OK, I’d like to start this article by saying something that will probably tick off about 50% or more of the Service Managers in the country – seems like a good way to start, right? In my opinion, running a successful, profitable, service department is just not that difficult to do. In fact, it’s really pretty easy, which is what really bugs me. I mean, it isn’t rocket science, it’s mostly common sense. So, why aren’t their more great service departments?

The answer is that there just aren’t that many great Service Managers. Now let me explain that I think a great Service Manager is one that treats the service department like it is his/her own business. One that is a team builder and motivator, one that is a sales manager that realizes the awesome opportunities that exist every single day both on the phone and on the drive and one that spends less time in his/her office and more time on the drive increasing sales and improving customer retention. You see, a great Service Manager “gets it” when it comes to thinking long term and handling customers in ways that ensures they will return over and over. None of that is rocket science, is it?  It’s not about hard work, in fact most great Service Managers will agree that their job is easy and that they don’t really work as hard as the poor or fair or good ones.

Don’t believe me? Ask a great Service Manager yourself. All they did was figure out that running a successful and profitable service department just isn’t that difficult. They simply follow common sense strategies that anyone can do – but they follow them with conviction, where others don’t…that is the difference.

If you are a General Manager or Dealer take a minute to mentally evaluate your existing Service Manager. Is he/she a team builder? Is he/she a motivator and a service sales manager? Can you fix him/her and make him/her into what you want him/her to be or are you wasting your time and need to move on to someone else? If you are a Service Manager right now, do the same exercise – grade yourself. Are you poor, fair, good or great? The job market is flooded with great unemployed Service Managers and advisors right now and trust me – some of them are great but were just in the wrong Dealership at the wrong time. Your Dealer and General Managers already know this – so Service Managers, step it up if you expect to keep your job.

OK, by now you are thinking – “God, Randy – I hear you! I know what you are saying about Service Managers and I about half way believe you when you say that running a successful service department is not rocket science – but how do I do it? How do I change? How do I become what I know I should be – when it comes to service?” Some how I figured you would ask that – so here it is, here is the way to get started in a few simple, little baby steps that anyone can follow as long as they are serious, focused and committed to succeed.

1.  GET THE PHONE ANSWERED. 85% of your service customers call first and yet when I do ghost calls to Dealers about 50% of the time I never get to talk to a service advisor. The phone either rings too many times or I get put on “terminal hold” to the point that I hang up. If I do get lucky and actually talk to an advisor they normally just blurt out prices and seem to want to rush me off the phone. I almost never get a real introduction, you know, asking my name and telling me theirs. I almost never hear features, benefits or advantages – the reasons why I should do business with them. I almost never get invited to set an appointment. This is so awful when you realize just how much your Dealership spends on advertising just to get the customers to call you. The fix is simple. Teach your advisors how to answer the phone, to get the customers name, to give the prospective customers reasons why they should choose your store and whatever you do – get them to ask the customer when they would like to bring the car in. The result is more customers, more sales, more profits and it didn’t cost you a dime in extra advertising – just answer the calls you already have!

2. ADVERTISE AGGRESSIVELY. Service reminders and direct mail are still the best way to increase traffic. Think about it, you know who your customers are – they are in your database. You know what they need done to their car because you have their service history. You also know how long it has been since they were in – and you already know that they probably think you charge too much, are inconvenient and that you will take too long. The answer is simple. When you advertise make sure your offers are very competitive and well known. Don’t advertise things that customers seldom, if ever need or think about. Always advertise an oil and filter change and make sure it is a great deal –don’t think you are going to get rich on the oil change, it is a traffic builder to get the customer in your store. Remember, they think you charge too much, you need to prove them wrong! When you advertise, focus on your own database before you go outside to prospect. Your response rates will be much better. The customers in your database already know you and if you give them enough of a good reason to return – they will!

3. BE A SERVICE SALES MANAGER. Get out there and work your service drive – it’s your showroom floor! You can’t make any money sitting in your office pushing papers – you need to manage your service sales team. Let them know that you will do whatever it takes to close every deal. Let them know that you will negotiate when you have to and let them know that you will not stand for anyone that isn’t honest, straight forward and long term customer oriented. The entire success and future of your service department is based on the ability to get customers that want to return. They can go anywhere and get an oil change (in their mind) and you need to make sure your service staff is inviting, pleasant, professional and courteous at all times. You have to make sure your facility is the same way – clean and professional. Take a look at your service drive, your service write-up areas, your restrooms and your customer waiting area. Do they reflect your goal of total customer retention? Would you do business with you based on what you hear and see? If the answer is no, then go to work.

4. GIVE CUSTOMERS REAL REASONS TO RETURN. This concept is really very easy to grasp. It simply means to treat customers like you would like to be treated. Make sure your prices are in line and that your service sales staff isn’t gouging your customers with extra non-essential services like wallet flushing – you know what I mean. If you wouldn’t sell a service to your mother – then don’t sell it to your customer, it’s that simple. In this competitive world we live in – make sure you do what other successful businesses have done to increase owner loyalty by offering some form of a rewards program that entices customers to return. This concept works for every other form of business and it will work for your Dealership too. Play bingo, or something silly, every day in your customer lounge for a free oil change. Let customers know that anytime they want a car wash they can just stop by, no purchase needed. Tell your customers that you never charge for engine light diagnosis, it’s just they way you do business. Just imagine how much business you will get in repair work! When customers call in to be towed, don’t give them the towing company’s phone number – handle it for them. You are their concierge.

There you have it – 4 simple ways to run a successful service department. Of course, Service Managers do a lot more than just these 4 things but, successful Service Managers make these a priority. I think it is safe to say that we have all learned a lot about the car business in the past few years. Every day I talk to Dealers all over the country about everything from advertising to expense control to pay plans and training. With all of these conversations I find that most all of the Dealers I talk to agree on one thing –we can’t run fat and we can’t lose focus. We’re learning that we can’t depend on car sales alone to survive – that we need service and parts and body shops to carry the load when car sales fall on the floor. Now more than ever you need to have or be that Service Sales Manager and run your service department like a Service Sales Department.