How A Dealer Should Evaluate A Service Manager’s Performance

Service Manager’s Performance

Everyone talks about metrics, but why not focus instead on the behaviors that the manager’s service advisors show every day? BY GLENN PASCH

I remember the first dealership for which I consulted. I had been asked to help with their service advisor processes. I walked into the dealership, and lots of faces poked out from cubicles, looking at me with great interest. Then, they quickly disappeared.

During a training session later, as we broke off so I could work with the service advisors individually, one of the advisors walked over to me and spoke in a hushed tone. “Can I speak with you?”

“Sure,” I replied, and off we went to find some privacy. This advisor said he had liked my session, but that I should not be put off if his colleagues didn’t listen. “We do pretty much what we want here as long as we hit our numbers.” He went on to tell a story with a laugh, about how he persuaded a customer to order service work that wasn’t really needed for another four months. “Because, I needed that money to hit my bonus and get my boss off my back.”

Counteracting Negative Perceptions

Now, this was six years ago. Many things have changed in the industry since then. However, I am sure the negative perception of the service department typified by my experience with this advisor still exists in the minds of many consumers when contemplate bringing in their cars for service.

Many dealerships I have visited in the last year or so have worked very hard to change this perception. If a car owner calls in for service, their dealerships make sure he or she quickly gets an appointment, that appointment is confirmed, the necessary work is handled correctly, and follow-up is conducted in a very professional manner.

What these dealers have realized is that more than 50 percent of an average dealership’s revenue is generated by the service department. Now, I believe that when it comes time for the dealer/GM to evaluate the service manager’s performance, it can be less strategic and beneficial to emphasize certain key metrics – recognizing that the industry is all about management by critical performance indicators – than to emphasize whether the service advisors who report to that manager embody certain key habits and behaviors. If the service manager is not holding his team accountable for the processes and habits used when dealing with every customer, then the service operation loses revenue.

However, the problem is that in dealerships around the world that I have visited, service advisors are judged only on metrics and are often overlooked on training that can develop those key habits and behaviors. Why are advisors short-changed with training? My opinion is that because manufacturer’s incentives are focused on new vehicle sales, salespeople are where dealers choose to focus their training dollars.

Habits To Engrain In Advisors

For those dealerships that wish to improve the performance of your service team, here are a few important habits that your managers or internal trainers can emphasize to improve performance.

Habit #1: Being prepared

Top service pros devote a significant amount of time to knowing their services. How do you train a new advisor on your services? Is there a written training process that your service manager delivers? Are there ongoing training sessions to make sure the advisors’ skills remain sharp?

Just handing the advisors specifications or price sheets and thinking they will become experts is not the answer. Set aside time each month to work with each advisor on a specific area of product knowledge so they can speak with confidence to your customers.

Habit #2: Listening skills

The late, great Dr. Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” This is a great lesson for us all.

The best service advisors I know are excellent listeners. They listen carefully to what their customers say and seek clarification when necessary. They use prompters such as “Tell me more” or “Go on,” which encourage the customer to speak freely about his or her automobile.

This is not some verbal trick to get more revenue, but rather a way to focus the advisor on solving a problem for the customer (sometimes a problem that customer does not know how to articulate).

Habit #3: Clarity/transparency

The better that your service advisor can do in setting clear expectations for the customer in regard to time or cost, the more likely the customer will return in the future.

Advisors need to be instructed and coached to explain all service work that will be required and the time expected to complete each task. The advisor should ask the best number to connect with the customer if something changes, and use it.

Most customers will accept their service taking longer than expected, if the dealership has given them a heads-up so they can reschedule their day. Telling them about a delay when they have just arrived to pick up their car is never a good experience for either side.

Habit #4: Follow-up

Many service advisors fail to follow up with their customers once the service is done. Many service departments outsource this task to a third party or they even have another person in the dealership handle it. I believe long-term customer retention improves if the service advisor calls his own customers.

If advisors are rewarded on retention (more on this below), then I would expect the service manager would mandate they reach out to their customer base to schedule the next service appointment as needed.

When Metrics Enter The Equation

Now, insofar as what quantifiable metrics service advisors should be evaluated by, a dealership needs to first decide whether its goals are principally short- or long-term, revenue-only or revenue plus retention.

If you are fixated on increasing revenue per service ticket, then create a bonus plan that incentivizes up-sells of services. If your goal is to increase the menu of services sold, then again match the bonus plan to the service.

CRM compliance or follow-up could be a metric that is inspected, if the dealership is focused on long-term retention of service customers.

One metric I think is often overlooked is repeat customers or service retention. What if you rewarded the service department or advisor team on the number of repeat customers who came in each month? This would incentivize the team to make sure they work their database to bring more service work into your dealership. This strategy also offers the used car department access to a bigger pool of pre-owned vehicles.

By aligning your training with the proper metrics and incentives, you will not only have a more efficient team of advisors, but also a larger pool of happy service customers.