Show Me the Money!

CSI scores

Taking a cue from Hollywood could boost your service department’s CSI scores and bottom line.


Have you ever watched an older movie and asked, “Why don’t they make them like that anymore?” I know why they don’t. It’s because no one would buy a ticket and go. It is not that the old movies were bad; they aren’t called classics for nothing. However, the production values are so low-grade compared to today that modern audiences just cannot look past the antiquated technology. The story alone is simply not good enough in most cases, to hold the audience’s attention. Movie producers are in the movie business to make money.   You are in the automobile business to make money. It’s as simple as that, and like the movie industry, you have to keep things modern and relevant or you won’t keep the attention of your customers.

“If you build it, they will come”Ray Kinsella, “Field of Dreams” 1989

Hollywood and the movie industry understand that if what they are producing is not the latest and greatest, the public simply will not buy a ticket. It is all about the experience. Even from the viewing perspective, the movie industry is constantly changing the audience’s experience. IMAX theatres and 3D movies were all the rage a few years back. Now they are actually changing the seating.

There is a chain of theaters called Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas, which has taken movie watching to a whole new level. These theaters offer state-of-the-art screens, sound and projectors. Every seat in the house is a leather recliner that rivals the best recliners you may have in your own home. These establishments deliver everything right to your seat from simple snacks to full entrées and even a complete range of adult beverages. They know that with all of the advancements made to in-home theater systems, the experience in the commercial theater must equal or be greater than what you can get at home or elsewhere. It is working big!

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”Hans Solo, “Star Wars” 1977

The auto industry knows that you have to constantly change to lure the customer through the front door. Even though you can buy cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro that look retro and evoke nostalgia, they clearly are updated technological pieces of art. They are not the same cars. People like the old, as long as it is new.

“Surely you can’t be serious.” “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”Dr. Rumack “Airplane!” 1980

I am dead serious when I say that, on the service side, we keep producing the same old, tired crappy experience, the same way we did three decades ago and we can’t seem to figure out why we struggle so much to attract new customers and retain them. What follows are some ways we can bring our “production values” up to a standard that would show our customers that what we are offering is not the same old rerun, but the latest and greatest and that we will do what it takes to stand out. Nothing that makes sense should be off the table. Let’s break this into three categories: your building, your people and your brand.

“A Nose? You lose the race by a nose; you’d better fall off tryin’!”Dutch Doogan, “Seabiscuit” 2003

Your building

“I don’t know what we’re yelling about! Loud noises.”Brick Tamland, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” 2004

There are three things that drive your customers crazy. The first is the noise factor. If the write-up area is any louder than a Starbucks at 7:30 in the morning, it’s too loud. If your customers or service advisors have to raise their voices during the write up, your drive is simply too loud. Based on our observations, this is a bigger problem then you may realize.

The second is your customers hate it when a place is so nice that it is intimidating and no fun. The dealership I take my car to for service is a prime example. It is new and it has a very fresh, contemporary look. The problem is that it does not look or feel inviting. Although they may have accomplished their goal of looking avant-garde, the problem is that it has the look of an art museum and the feel of a morgue. It even seems to affect the employees, as they have zero personality. You can be modern and fresh and still have personality.

“Oh, this is your wife, huh? A lovely lady. Hey baby, you must’ve been something before electricity!”Al Czervik, “Caddy Shack” 1980

The third thing your customers hate about your shop is when it looks old school. With the advent of flat screen televisions and the versatility of computers, there are a multitude of ways you can make even the oldest and most outdated shops look current and modern.

Your People

“Be our guest. Be our guest. Put our service to the test!” ­ Lumiere, “Beauty and the Beast” 1991

Next we need to address your staff. There are two areas here that scream for your attention. First is appearance. When I first started visiting service drives everyone wore coats and ties. Then dealers started relaxing their standards and have so to the point that many times a customer cannot tell who is an employee and who is not. A coat and tie may be overkill but a uniform look is not. It may not even be a bad idea to have a uniform designed.

“Bad beer. Bad service. Don’t people know not to come in here?” Bartender, “Desperado” 1995

The second big area of concern with the staff is consistency. Do your customers receive the same level of service from everyone they come in contact with? Do all of the employees speak the same language (word tracks)? Think Ritz Carlton, Disney, Apple, Starbucks, Nordstrom’s, etc. Every move and every word of every employee is scripted. Consistency is what makes those and so many other companies stand out.

Your Brand

“What we’ve got here…is failure to communicate.”Captain, “Cool Hand Luke” 1967

Finally, let’s talk about your brand. Do you have one for service? Don’t feel bad. From what I have seen, less than 1 percent of the dealerships I encounter have a brand for service. We so diligently work on the sales side to carve out our brand. In every marketplace you have the “low payment” store, the “biggest selection” store, the “lowest price” store, the “best buying experience” store, but rarely do you ever see the service side develop a brand and promote it.

Not having a brand for service is very perplexing to me. When I address this with dealers and general managers, their standard reply is that they allow each service manager to run the department as they see fit. Meaning, if they have multiple locations they have multiple brands. This is very frustrating to your customers. They like to know that if they visit one location and like it and buy a car from that location, their experience with the service department will mirror the satisfactory experience they had with the sales department.   When you have a brand you will have to have a process to support that brand. That in turn will make it infinitely easier to measure the individual success levels of each location and will practically guarantee that your customers will be happy. Here again we address the importance of consistency. By allowing your service managers to run the shop as they see fit, you are guaranteeing multiple brands, multiple processes and massive inconsistency from place to place. Every successful franchise thrives on its brand and consistency.

“My Mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.'”Forrest Gump, “Forrest Gump” 1994

Don’t put your customers in a situation where they don’t know what kind of service they are going to receive. Create a standard of quality that is consistent and you will create a loyal customer.

What I have presented to you are a few areas that you can and should look at in an attempt to bring your shop up to level that your customers deserve and are demanding. Today’s customer is the most selective I have ever seen. They are not patient and they instantly recognize when the movie you are playing is old, outdated and has less than state-of-the-art production techniques. If you fail to work on this, frankly, your customers won’t give a damn! They will just go where the seating, story and presentation are superior. Or as Bill Murray, in “Ground Hog Day” so succinctly put it, “Ned, I would love to stand here and talk with you, but I’m not going to.”