Speed and ease are key for service retention

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One of the best ways to turn your service department into a profit driver is to go from the “garage to the pits,” said Steve Emery of Dealership Management Consultant.

Emery argued that speed and convenience are the keys in turning over happy customers willing to return to your service department.

Instead of offering shuttle service or a loaner car for things like regular warranty work or oil changes, Emery argued it is far better to focus on speed and have a “while you wait” policy.

“How is it convenient to drop off and pick up your car? It still requires two trips to the dealership,” he said.

The pits is car racing parlance where a car speeds in, gets new tires, fuel and any other service it needs in a flurry before speeding off. This style of service, similar to aftermarket solutions like Mr. Lube, should be the goal at your dealership, he said.

Bring the vehicle in, have four to six techs work on it at the same time, each with a specific job, he said. Keep in constant communication with the service advisor so any problems can be relayed to the customer “before they even have coffee in their hand.”

Repair orders can be written and pulled before the appointment to make sure the techs know what to look at and what parts they will need.

During his presentation, Emery showed how the results of the garage to pits format speak for themselves:

• average maintenance service time drops to less than an hour
• more labour hours mean more cars serviced resulting in a higher gross
• greater shop utilization
• more money per repair order.

He said the best way to increase the total on an RO is to create a team checklist. Tires, batteries and brakes should be top of the list because all are measurable, used by the aftermarket to lure customers and usually the first non-warranty item to go after initial maintenance.

“If retention is your goal, you must be competitive on these items,” he said. “You are not going to make a ton of money on these but if you don’t do these simple things, you won’t keep your customers.”

Emery said one of his best-in-class dealerships has monthly tire and battery sales of six figures because they pay attention to those little things.

Other customer retention tips included:
• Buy some branded merchandise (t-shirts, mouse pad, etc.) and let the customer pick something after a particularly large bill.
• Send birthday cards to the car with free car wash coupons.
• Create clubs like the 100,000 km club or the accessory club.
• Create a sales referral program for customers.
• Give a free oil change and basic service after a major repair bill.

Overall, he said it was key for the dealerships to focus on customer service. If retention is the goal, institute the policies needed to have the customer drive past five other options to get to your store.