How Service Advisors Can Pet the Dog in a World of Social Distancing

by | Apr 13, 2020 | Auto, Auto News, Business, Culture, Podcasts, Service Department, Service Department Training, Service Drive Revolution

This may come as a shock to some of you, but the term ‘Pet the Dog’ is not meant to be taken literally. Service Advisors can, however, still metaphorically Pet the Dog while social distancing before and after the customer drops off their car.

On top of that, on a lot of our coaching calls, the managers are coming up with ingenious ways of handing work over between split shifts, and some of the downside of that. All that, along with answering questions, and announcing the winners of last month’s competition, are all on today’s show.

If you’re new to the show, we have software for our coaching clients that enters their Service Advisors into a competition against each other every month, where they can win up to about $8,000 worth of prizes and trophies. 

The money, really, we could probably do away with. It’s the bulldog trophies that mean the most.

Service Advisors win in their different categories, and Service Managers are graded on their average Service Advisor’s performance. Bottom line: It’s hard to be a Service Advisor in the comp, but it’s even harder for a Manager to win.

There are six different categories, and several competitors in each category, so the list of winners is too much to go over here. If you want the full results, you can check it out at the beginning of this week’s show.

And, if you want to join the competition, you can apply to join my coaching group.

Now, let’s get right into today’s audience questions. Remember, if you want to submit questions, you can do it on our YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, or email us directly at [email protected]. If we read it on the show, we’ll send you a package with some Service Drive Revolution swag. This week, we have a great question to start with…

“How do you guys feel about general maintenance repairs being half of the posted labor rate? I do not agree with it, but it has been the policy here at our dealer for over a decade.”

So from what I understand, you’re concerned about the maintenance packages being done at a discounted rate. Maintenance is one of the four major labor types, and having a maintenance rate helps your shop stay competitive with the national franchise chains down the street. You’ve got to have four different variable labor rates including the diagnostic rate and, if you don’t know what the rest of the four types of labor are, then check out our past episode where we took a deep dive into the subject.

And make sure that you get in on our OnDemand Training platform, because things might get even more competitive in the future. We might even see 8-16 different types of labor down the line, but maintenance doesn’t require as skilled of a technician.

When customers ask about labor rate, they’re usually focused on the wrong thing: Price. 

The truth is, no one ever woke up on a Saturday morning and said, “I better get an alignment or my car is going to blow up!” That type of repair or maintenance is more of an impulse buy. There’s no problem with the maintenance rate being lower than the posted labor rate, but  if you’re doing maintenance at half your posted labor rate, you might be leaving some profit on the table. You have to get that diagnostic rate way up, and you can only do that by building trust.

Rather than focusing on the price of the maintenance, focus on the emotional attachment of the customer, and establishing trust with the Service Advisor that’s doing the recommendation. 

Remember: Trust is built one customer at a time.

“What is the one thing every parts department never runs out of and is always in stock?”

Is this a trick question? Am I being set up for a punchline?

Where do I start? Key chains…. Excuses.… Blame…. Seatbelts, because the parts manager is always sitting in his office running reports.

“Hello, sir. I’ve been working at Harley Davidson as a Service Advisor for the last four and a half years, but I was also in the car industry eight months back. I moved onto bikes, but the job position is the same, and I’m facing issues in this position. I used to explain the problem with the bike to the customer mostly on the phone, but the customer would take it the wrong way. They would think that I’m arguing with them. What advice would you give for that?”

Okay, so I actually answered this question directly on Instagram, but I’ll share my answer with you here, and it’s really simple: Just listen more, and ask more questions; you can’t get in trouble for just doing that! You can only get in trouble by stating your opinion.

Jeremy has some pretty good advice for this one: It’s all about tonality. If it’s being taken the wrong way, then there’s a problem with your delivery. You should record yourself during your presentations and listen to it later, so you can hear what your tonality is.

Another thing is, telephone sales are dead! The shops and dealerships of the future will have digital sales processes, because consumers don’t want a Service Advisor calling them, dragging them through the mud, and trying to upsell them on items they’re not even concerned with!

Who knows? If social distancing keeps up, maybe the Service Advisors of the future won’t even talk to the customer anymore…

Speaking of which, that was the last question, and we can move on to our main topic… How to Pet the Dog in a World of Social Distancing. Or, in other words, how can we Pet the Dog in an environment where customers are just dropping off their cars and running?

We have dealerships building plastic barricades between the Service Advisors and customers, because everybody is worried about not touching each other… which is totally valid, but it’s all still very off-putting, right?

Our OnDemand Training platform can teach you anything there is to know about being a Service Advisor. It’s the most fully-featured Service Department training platform on the market, but even we couldn’t predict the global Coronavirus pandemic. 

Not to worry though, because I’m gonna give you a crash course right here, right now…

If you’re new to our show or the terminology, take a second to watch our video on YouTube. It’s a story about me taking in my dog to get a surgery that was life or death, and not wanting to have the surgery done because of the way the doctor treated us. “Petting the dog” is a metaphor for connecting with the customer on a deeper level.

Our asset today in the marketplace is not the brand we sell. If you have an independent shop, it’s not your shop. People aren’t buying features and benefits, they’re buying a relationship. They’re buying a connection. They’re buying empathy, and paying for you to care about them more than anything else! That’s what Pet the Dog represents: the overall investment in building trust and forming a meaningful relationship with our customer base.

That is our biggest asset moving forward.

This is a major shift, not just for Service Departments, but for everybody. This Coronavirus shutdown is changing how consumers interact with brands, not just in the automotive industry, but every industry. The changes are noticeable everywhere; even with things that used to be routine, like going to the grocery store, they’ve got plexiglass barriers on the checkstand! Jeremy had such an awkward experience getting groceries that he claims that he would now rather just order everything online than go back there.

Same thing for us; if service departments are putting plexiglass barriers up at the counter, we’re losing a bit of that connection with the customer. Yes, we have to take precautions, and yes, some customers are staying away from our facilities because of social distancing. That’s outside of our control… but even though we have to do things like keep our distance and wear masks, we need to make sure that our relationships with our customers aren’t strictly transactional. That can definitely damage the relationship with the customer.

The key here is, even if the customer just wants to drop off their car and get out of there, we still don’t want to skip the part of connecting with them, just like we would with a tow-in or a night drop. You’re going to have to do a two-call process where you’re building rapport before they come in. Call each and every one of them beforehand and say, “Hey _____, this is Chris from Bulldog Motors. I know you’re coming in today. How are you doing?”

Then I’d say, “How are you handling this crisis?” as an entry point.

They’re going to talk about work, they’re going to talk about kids, and I’m going to spend the 15 or whatever minutes on the call, listening to how they’re handling this crisis. Then once I’ve dug really deep and I’ve asked a lot of questions, but I haven’t talked about the car yet, I’m going to flip it.

I’m going to say, “Okay, now when you come in, we’re trying to keep you safe. We’re practicing social distancing so when you come in, we’re not going to get a lot of time together, but here’s what I’m going to do: Once you drop it off, I’m going to grab the car. I’m going to put a steering wheel cover on it. I’m going to put seat covers on. We’re going to disinfect it, then I’m going to do a walk-around of it. I’m going to measure your tires. I’m going to check it out, then I’m going to call you, and we’re going to go through everything.”

There’s customers out there with family members that have Coronavirus. You might even have a customer who’s had somebody pass away from it. It’s not about the car all the time…

This is a time for us to be like therapists in a lot of ways. Really connect and show empathy– understand that we’re all human, and this crisis brings us together. We’re all on the same page now. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, Democrat, or Republican…. This is an equalizer.

I would spend 10 or 15 minutes with the customer before they come in, and then I would wrap the call up with, “Well, here’s the process. It’s not going to be what you’re used to, but just drop it off. I will go through it. I’m going to do ____ and ____ and ____, and then I’m going to call you and we’re going to talk about it.”

That’s what I did when I was an Advisor with night jobs, and you’ll really create a deeper connection with your customers by doing that. I remember I’d call customers at 5:30 in the morning and wake them up like, “Hey, I have your van again here. It says that it was leaking coolant.”

“How are you doing?”

“Are you okay?”

“Did you get stuck?”

“Was it towed in, or did you drop it off?”

Then start to build rapport:

“Are you going to be okay without it?”

“Are you going to rent a car?”

“What are you going to do?”

Really open up the door to some conversations. The more personal the conversations, the better. Pet the Dog with the customers more than anything else. Not just in person; it can work on the phone, too. It’s harder over text, but even in text you can still say, “Hey, how are you? How are you dealing with this?”

Customers are also falling through the cracks because a lot of our clients are running two shifts, and they’re not touching each other. They’ll have one crew on for two days, another crew on for another two days. In the communication between the two crews, the customers are getting dropped.

One of the things you can do is have an old-fashioned log sheet, whether it’s Excel or a big old piece of paper, put the Advisors and Techs in groups, and pair them up with their customers. If so-and-so has one shift and I have another shift, I’m handing those customers over and I’m spending 15 or 20 minutes talking to so-and-so about every customer, and really keeping track of the last time we called and updated them.

When we’re slow like this, it’s the time for us to over-communicate, over-deliver, and over-perform– better inspections, Petting the Dog…. You can’t over-communicate enough. No one’s ever had a customer call and say, “Hey, your people communicate way too much with me!”

If you Pet the Dog and leave the customer with a performance that was unforgettable in this difficult time, who are they going to want to deal with when things go back to normal? There’s a Maya Angelou saying that goes like, “They’ll forget what you said. They’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

So let’s make them feel special. Let’s listen, let’s have empathy, and let’s connect on a deeper level. Thanks for tuning in. Don’t forget to submit your questions if you want them answered on the show, and we’ll see you real soon!

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