Inform. Don’t Sell.

Be fair with customers. And yourself!

“I just want an oil change; don’t try to sell me anything else!” Most of us have heard this before. But, what if this customer’s car is in need of additional service? What about items that fall into the needed “repair” category – components that are failing or have failed? Of course, we would want to tell the customer about things that are potentially dangerous. In many cases, though, we may want to honor the customer’s wishes to avoid the perception that we are selling unnecessary services. That’s a reputation we just don’t want.
But, what if this car legitimately needs some serious love to stay safe and dependable? Chances are, you or your service adviser have been in this spot, either because the customer said, “Just do what I say,” or worse, because the customer did not say anything but we assume they are thinking they may be sold unnecessary services. Don’t let this become your shop’s normal approach to business – it will cost you honest money and it is unfair to an uninformed customer.

Perception vs. Reality

Let’s consider customer perceptions vs. reality. If we assume most customers do not want to be sold additional services, we are assuming they do not want to know about necessary maintenance or repairs. That is a disservice to our customers and ourselves.

The Car Care Council’s ongoing “Be Car Care Aware” campaign sums it up perfectly. From the website Q and A page: “Why does vehicle maintenance go unperformed? Consumer neglect of regular care is a result of a lack of awareness and understanding of the inherent dangers and issues caused by unperformed maintenance, misinformation and misperceptions on what needs to be done and when, and lack of reminder mechanisms.” I agree with this statement and see “a lack of awareness and understanding” as a huge opportunity for every auto care business.

Inform Your Customers

Information allows customers to make informed decisions. Sometimes it’s easy. Just show them their worn brakes or CV joints, leaking radiator, discolored and smelly transmission fluid, etc. But, it’s just as easy to leverage OEM service and repair information. The manufacturer specifies what components should be serviced, replaced or inspected based on mileage or time. It’s good practice to share that information with the customer. You will be building a relationship AND increasing the ticket.

Today, OEM information is almost required to capture more profitable work. At the least, it makes it easier. Many service advisers, myself included, learned by watching and doing. Like many, the way I learned was less effective and professional than it could have been. I was friendly and honest with my customers and they usually purchased what I advised, but the shops I worked for had a “only fix what’s broken or asked for” philosophy. That’s just the way it was.

Later, when I had an opportunity to attend an OEM service adviser school, I learned to present and discuss factory maintenance schedules and completed inspection forms with my customers. This technique led to profitable sales and satisfied customers. Everybody won! What made it all work? We used factory information to educate, not to sell.

Help Customers Make Good Decisions

When an adviser’s advice is backed up with factual, written information, you are on your way to building a relationship of trust. Here’s how to help customers make decisions based on facts:

Be the informer and keep it simple.

• Using an information system that provides factory-based maintenance schedules, print out the schedule for the appropriate mileage interval, regardless of the reason for the customer’s visit. If it’s a comeback – take care of that first.

• Don’t assume that the customer won’t want the services or even the printed schedule itself. Sometimes that car, regardless of age or appearance, is more important to the customer than you think. Dependable, safe transportation may be extremely important to them.

• Let’s say your customer is Mrs. Smith and she brought her car in to replace a worn and squeaky belt. Place the schedule on the service desk so she can read it and say, “Mrs. Smith, we’ll take care of the belt as discussed. I also need to let you know this is what the manufacturer says is needed for your car at its current mileage. This helps it to remain reliable and safe. We can take care of this today as well if you like.”

• Review the items on the schedule with Mrs. Smith. She will most likely ask how much it will cost. After you tell her, she will make one of three choices: “Not today,” or “OK, since the car is here anyway go ahead,” or “That’s more than I can spend today. What are the most important items on the list and what can wait?” If it is the third choice, review the schedule for the right choices.

It’s that easy. There should be no pressure given or perceived. Just simple information being shared with your customer about legitimate and needed services. The customer will then decide.

Inspect, Inspect, Inspect

There is another advantage to doing this. In addition to the replace, lube, or adjust items called for in the maintenance schedule, consider what else is indicated: Inspect, Inspect, Inspect. The schedule provides directives to do what many shops likely do anyway: Inspect for things needing attention. The only difference is in customer perception. The customer hears you say, “Part of the maintenance schedule called for inspecting the brakes. We did, and in fact, the front brake pads are very thin and should be replaced.” This is different from the customer wondering why the brakes were just randomly looked at. If you use some type of inspection form already, Bravo! Keep doing that; it enhances the maintenance schedule process by providing a place to note the inspected items’ condition.

I put this process to the test outside of the dealership when I was a trainer for ALLDATA working with independent shops. I was amazed at the response customers had after simply presenting the factory maintenance schedule and saying the right things at the time of write-up, regardless of the original service needs. On average, three to four out of 10 customers opted to do the work or some part of it. The others kept the schedule with some arranging for the service later. Not a bad return on a few minutes of time. In addition, I don’t think any of the customers felt they were being sold, not even those who declined the service. They simply left informed. In fact, I have seen customers respond by saying, “I didn’t know you guys did that work, I thought you were a repair shop.” That one surprised me but proves we can’t assume our customers know what we do. Another one, “Thanks, nobody has ever shared this kind of info with me before.” That new customer became a regular customer at that moment.

Independents Can Leverage Info

I had previously been under the impression that dealers had an advantage in providing these services because they were representatives of the factory and customers felt under obligation to keep their warranty. I now think independent shops have the advantage because independent shops have better and more personal customer relationships, offer better convenience, AND possess the information the dealers have.

Possibly, your shop’s operating practices or service adviser’s style are based on a similar history as I shared earlier. Whether that’s the case or not, most customers are not banging your door down for maintenance-related services. The good news is most of them simply don’t know what is needed. The other good news is you likely already have this often-untapped source of information to educate them.

Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series of management articles contributed to AutoInc. by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program.

ALLDATA, founded in 1986, with more than 86,000 subscribers, is the leading provider of manufacturers’ service and repair information, shop management software and customer relations tools for the automotive repair and bodywork industries. Professional automotive repair shops across North America depend on ALLDATA for their automotive repair information needs and to purchase parts from more than 3,400 AutoZone Commercial program locations.