“Getting the service department to sell protective products is not a new conversation, we’ve been talking about this for a while,” says Ritch Wheeler, vice president of training for the Automotive Training Academy by Assurant.
Odds are good that technicians fixing cars knows plenty about why customers need protective products, but dealers have always delegated this conversation to someone upfront.
But Paul Dosescu, a senior national training consultant with the Automotive Training Academy by Assurant invites dealerships to consider this topic from the service advisor and service manager’s perspective to develop a solution that gets service technicians more involved in selling protective products.
Dosescu began the conversation with a question:
“Is the service department delivering on the dealer’s promise?”
He says, “A dealer’s promise may include things like: ‘We treat you like family.’ ‘Get a better buy at blank.’ But then the service the dealership provides isn’t any of those things,” he says.
The dealer's promise should answer the consumer’s question of “Why should I buy a car from you?” But the promise should continue after the sale with the service experience, he stresses.
“We can do this by weaving F&I into the service process,” he says. “It may not always translate into a sale. But we should plant the seed for F&I in a good service process and allow customers to craft their own ownership experience.”
Define the Service Process
Bringing F&I into the service bay begins with a defined service process that includes transparency, ease, and value, according to Dosescu.
“These are things we know are important to buyers today,” he says. “We need to put on our customer hat and think about what customers want and need.”
Transparency is not showing clients their vehicles while in service. It’s not pulling out paperwork that highlights what technicians get paid. “Transparency is helping clients understand what happens to their vehicle when it comes in for service,” he says.
Ease makes the service process easy from start to finish, while value shows customers what they get for their money via a breakdown of parts and labor costs.
“These three things create relationships,” Dosescu says, and service advisors need relationships to sell protective products.
Service departments also support F&I products, which builds a positive reputation for them. “Their efforts enhance the customer’s experience with protective products,” he says. “It creates fans of these products.”
Dosescu recommends avoiding referring to these products as F&I in the service bay. “Instead say, ‘Let’s talk about protective products,’” he says.
He also advises talking about protective products throughout the service process, from discovery, service consultation, value, experience, delivery and follow up. “At each step, pause and insert whatever protective products might be of value,” he says.
Steps to Follow
The first step is discovery, where make or break first impressions can affect the sale.
“First impressions still count,” he says.
First impressions begin with the vehicle inspection where a technician walks around the car with the customer. Technicians can use this inspection to look for visual cues like scuffed wheels, rock chips, and dents. “All these things show the client has experienced the unexpected,” Dosescu says. “You don’t just jump in and provide a quote for a protection product. You don’t want to sell them something they already have.”
Instead, the technician begins a service consultation. They review service history and maintenance. “The technician starts to educate the client on how to best care for his vehicle and introduces the multi-point inspection process,” he says. “The technician gains trust by helping the client understand what’s going to happen with his vehicle.”
Dosescu advises looking up coverage levels and limitations before customers arrive. This provides the framework for an educated conversation about protective products. When customers arrive, it’s also important to make sure they know three things:
- What repairs will take place.
- How much money he authorized or is expecting to pay if it’s just the basic service.
- When repairs will be complete.
The next step is to build value. The customer might receive some unwelcome news; the repair may take longer and cost more than expected. “The service advisor calls them, reintroduces himself, and walks the customer through that process,” he says.
The service advisor reviews the multi-point inspection with the customer, listing the positives first, then the negatives, and finally providing a price for needed services. “Then I’m going to customize ways for him to avoid the repair issues he’s dealing with today in the future,” Dosescu says. “If he’s got damaged tires, I’m going to share how he can protect himself in the future. Then I will go over those products with him.”
Wheeler recommends service advisors have more than one product to sell. They need access to the entire suite of protective products. “Too often we limit them to service contracts,” he says.
He also recommends keeping expectations realistic. “We cannot expect them to try to sell every single product to every single customer that comes through the service drive,” he says. “The best way to sell these products is to say, ‘Based on this scenario, this product will help you avoid this repair down the road.’”
He adds dealers also must train service advisors on how to build trust before introducing protective products.
Delivering value to customers can come in many forms. A service advisor might watch for large repairs under warranty and talk about protective products as the vehicle nears the end of its warranty coverage. “Large repairs under warranty present a terrific opportunity for service advisors to share ways to avoid them in the future and how protection products can help,” he says.
Higher mileage vehicles also present opportunities to introduce value-added products. “We know they’ve got an older vehicle, so it’s a good time to mention products,” he says. “The key is to talk about what’s available and how they can be protected.”
Other things worth discussing include:
- Dents. “Everyone loves a nice-looking car,” he says. Maybe service advisors talk with the customer about dent repairs or maybe they discuss detailing services.”
- Keys. “Make customers aware that these technological pieces cost a lot of money when they get lost or damaged,” he says. “A new key may cost $400 to $500 with programming. It’s important to share ways they can avoid those future frustrations.”
Tips for Service Bay Sales
There are ways to make it easier for service departments to engage in F&I sales.
- Install a Contracting Platform: Most dealerships provide a contracting platform upfront that allows F&I managers to go through the F&I menu and print F&I contracts for customers. Install a terminal in the service department so service advisors can do the same. “Otherwise, they must tote that customer back to the business office every time they sell a protective product,” Dosescu says.
- Develop a Delivery Process: When delivering repaired vehicles to customers, service advisors can help them understand what happened, where their money went and what they got for their money. “Show that you are excited to work with them, to help them and to provide direction,” Wheeler says. “Escort customers to checkout and help them through the process. Review the multi-point inspection and repair order line by line.”
- Focus on Follow-up: Service doesn’t end when technicians’ complete repairs. Follow-up conversations leave a final impression. “It is the service advisor’s last opportunity to get in front of the customer,” Dosescu says. “I want to make sure repairs were done correctly and if I’ve sold protective products, I make sure they understand their paperwork and ask if they have any further questions I can answer.”
- Presentations: Don’t skip presentations. “A great presentation of how protective products can enhance the ownership experience plants the seeds for their purchase, and deliver on the dealer’s promise,” Wheeler says. “Remember sales sells the first car, but service sells the next one.”
- Compensation: When service advisors are a liaison for the vehicle service contract but still send the contract to the front office, it can create animosity if dealerships do not pay them for their efforts. “Get service managers on board and develop pay plans,” Dosescu says. “But remember if you want to sell ancillary contracts in the service drive, you’ve got to first teach and empower service advisors to do that.”