Auto Service World
Feature   November 9, 2020   by Allan Janssen

Five deadly sins at the service counter

By Allan Janssen

There are plenty of ways to lose money in a repair shop. Avoiding the pitfalls in the bays, the manager’s office and at the front counter is what defines success in this business.

When it comes to the front counter, the start- and end-point for all of your client interactions, there is definitely some dangerous ground. It takes a skilled and focused service advisor to negotiate the terrain and make the most of every job.

Jeremy O’Neal, president of management consulting firm AdvisorFix, and the owner of Freedom Auto Repair in Hesperia, Calif., has built a reputation training service advisors. As the featured speaker in a recent training session produced by the Midwest Auto Care Association (MWACA), he outlined five deadly sins that service advisors can fall prey to.

He drew on his own experiences at the counter to identify the most common ones, and offered strategies to avoid falling into them.

“Things go south pretty quickly when I drop the ball,” he said. “When I don’t do things the way they should be done – like I take in a car that I never should have taken in, or I tell a customer that we won’t charge anything to take a look – that’s when the problems start.”

1. Not taking care of your personal health

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a lot of people’s life regimens off kilter – some for better, others for worse.

“Right now, more than ever, you have got to put your personal health ahead of literally almost everything. Your body is all you have,” he said.

O’Neal said the auto repair industry can be tough, with a lot of long hours and high stress.

“It’s too easy to let business take over our lives, and we get our priorities in the wrong order, he said. “To operate at peak performance during work hours, you really have to really manage your health.”

He encouraged webinar participants to consider the one thing they really need to give up.

“Now’s the time to do it!” he said

2. Arriving to work late and not having a game plan for the day

“As a service advisor, you control an immense amount of workflow,” he said. “The way you set yourself up in the morning, sets you up for success or failure.”

O’Neal advocated what he calls observing a ‘golden hour of power’ before the doors open in the morning, in which you set goals for the day, get your thoughts straight, and organize your paperwork.

“When the doors open it’s game time. I’m there to serve,” he said. “I don’t care about administration, or reconciling parts bills, or doing anything except serving the customers and helping my business achieve what it needs to achieve. Everything else goes out the window.”

 As part of his golden hour of power, he reviews all appointments for the day, checking the service history, ensuring all estimates are ready to go and parts have been ordered. He also reviews the shop’s recent performance and determines whether it is on track to meet weekly and monthly goals.

“It’s discouraging to see how many people fail to write out their goals and get caught up in activity-based work,” he said. “You’re busy, busy, busy but you really haven’t defined what you want to achieve. You have to know what you want to achieve.”

Finally, he takes a few minutes to read motivational, inspirational, or instructional books.

“Even if it’s only for five minutes, this is self-development stuff that expands your thinking,” he said.

3. Rushing through estimates

Speed of service is key, but take the time to properly estimate the job.

Ironically, he said, this is less of a danger for beginning advisors who tend to be overly cautious when building estimates.

“Let me warn you, as you gain experience, and your ego starts to grow, you start to think, ‘I’ve seen this before. I’ve got this.’ And you start to rush through your quotes. Be very careful. Don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “You can cost yourself hundreds of dollars if you fail to take important steps into consideration.”

O’Neal said once you give the customer an estimate, that’s what they expect to pay.

“Anything that is added on later is painful and negative,” he said.

4. Emotional discounting

With so many people out of work or under-employed, this is especially timely advice, he said.

“This economic downturn is unlike anything we’ve seen before,” he said. “Given the emotional distress that people are under, they are going to attack you for discounts.”

He believes shops should build their estimates fairly and then stick to them.

“It takes a lot of money to draw profit in an independent repair shop. We have some of the lowest net profits of any small business in North America. Your job as a service advisor is to protect the profit,” he said. “So, when customers ask you if that’s your best price, you have to say, ‘Yes, it is. When we build our estimates, we include every discount we can. We shop our competition every single month to ensure our pricing is fair. This is a fair price for the job. Do you want me to take care of it for you?’ You have to stand by your price, not in an egotistical or bullying way. But when you get challenged, you’re going to be able to answer their questions.”

5. Lack of practice

Like many trainers, O’Neal is a big advocate of practicing the scripts that service advisors are called upon to recite so often – from sales pitches, to technical explanations, to responses to common objections.

This is best done on a daily basis, in front of coworkers who can offer constructive feedback.

“Stop practicing on your customers,” he said. “If you don’t have dedicated role-playing time in your week, I guarantee you you’re regurgitating the same habits over and over and you’re building a rut for yourself. Consumers are changing. Set aside practice time.”

He said customers are changing and they’re more comfortable challenging assumptions and prices than ever before. Practice is needed so your responses come out naturally and clearly.

Just as there are many ways to over-deliver to customers, there are many ways to drop a sale, lose revenue, or destroy profit.

O’Neal believes service advisors play a critical role in the business and they’d be doing themselves a favour if they avoid the most common pitfalls.