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So which side of the fence are you on? – Canadian Auto World

So which side of the fence are you on?


Brian McLean

Which side of the fence are you on?

There is going to be a drastic change in the dealership landscape very soon, so when I ask what side of the fence you are on I mean: are you are trying to keep your current customer base or are you are trying to steal customers away from your completion?

While many GM dealerships are closing their doors, plenty are staying put and reopening with a different sign out front. Now, they may be selling what you are selling.

Competition should always be welcomed; it makes you work harder and helps you think critically. But be warned, a shift in ideologies is required if there is a new kid in town.

For many years, being the only option in your town or city has made your staff complacent. If the customer did not like the service, your advisors knew there was nowhere else to go. That attitude may have come across in the way customers are treated – and that is an attitude that had better disappear from your service department. If not, your customers will.

The key thing to remember when trying to keep your customers is not to give them a reason to leave. You have to pick up your level of service and do things you have never done before or have never offered before.

What do you think the new store in town is going to do to get your customer to come through their doors instead of yours? Advertise and give deals. So why would you not spend some resources to do the same?

I worked for a dealer who ran a full-page, coloured ad on the back page of a major city’s newspaper every day of the week.

I once asked him whether that wasn’t too expensive to run every day, to which he said something I will never forget: “You have to speculate to accumulate.”

So what are you going to offer customers? How about making your service experience more enjoyable? extended service hours? Pick-up and delivery?

Promotions aside, the bigger question is whether you and your staff are willing to do what it takes to really keep your customers. And if the dealer principal is willing to spend more money to make it a reality.

On the flipside, for the stores switching brands that now have a new product to sell and service, how are you going to draw customers to you when you have no experience with the new brand?

This alone could be a topic for another column, but the number 1 thing you have to do is to make sure the public knows you are still open, just selling a new product with the same great staff.

You also have to remember that being the new guy, you only have one shot at getting customers to switch dealerships. You have to wow them on their first visit or else there is not going to be a second or third. You have to wash every vehicle, meet promise times and make sure the customer feels truly appreciated.

I opened this column by asking which side of the fence you are on. Competition is good. Even if your town or city is not going through what I have just talked about, would it not be good for your service staff, service advisors in particular, to act and feel as if there were more competition coming to town?

Would it not be good for your service department staff to realize that without that customer standing in front of them, there is not much demand for them and their jobs?
As strange as that sounds, there are many service advisors who still have the attitude they are doing a customer a favour by looking after their vehicle, when all along, it’s the customer who is doing you the huge favour by walking through your doors and not somewhere else.

Brian McLean is the president of Fixed Ops Solutions in Barrie, Ont. He has over 25 years’ experience in service department management. Call 416-892-8311 or e-mail