Many advisors in the service lanes confuse “selling” with “transacting.” Selling is a process that persuades someone to buy something, while transacting is simply conducting business to a settlement. What they fail to realize is that the latter can’t be accomplished without the former.

I recently met with a dealer client to conduct a service department evaluation. The dealer wondered why parts and service sales had remained stagnant for the past few years despite increasing sales of both new and used vehicles. I asked him to meet me at the service drive the next morning when the doors opened at 7 a.m. We watched while his service advisors ran through their usual routines for two hours before I asked the dealer if he could take the next service “up.” He asked, “Why did you call it an ‘up’?” and I replied with two questions of my own: What makes a service customer any different from a showroom customer, and why should the sales process employed in the sales department be any different from the one used in service and parts?

The reality is that there is no difference between the two processes. Each customer represents someone who has to be sold and converted to a transaction, so every sales process should have measurable key performance indicators. These measures should include: “Ups,” demo rides, customers who were given a price, the negotiation, purchases, “be-back” customers, “be-back” customers who were closed and F&I adds. Now that we have our gauges, let’s run through the process.

Step 1: Introductions

It’s often the most overlooked step, but introducing your customers to parts and service after they’ve committed to a vehicle purchase is a fundamental step toward building a sales process for your fixed-ops departments. Explain how your appointment process works and be sure to show the customer where vehicles are dropped off for service. Then take a moment to flip to the appropriate page in their owner’s manual and run through their vehicle’s maintenance requirements.

I also recommend that your service and parts managers send a “Thank You” letter to new customers. It’s a great way to outline what was covered during the introductions, and it’s one more opportunity to put your service advisors’ names in front of your customers. But there are other ways to let your customer know you care.

• New-Owner Clinics: Today’s vehicles are like rolling computers, and you can’t expect your customers to remember everything they learned during the initial delivery process. A new-owner clinic is a great way to make sure they understand everything there is to know about their new vehicle.

• Redelivery Process: One of my clients requires that his salespeople set an appointment with new customers to explain how the navigation, radio and climate control systems work. His employees will also set up the customer’s hands-free system for their mobile devices. They also are instructed to tell customers that they can set up an appointment at any time to have someone in service review the vehicle’s features. As it turns out, the process lends itself to his salespeople asking customers for referral business, and it has generated additional accessory sales as well.

• Special Offers: Another dealer client of mine provides a $50 gift certificate customers can use for the purchase or installation of an accessory item. The voucher, which is provided during the introduction process, is only good for up to 90 days from the date of sale.[PAGEBREAK]

Step 2: Appointment Setting

I strongly recommend that dealers set each customer’s first service appointments before they drive off the lot. But before you start setting those appointments, make sure your store also establishes processes for reminding customers about their appointments and for following up with them after their visit. Here’s a word-track your advisors can use:

“We will be setting your first appointment for [date]. But if you’re like me, you probably don’t know what your schedule will look like this far in advance. That’s why we will send you a reminder five days before your appointment and the day before. We can reschedule if necessary, but it’s important for our service department to reserve time for your vehicle needs.”

Step 3: Managing the Experience

Gaining the customer’s trust is critical in the service-and-parts selling process, which is why you want your service advisors trained on how to build a one-on-one relationship with the customer. But the best way to build trust is to have a process that manages the customer’s experience from the time they arrive to the time they pick up their vehicle. Here’s an outline of what that process should entail:

• Meet and greet the customer.

• Identify their needs.

• Confirm to the customer that you understand their needs.

• Commit to a time when their vehicle will be completed.

• Recommend additional services based on customer needs.

• Offer a multi-point inspection and walk around the vehicle to assess additional needs.

• Handle administrative tasks.

• Thank the customer for their business.

Just remember that the customer’s first service visit is critical: If their expectations aren’t met, they might decide to look for other shops or, worse, fail to keep their vehicle properly maintained. Next month, we’ll delve a little deeper into how your service advisors should manage the customer experience and learn how successfully following each step will pay off in the end.

David Linton is a consultant for ATcon, a fixed-operations consulting company. He also is a partner with OnCourse LLC, a training and material development company. E-mail him at [email protected]