Part I: How's Your Intake?
I know I keep harping on the way the front of the shop is run, how the phone is answered and now how the customer is treated once your great phone skills get them to come into your shop. As shop owners and managers, we invest a great deal in keeping up technically, getting the proper training, tools, and the right technicians to professionally and accurately diagnose and repair your customers’ cars. Falling behind technically is expensive and apparent when it is left to lapse. Day after day in the applications I review, the phone calls I make, and the customer data I review is that many customer issues originate from inexperienced or untrained staff in the front of the shop. Service advisors are just “nice”, and sometimes not trained professionally, lack experience, and don’t build relationships. I truly believe that most of the money lost in many shops is lost by the skills of the people in the front.
A customer comes into your shop and is leaving their vehicle with you. What is your process? Is it solid, consistent, and does it set you and your technician up for a profitable exchange with the customer? Does your advisor focus on building that relationship, making the customer feel comfortable? Does your advisor interview the customer about their car and it’s problems or are they merely order takers? Is a walk-around the car done with the customer? Is there an intake sheet? Does your advisor or technician go for a ride with the customer if a driveability problem is mentioned? Did you wow the customer and set your shop up to make money and gain a long-term revenue source? What is your process? I ask, because process matters. It can mean the difference between making or losing money, creating a relationship with the customer, and keeping the customer for good after one visit.
I have done a lot of development on the intake and delivery processes. I have personally measured the need to intake a certain number of customers in a short period of time vs. making appointments for drop offs on a 15-minute interval. In my personal opinion, to be profitable, you must build relationships and get critical information to retrain your customers rather than make appointments. Set people up to give them your undivided attention for intake. For example, a walk-around with the customer is important and during this five-minute walk-around you should make notes about damage and scratches on the car, check the tires, and ask the customer about the car. I have found that people will remember all the little “extra things” if a customer is given a moment to relax. This also gives your advisor a chance to start building that relationship, ask questions, and show care. If there is a drivability concern, test-drive the car with the customer to make sure you know exactly what the customer is talking about. I can’t tell you how many times I have fixed the “wrong” noise. A noise that is troublesome to your technician might not be the noise that is driving the customer up the wall. This also gives you a chance to talk to the customer about “other issues”. The bottom line is that this process sets you up to win, shows you care, and builds relationships!
During the walk-around, make notes as the customer is telling you about their car. Is there a broken taillight? Is there unevenly worn tire? These are services that can be suggested up front with parts that are ordered right away, making your day more productive and profitable. I will tell you this process takes time, but I can also tell you it also makes money. Once the repair order is written, you can attach the walk-around notes for the technician. This will create better communication with your service advisor and the technician, which will raise your shop productivity as well. Customer problems will be diagnosed more efficiently if they are verified. You will save your shop’s time by not having to “upsell” over the phone because you will have already addressed these issues. I guarantee your customers will feel more comfortable with this approach.
These articles are just my opinion and I appreciate your feedback, even if you don’t agree. I also wouldn’t suggest something I haven’t successfully executed in my professional career. For your shop growth and development, I am attaching a walk-around sheet that is similar to something I have used in the past. Feel free to use it or some incarnation of this form. I only ask if you use it, that you make an effort to monitor the success of the process and leave me feedback.
Click here to download the sample walk-around intake sheet.
Jill Trotta is an ASE-certified technician and consultant, and a Certification Manager for the RepairPal Automotive Group. She has over 23 years of experience in the automotive industry as a technician, service advisor, parts manager, and service manager. She has both dealership and independent repair experience. Jill is passionate about changing the face of automotive repair through education and creating a culture of fairness for both the consumers and business owners.
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