Meeting and greeting customers sounds simple enough, but it is one of the most overlooked steps in the service sales process. And it’ll take more than a handshake and a warm smile if the goal is to upsell your customer on additional and necessary service work.

When selling the service “up,” first impressions really do count. The physical environment must present a positive image of the business. That means getting rid of those piles of paper and repair orders and removing those sticky notes from walls and desktops. Remember, 60 percent of communication is expressed nonverbally, and you’d be hard pressed to find that type of clutter inside a big-box retailer. So, take a walk through your service drive and make sure it has the look and feel of a retail operation.

Now, do you have point-of-sale displays that are clean, fresh and inviting? I was on a service drive not too long ago and the parts department had a tire display mounted on the wall. It was a nice display that had tires set up in a good/best/better pricing formation. Problem was, the tires were dusty. From that point on, we had someone from the parts department apply tire dressing on a weekly basis.

Your staff also has to project a positive image. Look for dress and grooming, mannerisms and facial expressions. Does the staff get up and meet the customer or does the customer have to come to them? Now let’s delve into what goes into a well-oiled meet-and-greet process.

Step 1: Identify the Customer’s Needs

Customers will only visit a service department when they need our help. They may be there for routine maintenance or a repair, or maybe they felt something wasn’t working right when they drove into work that morning. Remember, customers don’t like having their lives disrupted, so we must make their visit as easy as possible.

First, we must figure out why the customer’s vehicle is in the service drive. Just remember that they expect personal attention. Let them tell you what their concerns are, and give them your undivided attention. I write that because service advisors have a tendency to multitask when working with customers.

Another “no-no” I often see on the service drive is advisors not making eye contact with a customer because they’re too busy trying to type information into the computer. That’s why I recommend using a clean sheet of paper to jot down notes, as it allows you to engage the customer with nonverbal communication while they’re telling you their story.

Once you get the information down, you can ask a few questions to narrow down the concern. Just make sure you use open-ended questions.


Step 2: Confirm That You Understand Their Concern

This step is critical to the selling process. This is when the customer begins to build confidence in the service advisor. If they don’t feel there is a complete understanding of their prime concerns, the transaction comes to a screeching halt. Here’s how to do it: “Let me make sure I have this right: You feel a hesitation when accelerating in the morning when it’s cold out.” Note that we’re making a close-ended statement that will only get a “Yes” or “No” answer.

Now, if the customer says “No,” ask them to repeat their concern and correct the misunderstanding. Then restate the concern. The most important part of this step is getting a verbal acknowledgement (“Yes, that is correct” or “No, that’s not correct”) that you understand the problem. Remember, there cannot be any selling without that confirmation.

Step 3: Offer the Customer a Resolution

Customers only want to know three things: what’s wrong, how much it costs and when it will be done. Let’s review how to address each question: 

What’s wrong? It’s difficult not to make an attempt at diagnosing the problem, but you really shouldn’t. That’s the job of your technical staff. Even the most technically savvy and experienced service advisor should avoid doing so. Not only is there a good chance your diagnosis is wrong, which sows the seeds of mistrust, your customers’ expectations will have to be reset when you attempt to upsell additional service.

How much is it going to cost? The service advisor should be trained to answer that question this way: “At this point, we don’t know what’s causing the problem, but we will have one of our technicians perform several multipoint diagnostic procedures. Then we will have a better idea as to what is wrong with your vehicle. At that time, I will be prepared to give you an estimate of the repair cost.” The one cost you do want to discuss at this point is any fee associated with the diagnostic procedure.

Up until this point, we have been setting the stage for the selling process. For instance, depending on the mileage, the service advisor can see that it will be a warranty operation and make that commitment. When you do offer a quote, make it accurate and include all the taxes, supplies and fees. The two things you want to avoid when quoting a job price are hours and rate.

When is it going to be done? Set a time at which you will call the customer, and be sure to follow through. The procedure may or may not be complete, but a call that tells the customer their vehicle is still in the diagnostic stage is better than leaving them hanging. When a customer calls in, rather than the other way around, it can be a major sale killer. The customer has lost whatever trust you earned, and you’ve lost control of the selling process. New technology can help. The contact can be by e-mail — which is a great way to capture e-mail addresses for future marketing campaigns — or text message. If possible, let the customer choose.

There will always be issues such as parts availability, shop workload, technicians getting in late or calling in sick, or diagnostic difficulties. But these should be the exceptions, not the rule. The best practice is to be proactive and take ownership by keeping the customer informed. Check back here next month for tips on selling additional needed services to customers.

David Linton is a consultant for ATcon Inc., 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].