarm fire?
  • How does the team interact with one another?  With their supervisors?

Be the Marketeer

Marketing is an inexact science filled with constantly changing variables and driven to a large degree by subjective, irrational, emotional decisions.  In order to mitigate some of that volatility, you need to ask some difficult and open ended probing questions that push your team to think beyond the walls of the shop.  Ask yourself (and your team):

  • When it comes to repairs of your customers vehicles…how are you marking up against the competition? 
  • What is the going labor rate in the surrounding area? 
  • When customers leave, do you feel good that they won’t be coming back for missed items….(ie; did your technician or advisor really measure the tread depth?)  How do you know?
  • Were the repairs done correctly and all the customers concerns addressed? 

These questions are some of the core business principles that you should be gauging your performance upon.  If you (or your team) doesn’t know the answers to these questions, chances are, you are already in the red.   Think beyond the service lane!  What if that business you lost because of high rates or comeback work cost you not only additional parts and labor for that individual, but something bigger, say a regional fleet account.  You may not always know who your customer is in the business world, or who they influence.  That one poor interaction with your store, could potentially end up costing you lots of New Car sales and opportunity to service those vehicles as well.  Again, ask yourself, is there a need for a quality control process that may be absent or not being followed?

Be the “Bean Counter”

No, I’m not talking about an accountant (that’s a whole different topic), I am talking about one of the most important departments in the Fixed Operations business…the Parts Team.  This department is not only vital to the overall profitability of your store, but more importantly they can literally influence, positively or negatively, your service lane throughput.  Things that you need to ask when evaluating this area of the business:

  • What is your selection, or rather what choices does the customer have?
  • For that part, how does the price, and the charge for installation compare to the local market?  There is nothing worse than the aftermarket parts house having a giant advertisement for a similar part your customer just purchased from you for a quarter of the price. 
  • How quickly is each part moving – do we need to ramp up or down on a certain item?


Look at some of the vehicles in your shop.  Take five of them and find out if you have numerous quick moving parts in stock for those vehicles.   If not, there may be a need to assess your stocking of certain parts as factory incentives or dealer packages are put into effect.

Pulling it all together

Let’s take what we have reviewed and go back to the customer experience.  The customer enters your service drive.  Are you engaging the customer in a manner that puts them first and makes them feel comfortable?  Are you talking to them on their level or have you digressed into mechanical jargon that leaves them cross-eyed?  Do your technicians have the proper equipment, facilities, training and tools to perform the repair right the first time?  Is your price structure competitive or will the customer leave feeling he has been gouged?  Do you have the parts on hand to get the customer out the door that day?   Does the customer leave feeling like time he/she took to bring their vehicle to the dealership for service is a better value of time, money & experience as opposed to your independent aftermarket competitors?  If so, you have set yourself up to WIN and more importantly retain the customer…After all, you don’t always know who they are outside of your service lane or who they influence…a great customer experience in the service lane could lead to a number of other revenue generating opportunities for your facility.

In case any of you were wondering, these aren’t new questions, this isn’t a new process.  December 1921 Volume 2 of the Ford Service Bulletin goes over these same ideas/concepts.  We have no need to re-invent the wheel, we just need to get back to basics.

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