The Importance of Having Return Customers in the Service Drive – John Fairchild, Fixed-Ops Expert

return customers

According to Cox Automotive’s latest study, Opportunities to Build Customer Loyalty, an estimated 70 percent of consumers who purchased or leased from a dealer did not return for service in the past year. So, how can dealers increase sales in the fixed-ops department in 2019? On today’s show, Jim discusses the importance of having return customers in the service drive with fixed-ops expert and CBT contributor, John Fairchild.


Jim Fitzpatrick: Glad to have you back, John.

John Fairchild: Thank you very much, Jim.

Jim Fitzpatrick: You’ve written an article for us that got a lot of traction, a lot of people talking. The title of the article was Why You Want Customers to Tell You NO in the Service Drive.

John Fairchild: Right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Talk to us about that, and the key points, and the takeaways from that article for those that have not yet read the article in our magazine.

John Fairchild: No, I appreciate it. Now, I think it’s a timely subject. You know, if you’ve been a service advisor or a service manager, I’m talking to you. I know you realize that people are not just lining up in your service drive saying, “Upsell me.” Right? A lot of times the customer doesn’t even know what we’re going to be presenting them to them because it’s something we discovered that they need attention on. And certainly, especially as a new advisor, that can be a little bit of a daunting experience when your perception is that you’re trying to weasel somebody out of some money, or be pushy, or sell them something. But the truth of the matter is, particularly in service sales that is unlike car sales, is that we typically don’t get yes the first time we ask a customer. It takes several trips.

I mean, if you look at it this way, if I’m a rockstar service advisor and I’ve got a 30 or 40% closing ratio, that still means that six out of seven, six or seven out of 10 people are still telling me no. And so, what I contend is that we want to hear those nos so we can get to a yes. That’s really the basis of the article. But within that, you know, I think there’s two major components there that I see would help people be more effective is how to get over the fear of rejection. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

And then the second thing is, this is very instrumental in helping you do that, is there are two really selling situations in the service drive. One is obviously when they bring the car to you and you’re writing them up. Number two is after we have done the courtesy multi-point inspection, and now we’re coming back to them with the results of what we’ve found on their car. So in my article, I’m really kind of expounding on those principles to kind of show you that no can be a good thing.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s right. My father used to say that if you’re going to be in sales, and he was one of those superstar sales guys, you’ve got to listen to know, and digest it as just not yet rather than no altogether.

John Fairchild: Right. And still what I think happens with the service advisors is they start overthinking it, quite honestly.

Jim Fitzpatrick: They do, yeah.

John Fairchild: What I kind of label as fear of rejection sets in, and so they presume a certain way, in some instances, that the customer is going to respond in a way that they can predict, or they feel like the customer is going to feel off-put that you’re even asking them for that additional work, and so a lot of services don’t get upsold in the drive, let’s be honest. It’s just they’d never asked for them. But what we got to remember a service advisors is that actually, we’re not salespeople. Okay? Now that might go, “Wait. Wait a minute. We want them to sell.” Of course, we want them to sell. But let me explain.

As a service advisor, that is what I am. I’m an advisor, and so what the best thing I can do to help my customers, and let’s remember this is not a transactional business. It’s an interactional business. We have to make relationships with customers, and people, you know, they have to be in the mood. They have to like you. They have to feel like you’ve got their best interests at heart. So as a service advisor, that’s simply all you’re doing is advising.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. Elaborate if you will, and describe the two main selling situations.

John Fairchild: Yeah. I would love to. That’s what I was saying, is if as advisors, we can stick to the two main selling situation. Let’s talk about those. One is obviously when you brought that car in, at write up then don’t, as a service advisor, just accept those keys and say, “Hey, I just need an oil change.” That’s what they want to do. They want to drop and run. Go to your waiting room, or get the heck out of there in a loaner car, or get a ride somewhere. But what I would urge you to do is, if you’re not prepared, and ultimately, if you had a pre-write up and you were prepared to know what your plan was for that customer, that would be ideal. But even if it’s just a walk up, take them back to your machine if you don’t have a tablet solution.

Look at their VIN number, and look at their mileage, look at their history, and offer them what is needed on their car based on history and mileage. Okay? I would do that with a statement and then end with the word investment. I know that sounds a little corny, but it really does make an impact. What you’re doing there is you’re just letting the customer make that decision. Now again, you’re going to, more times than not, I don’t care who you are, you’re going to get a no most times, but that’s okay, because the very idea that they needed maintenance may have been nowhere in their mind. So, after I come back from my multi-point inspection, and it may not need anything additional, then now they may consider it again. So, that’s your first primary selling situation is that write up. Okay?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

John Fairchild: The second one occurs obviously after we get in the shop. We address the prime concern, and then we perform a multi-point inspection. The quicker we can get that back up to the customer if they’re awaiting customer, the better because that hopefully catches them while they’re still in some semblance of a good mood. If we’re doing it at the end, now we’ve just kind of blown that situation, but if we go back and present them that what our findings are in a prioritized way, and again we’re just advisors, but one of the tactics and strategies I like to use that really helps to express a sense of urgency for a service in primary selling situation two, which is after the inspection, is to give two options. Okay?

So, your customer might need six or eight or 10 things. Okay? I’ve been a service advisor before and here’s what I’ve done in the past is, I might think, “You know what? Jim, he’s probably going to think I’m blowing him out of the water if I’m ticking these 10 items right?” But let’s face it. If I’m a good advisor, if all of those 10 items are not absolutely essential at this moment, I can tell my customer that, and that gives me a little more leverage to tell them what is exactly essential at this visit. So, it gives me a little foil there to make an emphasis on what they really need today. Another thing I want to point out is customers that are going to buy the whole thing, that are going to buy those 10 items, all you need to do with those customers is give them the information. Everybody else needs an option B so that I’m not just pitching something that is all or nothing. Does that make sense, Jim?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yep. So Cox, let me switch gears here. Cox Automotive recently released a study on the opportunities to build customer loyalty. Something that we really suffer from in the industry, especially in service. According to the study, while dealers may be leading their competitors in the share of service visits, an estimated 70% of consumers who purchased or leased their vehicle did not return for service in the past year. Why do you think that is, and what can dealers do to change that?

John Fairchild: Well, as I kind of mentioned earlier, rudimentarily, the first thing that dealers can do is to realize that it isn’t a transactional thing in the service department business. It’s really relational. Relationship-based. It’s interactional. People want to know a guy, or they want to know a gal that they could trust in the service department, that they can call and they have their best interest in minds. But another thing I’ll say, Jim, is to dealers is technology is your friend. I don’t see a lot of technology being adapted rapidly that would be an advantage.

We’ve got tablet write up systems. We’ve got online scheduling systems. We’ve got texting solutions that make it super easy to keep the status related to the customer, but and all of these are great, but absent of that good old-fashioned proactivity and timely follow-through in that building that relationship, and taking that to heart, you know? It’s not just a nine to five job, or nine to nine job, or seven to seven job. You really got to get people to like you. You got to be likable, and really that’s what people are for. All the other stuff is kind of sprinkles on top of the ice cream.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. There’s no question about it. That’s for sure. I mean, today we really suffer from such a high percentage of customers that just don’t return to the selling dealer, and they go elsewhere for service. It’s been that way for so many years now and something’s got to change. You know? We’ve got to start thinking, I think, outside the box in this particular area in the dealership operation because that number hasn’t moved much. It’s not like it was 90% and now it’s 30. It’s been 30 for a long time, hasn’t it?

John Fairchild: Well, you know, you’re right. There’s a number of reasons why in my mind, but it really boils down to the customer doesn’t have an incentive to come back. Okay? They might have another dealer that’s closer to them. Let’s face it. All menu and commodity sales stuff is so competitive. It’s going to be the same price, right? So, what are your incentives to bring your customers back? Now, I work with, and actually, the dealer where I’m at today uses a huge incentive and that gives him like an 87 percent customer retention rate.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow.

John Fairchild: They call it oil changes for life. They build that into the cars that they sell and the customers come back for their free oil change. It almost works too good, but there are other ways to do it also, Jim. One is prepaid maintenance. If we can get that in the sale of the car to begin with, then that assures that hopefully, that’s something they’re going to come back to us for. Aside from that is set that first service maintenance appointment and follow up with it. Make sure you call them. Make sure you email. Make sure you get that person in the habit of getting here. Now once they’re here, don’t drop the ball.

Flag those people as a first service appointment and roll out the red carpet. Make a big deal out of it, and go through your whole process, not just the shortened version of it the first few times you get that customer in. Make that relationship, and if you’re a service advisor, marry yourself to those people, so it’s not even the name of the dealership they remember. They remember it’s Jim the service advisor, or John the service advisor, that they’re going to see.

Jim Fitzpatrick: There’s no question about it. Well, this is why you’re listening to John Fairchild, and he is the expert in fixed ops. So John, I want to thank you very much for joining us on CBT. It’s always a pleasure, and I know our viewers get a lot out of your visits here. And of course, the written content that you provide to our viewers on our site as well as in our magazine, I want to thank you very much for that as well. Hopefully, we can have you back and talk more about this before the end of the quarter.

John Fairchild: We’ll make that happen. Thank you.

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