Your Service Department and the Absolute Rule

Value outweighs price . . . every time.

Everyone in sales knows this is true. When the value your product or service provides to your customer outweighs its price, a sale is made. It works without fail and is the only “absolute rule” in sales and marketing. Wow your customer with value and the issue of price is diminished.



Examples are everywhere. Everyone has overpaid for a gallon of milk or loaf of bread at a local convenience store because they didn’t want to drive all the way to a supermarket. The convenience of the shorter drive and time savings outweighed the higher price for them.

Let’s take this absolute rule and apply it toward your service department. For as long as I can remember, dealers seemed more concerned with absorption rates than customer satisfaction, making the longevity of a dealership’s value drop like a rock. But there is tremendous value for customers packed away in the bays and under the lifts of service departments at every dealership. With a few minor changes and some customer-focused thinking, any store can slow its attrition and increase its absorption rate.

For customers who have never purchased a vehicle from your dealership, the value of the service department is first defined on your showroom floor. Part of your added-value message (free services you provide your customers that help you stand out from the competition) should include maintenance, loaner cars, shuttle service, complimentary alignment and safety checks, and the like.

Many dealerships provide these services for free in one form or another, but do not emphasize them in their sales process. For example, most customers find bringing their vehicle in for service to be an inconvenience magnified by the necessity of a ride to and from the dealership. Letting them know that you provide relief in the form of loaner cars or, at a minimum, a trustworthy service shuttle is a value that the corner garage or quick lube usually cannot offer.

Every manufacturer recommends walking new customers back to the service department and introducing them to a service advisor during delivery, but how many of us actually do this as a part of our delivery process? Doing it builds trust and familiarity between the service department and the customer. It lets customers meet the people they’ll be dealing with when their vehicle needs maintenance, and gives them someone to call when something goes wrong.

It also allows them to see your facility’s cleanliness, organization, comfort, and convenience. Your goal is to get them to visit you more in service than in sales, and they are more apt to do so if they already know your service staff and facilities. If you aren’t doing this now, figure out why—is it the appearance of the department or just your process?—and change it.

Next, when your customer first utilizes this connection with your service department, be sure your staff keeps its promises. Nothing is as frustrating as scheduling an appointment with a loaner car, only to arrive on time and be told, “Sorry, we’re out of loaners.” We all know loaner cars are subject to availability, but your customer—now soon to be former customer—doesn’t care about your disclaimer.

The customer was sold by the salesperson on the value your dealership provided with its fleet of loaner cars. When customers make an appointment and are assured they will get a loaner when they show up on time for their 8:30 appointment, but end up stranded at your dealership (the last place they want to be) without a loaner car and cannot make their 9:30 meeting across town (the place they need to be), they will blame you.

Organize your efforts and, most importantly, keep your promises. If you don’t have enough loaner cars to satisfy requests, call the people that may not get loaners and tell them in advance. Similarly, if you promised a customer the vehicle will be ready at 4 p.m. and it hasn’t been touched by 3 p.m., call the customer. Be honest and upfront.

You’re going to be delivering bad news regardless of whether or not you call the customer about the problem. It’s better to call in advance than to deal with irate customers standing in the service drive, where other customers will observe their frustration. Customers would rather have you break the bad news to them ahead of time so they can make other plans.

(And as a side note: Customers love coming to pick up their vehicle and finding it not only repaired, but washed and vacuumed.)

You will notice on review sites that many complaints and negative reviews are generated by service customers. And although they may not admit it, customers sitting at a salesperson’s desk in your showroom are just as concerned about the type of treatment they are going to get when they need maintenance or repairs as they are with the price of the car.

The saying “service builds sales” is absolutely true. Use this knowledge to improve your processes and procedures—in both service and sales—to build real value that turns customers into clients for life.

Frank J. Lopes is vice president of Forrest & Blake Marketing/Advertising. His nearly 20 years of marketing experience is focused on automotive dealership and retail marketing.

Frank J. Lopes

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