5 Aspects of a Successful Service Department (video)

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Joe: It’s a pleasure to welcome to CBT news for the first time, Sally Whitesell, founder and CEO of SW Service Solutions. Sally, thank you for taking time with us today.

Sally: Well thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure.

Joe: So let’s get right to it Sally. We are always hearing about how the sales process will change in the next 5-10 years, especially with all of the new technology, but what about the service department? Will we see any dramatic changes there a well?

Sally: Yeah, I think we will, and we already are, actually. There are two things today’s customer is really looking for that we have to be aware of, especially moving forward.

The first thing is transparency. Our clients want to feel comfortable about any services or repairs they purchase. We only find that transparency when we physically show them items during an interactive walk-around, when we validate recommendations with electronic and print menus, and when our shop uses pictures and videos to show the customers repairs that are needed, and broken parts. That way they can feel 100 percent confident about all their purchases.

The other thing is convenience. Technology makes it very convenient to set up our service visits. We have great reminder systems out there which are really important. We have to remember that convenience doesn’t always mean fast, but it means having consistent processes so our customers know what to expect every single time they walk in the door.

Joe: Okay, since we’re always talking about changes, and how fast they are happening, can you give us, in your opinion, the 5 aspects of a service department that looks successful, and acts successful? What is that made up of? The ingredients?

5 Aspects of a Successful Service Department

Sally: Well, first and foremost is a staff, a full staff. This has become a bit of an issue today. We’ve had huge turnover rates in the last year or two. So, I not only recommend that you have a fully trained staff, but that you have an apprentice in the wings that is always ready to step in. Too often we’ll have someone leave, and then the dealership goes into survival mode. That will alienate customers faster than anything.

We have to have a manager that leads by example. They know how to recognize a job well done, as well as critique and offer assistance when the advisors struggle.

We need a store that has 100% dedication to processes that will put your clients first. All processes should be put in writing and reviewed with each advisor regularly so they’re very clear on what’s expected in their position.

Our successful stores do consistent training, of course. Training for advisors is a large realm of things from customer relations, to even a little bit of admin work, and of course sales training. We don’t think of it as a sales position, but it is. And most of the people hired for that position don’t have a sales background.

And the final thing I would have to say is have to have open communication and cross-training between all departments. When we have friction between the sales and the service departments, or the service department and the shop, your customers can feel that when they walk in the door. So all of those are very important things to create a successful environment for your customers.

Why are service advisors so stressed out?

Joe: I like what you say about service advisors having sales experience. That makes complete sense. So let’s stay on that topic of service advisors. They work with more clients on a daily basis than anyone else at the dealership, yet quite often they receive the least amount of training as you mentioned before. Some would say that they are actually the most stressed out as well. Do you believe that the lack of training causes that stress; therefore, the stress causes the burn-out, then that’s why the stat that NADA came out with last year that 2 out of 5 leave after 90 days?

Sally: Yes, quite often, it happens from what I mentioned earlier; they are short-staffed, so they’ll just throw them out there, give them a pen, and have them follow someone for a couple of days. I think this is the most complicated job in the dealership for many reasons. First, when our customers come in for service, they’re not excited about the purchase. No one gets it excited about repairing their vehicle or buying maintenance so they have to be able to listen very closely, show empathy, and then be able to sell once they have those issues taken care of. So there is training from customer relations to all the way to admin work, and closing a sale.

How can we hire more female service advisors?

Joe: We’re always talking about male service advisors. Is there a secret to hiring female service advisors? And would that help or hurt dealerships as far as attracting more women drivers?

Sally: It actually helps them attract more women drivers, just because we all like to have a nice, balanced demographic around us. We like to have other people we can relate to. It doesn’t even mean that every single female customer that walks in is going to want to work with a female advisor, it just makes us more comfortable to have them present on the drive.

We need to attract female service advisors by changing the way we’re scheduling. The number one reason that women don’t want to work on service drives are the crazy hours. Service advisors work 50-60 hours a week. If you really look at research, it shows that women still handle the majority of child-rearing duties, keeping the home duties, and even the banking. In America, over 80% of the banking is done by the women in the household. So we want to make sure that we start to get more flexible hours in place to keep all of our advisors from burning out, but also to attract female advisors and Millennials, because they have the same priorities. They want fewer hours and more flexible schedules. Now I think a lot of people confuse that, and mix it up with laziness. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think that we have a lot of talent out there that just wants a little bit more balance than us Baby Boomers had. We can’t blame them for that, but we’re going to have to adjust to accommodate.

Joe: Okay, so let’s talk about that. Drill down just a little bit deeper on those times. Let’s say that talent is out there, and she’s a mom, she drops the kids off at 7:30, and she’s got the rest of the day. Would it be somewhere around 7:00 to 2:00? 9:00 to 3:00? What are those hours that would make quality service advisors who are female be attracted to working there?

Sally: It’s going to vary, of course, depending on the hours of the stores on what they can offer. But a few things I’ve seen that have worked, is when they’ll have part of the advisors come in an hour later. So instead of being there at 7:00 or  7:30, they’re there at 8:00 or 8:30, and those may be the people that work until close. Right now, we’ve got advisors that are coming in at 7:00 am, 6:30 am really, to get ready for the day, and working until 6:00 or 7:00 at night, 5 days a week, and sometimes even covering a Saturday. As you can see, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for family, or outside responsibilities, hobbies, passions, and we all need those for a healthy lifestyle. So what a lot of our dealerships are doing is they’re going to 4 days a week, or more of a flexible schedule, so they’ll have 3 days off. You’re still going to get over 40 hours in those 4 days a week. The problem is staffing the drives enough to accommodate that.

The other thing for the ones that don’t have that, is they’ll allow the advisors to come in an hour later one morning a week, and leave an hour early the next day, giving a little variation. And I hear great things like, “Oh, now I can take my kids to school,” or “Now I can actually have dinner with my family.” It’s amazing what those few hours can mean to each individual.

How do we create a warm, friendly environment?

Joe: No doubt about that. Okay, so Sally, when we’re talking about engaging with women customers, what are the things that make a warm, friendly environment, not just on the service drive, but as well, around there, the waiting area, the restrooms.

Sally: That’s my- you’ve hit my hot spot for me because when I walk into a store, I can immediately tell if it’s inviting for your female clients or not. First of all, it needs to be more warm and homey. So what I recommend on the drive is that it’s clean. I’ll see a lot of old torn and dirty banners, a lot of dusty displays that haven’t been cleaned in forever, cluttered desks, which really just create chaos. So I want them to create a clean, welcoming environment on the drive, clear signage so the customer knows exactly where to go when they come in and don’t immediately feel awkward or out of place. Having that staff of male and female employees out there, and then the waiting room. We need a place for the children to play, easily accessible wifi, maybe some magazines that are male and female specific so we have something for everyone, as well as kids. I always recommend that you turn the news off the television because it’s just so negative these days and so divisive. We always recommend more of a family friendly station like the travel channel, HGTV, or maybe even some of the light news in the morning shows to keep it nice and friendly. And of course, music on the drive is something a lot of people don’t think about, but I’ve seen it make a huge difference in the mood of the customers and the advisors.

Hire personality or skill?

Joe: Sally, when it comes to hiring, some people say “hire personality over skill,” but dealership service departments, they sort of need both, don’t they?

Sally: Well they do, but one of the things I always tell my managers is that I can’t teach “personality,” I can teach them everything else, but I can’t teach personality. I would say that it’s first and foremost, and any additional skills are of course going to be a huge bonus. We want someone who can be a strong communicator, for sure. That’s a skill that is really something that has to be focused on, and you’ll know right away by the personality type if it’s going to be a big task, or a small task.

Joe: Alright, Sally Whitesell, Founder and CEO of SW Service Solutions. The first time that we’ve had you on, some great content, hopefully it’s not the last. And you’ll join us again in the future.

Sally: I’d love to.

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