Give Your Service Clients a Break

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I KNOW A GUY who's been a service manager for over 20 years (I'll call him "Dude"), and I greatly value his knowledge and experience. The problem is, every time I visit Dude's service department, I witness him and his service writers spewing sarcastic comments at their customers. Then I witness the customers being rude and difficult in return. I know Dude and his crew mean no harm. It's the character of their department — they do it in good spirit. Heck, even their dealer principle thinks it's funny. But consider this: You may not be able to control your customers, but you can influence their behavior. Do you want pleasant customers who give you mutual respect and consideration, or wiseass jerks with bad manners and unreasonable demands?

Influencing the attitude of your customers starts with the service reception or check-in. If you think customers want to visit you for routine maintenance, warranty work or repair, you're delusional. Customers come to service because they have to. Let's make their time with us as pleasurable and profitable as possible.

The service reception starts with homework. At least one day before the appointment, review the service history of all vehicles scheduled for work. Determine their warranty status and other work that may be needed, like upcoming maintenance, tires, brakes or battery replacement and accessories that may go well with others previously installed. Run the VIN to check for outstanding safety campaigns. The goal is to save the customer an extra trip for work you could have been prepared for. Most importantly, it's to ensure the vehicle is safe and roadworthy. And you'll make a little moola in the process.

Before going home for the day, call all of tomorrow's customers to remind them of their scheduled appointment and, if you get them on the phone, share your ideas for any work they might need. Say something like, "John, I looked up your service records and noticed your bike is three years old and you've never replaced the battery. They really don't last much longer than that, and I don't want you be stranded somewhere with a no-start condition. While we have the bike on the rack, we could install a new one. How does that sound?" This plants the seed, and the customer expects to be charged for the additional parts and labor. It also builds rapport because the service writer is looking out for the customer's best interests.

When the customer arrives, the service writer should have clipboard in hand with a Write-Up and Visual Inspection form filled out with the customer's name and vehicle year, model and VIN. (Get these forms from Reynolds & Reynolds; they're worth their weight in gold, especially when used to identify pre-existing damage.) You don't want to fight the customer over a scratched tank your shop didn't cause. The service writer should walk out to customers, welcome them to the store with a smile and stick a mitt out to shake their hand. These are the actions of a friendly service reception that tells customers you appreciate their business. It sets the tone for mutual respect and consideration.

Unfortunately, I often see service writers make the customer walk into the shop and up to their desk, and then wait while the SW is occupied with phone conversations, catalog searches and co-worker chatter. Then, after making the customer wait "their turn," the SW says in a somewhat perturbed tone, "Can I help you?" This sends the message that the customer is interrupting affairs much more important than him. Adding insult to injury, I've experienced SWs following up with a terse, "Do you have an appointment?" as if to say, "If you don't have an appointment, you ain't sh*t." I don't get it. When most shops are begging for business, why are some still treating service customers like second-class citizens?

OK, enough brow-beating. I like to believe you're reading this column because you have a desire to improve customer service and build your business. With that in mind, here are some service reception recommendations.

  • Review the work that was scheduled and ask if the customer is going to wait (this helps you determine the priority of the job)
  • Use the Write-Up and Visual Inspection form as a guide and to document the inspection
  • Start at the rider's view: Capture the mileage and test the lights, horn, electronic accessories, start system and hand controls
  • Continue the inspection in a clockwise rotation so no area is missed
  • Verify that the VIN matches your records
  • Check the wear and condition of the tires, chain/belt, brake system and control cables
  • Check the operation of foot controls
  • Check for loose or missing parts
  • Inspect for fluid leaks and check the engine oil level and condition
  • Inspect for corrosion (like damages from battery acid or harsh chemicals)
  • Note modifications or conditions that can affect braking operation, chassis stability, drivetrain dependability or throttle control
  • Note all dents, scratches and bent or broken parts on the vehicle drawing of the Visual Inspection form and have the customer initial each one to prevent disputes
  • In addition, refer to the inspection criteria provided by the vehicle manufacturer and/or any state inspection procedures that apply
  • Document all discoveries on the Write-Up and Visual Inspection form and have customers sign the form after they review and approve it

In part two, I'll provide you with some solid tips on how to conduct the customer interview and maintain the customer rapport that's starting to flourish.