How to Increase Sales in Your Service Drive

Asking is only half the job—knowing when to ask is the other

Retail is one of the most controllable types of business that dealership repair shops have. So why do we seem to never have enough of it in the service drive?

Some reasons, such as competing recall work and general business cycles, certainly complicate matters, but though they’re not a walk in the park, they are controllable . . . if you have a plan.

Yes, you read that right: With proper planning, you need never run out of work on slow days, and you get a bonus when times are good.

Every day, enormous sums of money are left on the table because no one asks for it. But asking is only half the job. Knowing when to ask is the other.

In any transaction, there are points where customers are more likely to buy than others. Unfortunately the “ask” often happens, if it happens at all, just when your odds are at their worst. Vegas card counters know that they increase their chances of winning by placing their bets when the cards are statistically in their favor.

Although customers are not cards, the same strategy can be applied to the average service visit. So assuming that you run an ethical shop and have skilled technicians doing the work, when are the best times to place your bets? Two of them are the appointment and the write-up.

The appointment

When customers call for an appointment, after you’ve given them a hearty greeting, provided accurate repair descriptions, and set a time, a well-placed recommendation can yield positive results.

If your customers ask for basic services, you can be sure that maintenance is near the top of their mind. Suggesting additional relevant services can prompt customers to add to their maintenance shopping list.

In all cases, recap their requests and close by saying, “Is there anything else we can take care of for you while your vehicle is here?” Such phrases encourage customers to think beyond their immediate needs, and frequently prompt add-ons.

Even when they decline, you have planted seeds that often bear fruit.

The write-up

There are several points in the write-upwhere well-placed suggestions can lead to unplanned sales. Sadly, too many service departments are the home of the “30-second write-up.”

Service advisors who do this leave the job of finding additional sales to the technical expert working on the vehicle. Technicians are great at finding broken stuff, but less great at finding maintenance that is overdue.

But assuming that your staff’s basic Service Advisor 101 skills are in place, what are other key transaction points?

Walk-around inspections

Vehicle walk-around inspections have been around for years, and are an effective sales tool in any shop setting. They help you identify preexisting damage and repair needs that are visible, which are difficult for customers to refuse when they see the evidence.

The real payoff comes, however, when service advisors conduct their walk-arounds. This shift in momentum allows customers to slow down and relax, which improves their receptiveness to your sales presentation.


Multipoint report card inspections (MPI) are also great sales builders, but only when customers realize their vehicles are getting them. It actually reduces the odds of making a sale when you spring news to unsuspecting customers of needed repairs revealed through an MPI.

A customer’s default response is often “not at this time” when confronted with making a short-notice decision for which they were unprepared.

Presenting a blank red, yellow, and green “stoplight-formatted” MPI during the write-up visually informs customers that someone will be inspecting their vehicle, and improves the likelihood that they will be less surprised and more receptive when techs find service sales opportunities.

MPIs become even more effective if, as part of the presentation, customers sign and authorize them. If they weren’t paying attention before, they sure will now, giving the advisor the opportunity to explain how the no-charge service of performing an MPI can save them big money from breakdowns.

Don’t neglect customers who request only non-maintenance diagnosis, repair, recall, or warranty work, because walk-around inspections and multipoint presentations will yield results. Maintenance customers arrive presold on the idea of maintaining their vehicle, and generally understand that their long-term interests are served by keeping ahead of problems.

This is the perfect time to recommend other current or overdue time and mileage services that make sense. Sadly, poorly prepared advisors, who have not reviewed vehicle service histories, are unaware of specials, rebates, deferred interest, product warranties, etc., or simply skip this step altogether, squander this lucrative opportunity all the time.

Also, asking customers if previously declined services have been taken care of can pay dividends at this time. In addition, when vehicles are dropped off overnight or towed to you, customers appreciate when you make a quick call to confirm that you have their vehicle and go over their repair requests.

In the service drive, when your service advisors provide all customers with walk-around results, a maintenance-needs analysis, and a verbal MPI introduction, extra service sales are sure to follow.

Rob Kealey is a 35-year fixed operations veteran and founder of Sigma Fixed Ops Performance. By reducing service transaction variations, we boost sales and performance. Rob can be reached at (609) 703-8412 or


Rob Kealey


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