The recent experience of shop advisors during a training class shows the gap in what customer service should feel like in our industry.
I recently wrapped up the class with advisors where my goal was to equip them — some new to the industry, others seasoned — with the finesse and skills needed to deliver top-tier customer experiences.
Before they left to put their new insights into practice in their shop, there was one final step: I sent them out for an exercise to masquerade as tire buyers in order to compare their new skills with those of fellow service advisors and to experience what it’s like to be a customer of service advisors.
There are five steps to a tire sale: Give a warm and inviting greeting, understand the customer’s needs, show the perfect tire, explain the tire’s benefits and boldly ask for the sale.
But this was not their experience. Far from it, in fact. When my students returned to report on their experience as customers, I’m sad to say it was quite an indictment of what customer service feels and looks like in the automotive aftermarket.
Let’s take a deeper dive into those five steps.
When my students returned to report on their experience as customers, I’m sad to say it was quite an indictment of what customer service feels and looks like in the automotive aftermarket.
The welcoming moment
I’m a big advocate for advisors to give customers a warm welcome within 15 seconds of their arrival. But my students told me some advisors behind the counters looked like they’d bitten into some tart lemons. It was as though these potential patrons were unwelcome guests, rather than the lifeblood of their business. Isn’t that a head-scratcher? They should be downright thrilled about customers entering their domain.
Understanding the need
I have a golden rule: Get out from behind the counter, go to the customer’s car to look at their tires, strike up a genuine conversation and potentially forge a new client relationship. You never know, this stranger today could very well become a devoted long-term client, bringing their family and friends to your shop.
But here’s what went down: Getting some of these advisors out of their comfy chairs was like pulling teeth. And when they did venture out, the vibe was more “Do you not even know your own tire size?” than a friendly chat. It was almost as if these customers were trespassers on their territory.
Selling like a pro
Showing the perfect tire and explaining the tire’s benefits are a dynamic duo. First, you decode the customer’s needs, then you pitch the tire that will meet their needs. But in this real-life tire-selling drama, things took a different turn. Advisors seemed to have misplaced their investigative hats; they didn’t even bother going into a differential benefits conversation. It was as if the shops had one single tire crush that they wanted to set up with everyone. Not exactly a masterclass in sales strategy.
Asking for the sale
This is the climactic moment. Picture this as the grand finale: The moment you pop the question and seek commitment. But not in this scenario. Advisors just dropped it. It was like riding a roller coaster missing a loop. My students came back completely bemused and perplexed, as they should have. They couldn’t understand how sales were ever taking place if service advisors weren’t even willing to ask if customers wanted the tires or not.
So, did this wacky tire-shopping escapade dampen the spirits of my service advisors in training? Far from it. It was like their engines got a supercharge. Seeing what not to do with customers was like lighting a fire under them. They headed back to their shops with a renewed vigour, determined to ensure no customer would be met with a grumpy face, an indifferent sales approach, and a half-hearted interest in getting the sale that puts the right equipment on people’s cars
The unsung hero
In my playbook, training is the unsung hero, turning a mundane customer experience into pure magic. Training service advisors is not just about sharing tricks; it’s about teaching them to create a culture where customers feel welcomed and wanted. Customers’ questions and concerns are treated with the respect and consideration they deserve and the belief that each new customer is a potential long-term client.
The unfortunate part? Training often takes a back seat because owners often assume that service advisors arrive with this training under their belt to begin with. Or they hope to be able to teach it through osmosis or through instructions doled out in dribs and drabs over the course of the day.
But, we all know the reality: Owners are far too busy working on their business to devote the time needed to properly train their staff. In my experience, owners themselves haven’t had to opportunity or time to receive this training themselves. So, how can they possibly hand it off?
It’s time to face the truth: Your new hire hasn’t received this training elsewhere and your seasoned advisor is likely unknowingly stuck in a rut of outdated ways of thinking and interacting with your customers.
Here’s the deal: Annual training should be as standard as buckling up. The auto landscape evolves, customer expectations shift and we must evolve with them. It’s not just about fixing cars; it’s about weaving connections. Turning a routine transaction into a story worth telling that brings your new customer back again and again.
The tire-shopping caper shines a spotlight on the need for regular training in the auto service world. Let’s bridge the gap between knowing and doing with training sessions that keep the customer service engine humming. A committed customer is a customer for life — and that’s a win that never gets old.
Alan Beech started Beech Consulting in 2010 and focuses on coaching, consulting and training with shop owners/advisors and corporations in the automotive service sector.
This article originally appeared in the October issue of CARS.