The old cliché tells us that ‘Talk is Cheap.’ But every sale in your dealership begins with talk. Likewise, dissatisfied service customers can give you a low CSI rating, not because their repair work was done wrong, but because did not like the way they were talked to.

It is inexpensive to learn to communicate with customers in slightly different ways. That’s a good deal, because a few simple changes can improve your service department’s CSI score, and increased profits will follow. So here are five small, easy things you can teach your team members about the way they talk with service customers.

  1. Understand the difference between same-day service and one-day service, and then adjust your conversations to suit. Same-day is drop off and pick-up in the same day. One-day means pick-up is promised 24 hours after the drop-off time; the car stays overnight.

For years, market researchers have told us that service customers prize one thing above all else; getting their car back the same day they drop it off. But many smart people think that research was faulty. The research surveys did not convey the point that rushing vehicles through a multi-step process of drop off appointment, dispatching the work, inspection by the technician, building the estimate, selling the work, and then getting the repairs completed all in one day breeds mistakes, errors in communication and misdiagnoses.

Also, when your technicians find that additional repair work is needed, your customers can become annoyed that all the work can’t be completed within the same day. They will feel disappointed with your service, even though they buy the work and leave the car overnight. Then you get a poor customer satisfaction rating from them, even though the repair work was done properly. Think about how we set ourselves up for problems like this to happen.

Let’s go back to the old marketing research we said was flawed. Suppose consumers had been given the choice of one-day service with a much less chance of the above problems occurring. In that case, they would likely have said they prefer one-day service with a lower probability of hassles instead of same-day service with the increased likelihood of problems occurring. It makes sense.

2. In addition to not assuming everybody needs their car back the same day, let’s not talk like they do. Instead of offering early am drop-off appointments, we can instead ask “What time would you prefer to drop off your car?” Then be quiet and listen patiently for the answer. A surprising number of people will say that an early morning drop off is too hectic, with getting kids off to school, coordinating transportation with their spouse or partner, and fighting traffic. They will tell you mid-mornings work best, because their office takes a coffee break then and a coworker can easily give them a ride back to work.

Likewise, if we listen, they will start telling us that it’s too hectic to come back at 6:00 pm to retrieve their car, for the very same reasons. They will want to pick up their car the next day, at the same time they dropped it off.

Try it, and watch the results. Besides, how many cars do you have each day that are finished at 6:00 pm but are left overnight? Probably more than we might assume. Start keeping track of that, and you will soon lose the belief that everybody ‘needs’ their car back the same day.

Besides, in today’s economy many people telecommute and work from home. They are not as dependent on their car as they were years ago, when all that flawed market research was being conducted.

3. This tactic will cost you nothing to implement. As a manager, how often do you get told ‘thank you?’ Probably not often enough! When you are a customer, how often do you get told that? Your service customers feel the same way; forgotten, neglected, taken for granted. Goodbye CSI score when they receive their surveys.

When there are short lulls in the daily activity on the service lane, why not ask your service advisors to call their customers who picked up their cars the day before and say “thank you.” They can leave a voice mail if they have too. Then maybe call them again one week later, just to make sure they are satisfied with the work and to see if they have any questions. Unanswered questions, no matter how minor, will lower your CSI score. The smallest courtesies make the biggest differences in sales. People buy from people, not from companies, especially when it comes to repeat sales. Try telling your customers ‘thank you’ more often and see what happens. It’s a cheap investment in your service business.

4. Bill Gates said “The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competitors, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information.” It would make sense to add that, if Bill Gates is correct, then your service department can also use information to raise its CSI score, and to increase profits as well.

So, what is this information that is so valuable, that is at your disposal, that many of your service customers want, but that you are leaving unused? The answer is that information resides within the minds of your best technicians.

Sometimes customers simply feel uneasy about car repairs for any number of reasons. They don’t speak the language of technology, it’s expensive, and they’ve probably had bad experiences with service in the past. Just as hearing ‘thank you’ can make a big difference to some people, getting a short phone call from the tech who is working on their car can really make them feel much better about doing business with you. That alone can raise your CSI score.

But don’t leave the process to chance. Just as new and used car sales train their salespeople, you also can train your techs how to make those calls. So, what should you teach your techs to say? How about:

“Hello, I’m your technician, thank you for bringing your car in, I looked it over and I see what is causing the problems you told us about. Would you like to hear an explanation of what it needs?”

Also “I don’t have the prices; the service writer will figure that up and call you soon. But I just wanted to be sure you have all your mechanical questions answered.”

Pick out three of your techs that like talking to customers and start a pilot program. Coach them along. Then watch how many up-sales come from your pilot program, simply from customers receiving a short courtesy call from their tech. That happens often because the customer feels comfortable asking the tech if he or she sees anything else their car might need.

Train your techs to ask for referrals from their customers, just like salespeople are trained to ask for referrals. Tell your techs in the pilot program that they will have that customer assigned to them on every future service visit (if the tech likes the customer), along with all the referrals that customer sends your way. See if that doesn’t develop into a gold mine for your service department. It’s a cheap process to implement, to develop and to refine. It costs you nothing but some time. Your ROI on that project will be far greater than promoting cheap oil changes.

5. Lastly, consider that women make 40% of all purchase decisions in this country, and have a great influence over much of the other 60%. Yet car repair is still very much a male-dominated industry. Since there is such a big disparity, it would be worth learning how communication styles differ between your women and men customers.

This is a huge area of professional study, so we’ll just drop a hint here. We’ll oversimplify it, too, just to make a point of what you can do to raise your CSI scores.

Men tend to be focused on achieving goals, striking deals, and competing. Great, let’s sell to them as usual. Women, on the other hand, are wired to look at life a little differently. They tend to build relationships (yes, men don’t like that word, it makes them uncomfortable), and look for ways to build cooperation. Again, this is over simplified, but what does that mean about the way you speak with your women service customers?

There are many little ways to modify your conversations to demonstrate that you understand the female mindset. Things like:

“You must be upset your car is acting up. I would be. It’s so irritating. What are you most worried about?”

Many women will answer that by telling you how they feel about having car troubles. It’s natural for them to talk in terms of feelings, where men talk in terms of thinking and reasoning (until their team wins the World Series or the Super Bowl).

But chances are your women customers feel the same way about bringing their cars in for repair that men feel about going to the dentist with a toothache. Not pleasant. If you don’t give them a chance to vent that, you leave them feeling misunderstood, unappreciated and taken for granted, even though the repair work was done correctly. Goodbye CSI score.

So where do you get this information about communication styles? It’s so cheap that it’s almost free. By reading. While general books on active listening skills are good, much work has been done studying (specifically) how conversation styles differ between women and men.

Two such classic books are:  1) You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation and 2) He Said, She Said: Exploring the Different Ways Men and Women Communicate.

Both books were written by Deborah Tannen, and are available cheap on Amazon. If you don’t have time to read, by the CD and listen as you drive.

 

Summary

Yes, talk is indeed cheap. It is very inexpensive to learn these five simple ways you can change how you converse with your service customers. These little differences will improve your CSI score, and increased profits will follow.

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