Closing the Great Divide

customers falling between the cracks

By uniting sales and service, you’ll keep from customers falling between the cracks and in turn, create a loyal base of satisfied buyers. BY BRENDA STANG

A few years ago, I was on a break at a Dealer 20 group meeting. It was after the service department review and there were more than a few dealers shaking their heads with frustration. One fellow in particular commented on the performance of his service department. His pain points? He knew he was missing out on a great profit opportunity in service but frankly he didn’t know where to start. His sales and service departments seemed to operate in two totally different worlds and had customers falling between the cracks. He didn’t know where to start closing that gap. What he did know was, that if he could fix those two items, he could build an outstanding dealership and make a lot of money.

I don’t know of too many savvy business people who would sink millions of dollars into a business that sets its departments up to conduct business at odds with each other, yet that seems to happen in so many dealerships. In many cases, sales and service relationships are full of friction and are divisive. The customer falls between the gaps and that is not a good thing.

Closing the great divide between sales and service requires developing practices and behaviors that ultimately result in a great workplace culture, increased employee retention and increased customer retention. The end result is not only aligned sales and service departments but also increased profits that are sustainable. I’ve yet to meet a dealer who is allergic to that.

Closing the gap doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by design. Here are some how-to points.

Great Workplace Culture

Take a look in the mirror first. Did you really intend to build a business where the divide between sales and service creates the gaps that your customers are falling into? Dealers who are intentional about their culture and who make a priority out of clarifying their values get the business they deserve. Here are concrete steps to building your customer focused culture.

  • Culture starts at the top and it moves down through the ranks. What are your values, passion and purpose for your dealership? What does it mean to you to have a seamless business where customers are served and retained? What does it look and feel like? Are you living it and do your employees see it? The leader always goes first and they don’t preach, they lead by example. When employees see their leader, day in and day out, talking about and living their values they will follow.
  • Are you firm in your belief in the purpose and values of your dealership? Firm enough that you will hire people in alignment with them? Firm enough that you will offload the people who are pushing your dealership out of alignment? The action plan to conquer the divide will be carried out by the right people in place in your store. Put the extra care and diligence into hiring and bring on the right people the first time.
  • Share your story with your customers. The quality of vehicles is pretty well equal and everyone has great looking facilities with lots of cars, modern service and parts departments. Your prime differentiator is your people creating the great customer experience. Talk about what makes you different, the seamless process between sales and service and what that means to your customers and make sure that you do it every day.

Increased Employee Retention

Imagine what a dealership filled with the right people looks like. These are people who fit with your culture and are working in the right jobs and working to their strengths. Now, what are some things that can be done to close the divide and keep these people with you?

  • Help them understand the business model of your store. One of the industry statements is that nothing happens until a vehicle is sold. It doesn’t mean that the sales department is more important, it just means their role is to start the ball rolling. It makes them more visible, not more important. Service is equally important in that it provides the after-sale care. The care they give is important in the retention of the customer. They need to own this and be proud of it. The dealerships that get this right will rule the industry.
  • Have them walk a mile in each other’s shoes. When staff can have an understanding and appreciation for the roles in other departments they will find ways to support them in their work. Instead of looking for fault or placing blame they’ll ask more questions so they can understand and support.
  • Encourage after work functions that build teams. The Gallup Organization did a massive survey on workplace satisfaction and found that the workplaces that built teams and encouraged camaraderie had high levels of employee retention. Strengthening personal relationships between departments can only work to improve communication and create cohesiveness in the business.

Increased Customer Retention

While it is true that sales creates a customer, service retains the customer. The stats are in and the customer has spoken. Seventy-six percent of people will buy from the dealership at which they are happily serviced. Dealerships that are able to seamlessly transition and deal with customers between its departments will be more successful at retaining its customers. Here are some simple tips to improve those transitions.

  • Put a sales-to-service introduction in place so your customer knows what comes next. Don’t let them fall into the gap. The key to success with this is to have a consistent process that ensures every customer gets the same tour and information packet every time. Your goal is to make your service department highly visible and top-of-mind with your customers. A higher percentage of customers will return to service their vehicle and in turn will purchase another vehicle when the time is right for them.
  • When sales staff are talking with customers, are they mentioning the service department and the great maintenance services? If they are aware of customer issues with service, are they empowered to a certain level to fix it? If it’s beyond their scope, do they know who to elevate it to? The interesting fact here is that customers who have had problems that are appropriately addressed, turn into the most loyal customers you will have.
  • Service retains customers in many ways. In many cases the service advisors will be the first one to hear when a customer is thinking of getting a new vehicle. The turnover to a sales consultant should be consistent and friendly. Everybody benefits from retaining this customer. Sales sells another vehicle and service keeps a happy customer in their service cycle.

The biggest myth in our industry is that the great divide between sales and service cannot be closed. It’s there and just live with it. Too many dealerships accept the status quo and let it live on. This is good news for the dealerships who have figured out that they are in the people business and that the prime differentiator in their marketplace is their people and the impact they have on their customers. Close the great divide between sales and service in your store and your customers will stay with you for life.

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After 19 years in the dealership world, Brenda shifted a gear and started an organization to train and coach dealership managers. During her time in the Ulmer Auto Group, she worked with GM, Toyota, Nissan, Dodge and Chrysler stores. As managing partner for two of the top GM dealerships in Western Canada for the past 14 years, she worked with her management teams to develop and practice the best habits to be effective and efficient. She is a certified trainer, coach and speaker with the John Maxwell Team. You can reach Brenda at