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What’s the Hang Up?

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Hubert Choi didn’t even know his shop had a problem. He only had his team at South Bay Car Care in Lawndale, Calif., do the phone training to gauge where their strengths were and to get a few pointers on some small areas to improve.

To put it in car terms, Choi thought his team needed a tune-up. What he got was a complete rebuild.

“I was very surprised by the results,” he said. “Very, very surprised by them.”

It wasn’t even a week into working with industry consultant Kirk Gray of Elite Worldwide Inc. that Choi realized all the things he thought his service advisors were great at—marketing the shop’s services, bringing up warranties, selling the overall shop atmosphere—were the very things that made first-time callers become, last-time callers.

“Most people don’t realize it—I mean, I didn’t know,” Choi says. “You have to take a certain procedure with callers. … It takes practice, and you need to train. Without some sort of program, you couldn’t identify any weakness in your phone procedures.”

Implementing a phone-training program makes all the difference, Choi says. One like Elite’s Appointment Pro, which Gray helped develop this past spring, helps shops analyze their mistakes, build on their strengths and, ultimately, turn hang-ups into appointments.

Filling the gap

Gray says that studies show shops miss out on two to three new customers every single day through the mishandling of phone conversations. Breaking down the numbers, that could mean a conservative estimate of 10 new customers in a five-day workweek—or more than $3,000, estimating an average work order of $300.

Of course, it would be nearly impossible for a shop to convert all of those calls into sales, but Gray says that, without the right tools, a shop just relies on luck.

“We’re talking about people who are already calling you,” he says. “If they know they have a need, and they’re reaching out to you for help, why aren’t more of those people turning into customers, booking an appointment and bringing their vehicle in? There’s something about that phone interaction that makes them uncomfortable.”

Often, Gray says, this is caused by one of two things. The first is that too many service advisors worry about “selling the shop” rather than focusing on the customer’s concerns. The other issue is when advisors get caught in a trap talking about price. Gray says that, because most customers don’t feel equal to service advisors in terms of car knowledge, they revert to the one thing they can easily understand: prices.

“Sometimes people are just asking the question about price as a way to start a conversation. It’s something they feel comfortable talking about,” Gray says. “We see a lot of advisors just take that at face value, and they don’t know how to manage through that effectively.”

Bill Garcia, owner of Bill’s Quality Auto Care in Simi Valley, Calif., saw firsthand how this type of training changed the way his shop dealt with customers. Just a month after starting phone training with his team, the shop saw car counts increase and hit its highest sales totals of the year.

“I knew our guys had a lot to offer, and they knew it too, but we weren’t getting the numbers we wanted and didn’t even know why,” Garcia says. “Once you understand it all, the difference is just night and day.”

Implementing a plan

The overall goal of the service advisor’s phone interaction with a customer, Gray says, is to give them confidence in your shop’s ability to fix their problem.

“These people picked you out for a reason. … They’re already calling you because they must feel in some way that you can help them,” Gray says. “It’s all about making them feel comfortable with the experience.” That’s accomplished with tone of voice, thoughtful questions and responding to questions appropriately, listening to what the customer is saying, validating what they are saying, and acknowledging what’s important to them. “There are specific things the telephone staff can do to lower any anxiety the customers may have,” he says.

Here are some simple steps to take to ensure your staff does this:

Diagnose the problem. In order to fully understand what is happening during a service advisor’s conversation with a new customer, Gray recommends recording the conversations. Obviously, this requires the buy-in of the employee, but in Gray’s experience, that hasn’t been an issue.

Elite sets up a phone recording system for its clients, but shop owners can buy recording devices at basic electronic stores.

“Then you listen to the recordings of the calls, evaluate the calls, and after a month or so, you have this series of calls and all that data, and you can look at all the calls as a whole and see if there are any trends and consistencies and see what’s going on, on a regular basis—looking at the things that need to be done,” Gray says.

Elite also uses “mystery callers” to simulate typical scenarios a service advisor may face.

Review. Once an owner or manager has this information, he or she can start to analyze the trends of where the potential customer was lost. Maybe the advisor was talking about warranties, or maybe he or she got trapped with a question about pricing—all of it provides an opportunity for improvement.

“We were pretty surprised by what it turned out to be like,” Choi says. “We didn’t realize how these things we thought were great to bring up were completely losing the customer.”

Implement. After a shop has identified its key problem areas, Gray says, it’s time to fix them. In Elite’s program, this is when the consulting firm uses its coaches and instructors to help give individual tips and training to each employee.

The key for a shop owner or manager, Gray says, is making sure they work on the specific problems that each employee has—cater everything to your employees’ needs—while making sure to encourage all the good behavior they see.

Review—again. With the new tools to handle customers, service advisors can go back to the phones armed and ready to go. And the review process should continue, Gray says. More recordings and evaluations are a good way to see if the employees are implementing their new techniques.

“This should give some reassurance that it is all working,” Gray says. “You’ll be able to see how they’re applying the new skills and the training into the job.”

Garcia says his shop now meets weekly to discuss these issues and go over evaluations. He says it’s a vital part of keeping high standards and ensuring that everyone is continually working to improve.

The proof is in the numbers

To Choi, there’s no question that the training has worked for his shop. Since beginning his work with Gray, Choi keeps track of what he refers to as “lost leads.” In his first few weeks tracking it, he found that only 30 percent of first-time callers booked appointments. After a month of training, the number rose to 70 percent.

For many shops, that increase could mean thousands of dollars every month.

“We’re making appointments now that we weren’t able to before,” Choi says. “We know how to identify customer’s concerns, and I’ve been seeing our guys do that.”

The cost for Elite’s program, Garcia says, was far less than he would have spent on a new marketing campaign—and much more effective. Plus, many shops can implement these basic processes to train on their own.

Choi agrees, and he hopes other shop owners see the positives as well.

“Most shops want a higher car count,” Choi says. “Without the proper phone procedure, then the marketing won’t be effective. You can have the phones ringing, but if the service advisor can’t make an appointment, the cars aren’t going to come in.” 

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