Source Publication: FIXED OPS MAGAZINE | VOL.14, NO. 2 | MARCH/APRIL 2017

After several record sales years with new vehicles, it’s extremely important that in the coming years we are able to retain those customers in our Service Departments. It’s also a chance to touch new customers who may have never experienced our Service Department, and also to start the process of the next vehicle purchase.

With lower margins on new vehicles, the Service gross profit is looking even more important. Additionally, in upcoming years, used vehicles will play a larger role in dealership sales because these vehicles will start out with miles on the odometer, which will lead to more customer pay Service opportunities.

Over the last several years, dealerships have added new technologies such as tablets, alignment checkers and new processes to their Service Departments. Although technology is important and in some instances necessary, it’s most important that we do what the customer expects and not what we expect.

We are a service-based organization first. Often, our expectations are based on our antiquated policies and procedures. We cannot assume that our staff understands excellent service; this must be taught.

Policies and procedures are important in any organization as long as they don’t hamper our ability to give customers world-class service and meet their expectations.

Remember, customers don’t care what our policies and procedures are. All they want is a pleasant experience where they receive what is promised. They don’t mind paying for good service. And the service they evaluate us on is the entire experience.

The margins in Service Departments are too great to allow an untrained employee or antiquated policy to spoil our customers’ experience. Here are two examples that highlight areas of poor service in a dealership: The Service Department cashier checking out the customer and the Service Department porter returning the vehicle to the customer.

In many dealerships, some of the least trained employees are working with the customer last. It’s imperative that these employees have the proper training or be eliminated.

A Customer Service Scenario
The customer arrives at his scheduled appointment time. The Service Advisor meets him promptly with a warm smile and a personal greeting. A thorough walk-around is performed that engages the customer and reveals additional services that we would be able to perform. The customer is given the full write-up that we hope all of our Service Advisors are performing daily. The customer is promised a follow-up phone call mid-morning and the loaner vehicle is waiting in the parking stall cleaned and full of gas. After all of the appropriate documentation and signatures, the customer is off to work without a glitch and has a hot cup of coffee. Let’s hope this always happens.


At 10:00AM, the customer was given an update. During the call, the Advisor was given authorization for all work suggested. The promised time for pick-up was 4:00PM. The customer arrives back at the dealership at 4:30PM, returns the loaner and proceeds to look for his Service Advisor. The Service Advisor sees his customer and with a hand gesture directs them to the Service Cashier.

Upon visiting the cashier, the customer must state his name again, as the cashier has no idea who he is. The customer asks the cashier a question about the repair work that was done. Midway through the request, the Service Cashier is paging the Service Advisor. Now the customer is annoyed. Besides not knowing his name, the cashier fails to fully listen to his question before paging the Service Advisor. Rarely does a Service Cashier ever answer a question on the customer’s Service invoice. This is because they are not trained to do so.

The Service Advisor is now on the phone with an extended warranty company and does not respond to the cashier’s request. After a five-minute wait, the customer pays his bill and leaves without getting an answer. The Service Cashier gives him a copy of the credit card slip and service invoice and buried in the back is a copy of the vehicle inspection report. The customer leaves with a sour taste in his mouth and never sees the vehicle inspection report.

How Things Can Go Wrong
What just happened?

The least-trained employee was the last person to interact with the customer. Typically, this position gets little or no training, yet day after day we let that person be one of the last to work with the customer. Most cashiers will redirect any customer question to the Service Advisor. Because the Service Advisor is not readily available, this can often times cause a delay. This scenario plays out every day at most dealerships.

Additionally, the Service invoice doesn’t get reviewed with the customer, nor does the multipoint inspection sheet get reviewed. In any transaction, most customers prefer to deal with one person.

How do we avoid what happened in the scenario described above?

Let the Service Advisors complete the process and collect the payment. Many dealerships have already adopted such a policy. The fact is that the majority of our Service customers pay with credit cards. Knowing this should allow our customers to pay their Service invoice prior to returning to pick up their vehicle.


In many dealerships, this part of our procedure is very dated and needs to be brought to current retail standards. I often hear a Dealer or General Manager say they don’t trust their Service Advisor taking payment and I say, “Why not?”

Dealer management systems allow the proper safeguards to mitigate any concerns. This now forces our customer to be face to face with an Advisor prior to leaving. You will notice that I said an Advisor and not “their” Service Advisor. Because you don’t want customers to wait, all Advisors should be able to handle cashier duties. That means that all “Cashier/Advisors” can answer any customer questions that come up and there’s a greater likelihood that the vehicle inspection reports are covered with the customer.

A full explanation of the work that was just completed and the current condition of the vehicle will lead to greater customer understanding and satisfaction. In addition, a Service Advisor will see future benefit to a paying customer more easily than a Service Cashier.

The final touch might be a Service Porter to hand the keys over to the customer. Service Porters need to be trained like food servers. If you would not serve it to your family, you don’t serve it to a customer.

While delivering vehicles back to a customer, we need to challenge our staff to make sure the vehicle is presented correctly. All service tags, paper floor mats, seat covers and steering wheel covers need to be removed prior to delivery. A brief glance of the interior should be done for dirty shop towels and tools as well.

A warm smile and a “thank you” will go a long way as they open the door for the customer. This also needs to be part of the overall Service training within a dealership.

The entire Service visit is being evaluated by our customers, from the appointment they made to vehicle pick-up. Therefore, it’s crucial that your entire process gives your customers the experience they expect.


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John J. Napoleon is President of Henderson, Nev.-based The JNap Group, which does dealership consulting specializing in training General Managers and Controllers. John started as a CPA within several dealerships and worked his way through all of the dealership departments. He has over 25 years of experience working to resolve dealership weaknesses with long-term solutions.





Source Publication: FIXED OPS MAGAZINE | VOL.13, NO. 6 | NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016

The initial 30 seconds dictates a customer’s first impression when entering your Service Drive.

Half a minute will dictate the customer’s attitude when they speak to the Service Adviser. Will the conversation start positively or will the Service Adviser have to overcome a cold welcome?

Our customers all dread coming in to service their vehicles, even as nice as we have made our customer lounges. We all have coffee, water and Wi-Fi, while some even have diners and spas. None of this matters if we don’t handle the Service visit professionally and in a friendly manner.

What better way to greet them than by name? This is much easier to do when you are expecting them. Everyone responds better when they are greeted warmly. Let’s not forget this.

Many Service Departments have processes that don’t include excellent customer service. But Service Departments are the main reason that automobile dealerships will always be a brick-and mortar business.

How Problems Occur
Let’s look at an example of how customer service issues are created.

We’ve all bought meat and cheese at the deli inside of a grocery store. One of the problems with grocery store delis is that one hour before closing, the attention turns from the customer to the employee leaving on time.

Here’s what I mean: If four people are working in a deli department one hour before closing, two or three of them will be cleaning and one or two will be servicing the seven customers waiting. As a shopper, we’re unhappy to see more people cleaning than serving the paying customers. This is an example where the customers’ time is clearly valued less than the deli clerk.

Now take our dealership Service customer who pulls in for his or her appointment and we have Bob on the phone with a customer, Mary on the phone with an extended warranty company, Bill helping a customer and Lisa is in the back speaking with the Technician about a customer’s car. Now our customer is waiting for someone to help him or, at a minimum, to acknowledge him.

After three minutes, Bob becomes available and finally greets the customer with, “Hi, can I help you?” Our customer replies with, “I am here for my 11 o’clock appointment.” Bob replies with, “OK so what will you need done today?” Our customer tells Bob, “When I made my appointment I told the girl that I needed an oil change and my brakes were

A nicer greeting would have been, “Hi, Mr. Smith. I saw you on the schedule today for an oil change and we are going to be seeing why your brakes are squeaking. Is there anything else we should be looking at?”

When a customer comes in who we don’t recognize, we should ask, “Are you here for your appointment?” Doing so reconfirms with our customer that we respect their appointment and if the customer does not have an appointment, we nicely state that appointments are what most of our customers have. It also buys the Service Department time, as you are politely saying that appointments must be taken care of first.

But let’s go back to the original scenario. How do you think our customer feels right now after making an appointment? No one acknowledging him for 10 minutes and then Bob doesn’t know who is coming in today. Our customer will be asking himself, “Why did I make an appointment?”

And why did he make an appointment? Because we promote appointments.


Improving Your Appointment System
In general, there’s a large disconnect from our appointment spreadsheet and our Service Advisor’s knowledge of who is coming in. We need to do a better job connecting the dots from appointment boards to our customer welcome on the Service drive.

The Service Advisor position is arguably the toughest job in the dealership. If you don’t understand that, please stand on the Service drive any hot day in June for 10 hours.

With that said, it’s most important for the Service Advisor to take care of the customer in front of him and the vehicles he has open repair orders on. Everything else is secondary.

Because Service Advisors are juggling many balls during the day, appointment setting is not something they should be handling. This should be left for a business development center (BDC) member or a Service Appointment Scheduler.

What happens when a Service Advisor takes a call for an appointment? They most often don’t record it on the appointment board and if they do, usually none of the customer notes are documented because they don’t have the proper time to spend with an appointment call.

Someone other than the Service Advisors should be making appointments for your Service Department. The more appointments you’re able to make, the better you can service your customers. Customers like appointments because it shows that you value their time.

Your customers can be trained to make appointments but you better honor them and treat them like they have an appointment. Service Departments that have a strong appointment system in place get 70 to 75 percent of their daily traffic from the appointments.

Improving Workflow
There are many avenues for Service appointments, such as, phone, online and apps. For example, the Salesperson can help his new customer schedule his first Service appointment with your app while waiting to get into finance.

This is the first step in teaching our customers to make appointments. The Salesperson should be making the introduction to the Service Department.

This is another avenue to making their first appointment. If we demonstrate to our customers that we value our appointments and customers’ time, they will make appointments. If we don’t, they won’t believe an appointment has value and will not make one.

We all know that we don’t walk into our dentist on a Thursday morning without an appointment, ask to have a cleaning and expect them to see us. This is because the dentist has trained us to make an appointment.

Appointments help with your workflow and the amount of time a Service Advisor can spend with the customer. They also can help during vacation time and when we send our staff to training so we don’t get backed up.


Because we work on vehicles, there will always be emergencies and walk-in traffic; we simply want to limit that part of the business. Once you start a real appointment system, you’ll be able to ascertain the daily walk-in traffic your Service Department gets. And once you understand that, you can back into your appointment needs.

Service Departments that are fully dialed-in on appointments typically set up their schedules as follows:

  1. Appointments on a 20-minute interval, for example, 8:00, 8:20, 8:40.
  2. Never more appointments per interval than Service Advisors scheduled.
  3. No appointments made during the lunch hour.
  4. A confirmation phone call the day before the appointment.
  5. A re-schedule appointment call if the customer is a no-show.
  6. The Appointment Scheduler tries to fill the next open appointment first.
  7. Every customer is greeted within 30 seconds of arrival (this does not need to be done by a Service Advisor).

Let’s elaborate on filling the next open appointment.

We need to treat the next open appointment times like a vacant hotel room. Once the night passes, you can never sell that night again. Our appointment schedule works the same way. Too many times, our scheduler asks the customer when he would like to come
in, instead of suggesting the next available appointment.

Again, if we go back to our dentist, when you call for an appointment, the scheduler tells you the dentist’s next appointment. We need to get our scheduler to do the same thing. Additionally, many forget or are discouraged to set appointments in the afternoon. Many customers have very tight time commitments in the morning and would prefer to drop off their vehicle on the way home from work rather than on the way to work.

With coordination between the scheduler and the Service Advisors’ schedules, the customer experience will be much improved. This improvement will also allow the Service Advisors enough time to spend with each of the dealership’s customers.


Download the PDF


John J. Napoleon is President of Henderson, Nev.-based The JNap Group, which does dealership consulting specializing in training General Managers and Controllers. John started as a CPA within several dealerships and worked his way through all of the dealership departments. He has over 25 years of experience working to resolve dealership weaknesses with long-term solutions.