Several skills have allowed Mark Thompson to survive, and thrive, in the automotive industry for the last two decades. The ability to deftly handle customers might be chief among those qualities.
When customers enter Stivers Decatur (Ga.) Subaru., Thompson—the fixed operations director—prefers to have employees handle upselling pitches delicately.
“I tell advisors when I hire them,” Thompson explains, “‘Your job is to communicate what the car needs to the customer. Period. Let the customer decide. Everything on the multi-point inspection, present it to the customer, and then shut up.’”
That tactic accomplishes a couple things, in Thompson’s experience: It builds trust with customers, and thus virtually guarantees that they’ll become a repeat visitor to your facility. And that means you can get additional purchases from them down the line, over time.
“People buy from who they like and trust,” Thompson notes.
That said, Thompson also knows that, if dealership fixed operations departments don’t emphasize making upsells—to at least some extent—then the facility is leaving potential revenue streams untapped. And all those extra sales, like wiper blades or detail jobs, add up over the long haul.
On that note, Fixed Ops Business spoke with industry veterans to gain their insights on the best ways to maximize additional selling opportunities smoothly.
Hire Friendly Employees
When hiring employees like estimators, the first thing that longtime collision center manager Kevin Ray looks for is a firm handshake, eye contact and a smile. In other words, he seeks personable job prospects, as opposed to introverts.
“You can’t train somebody to be a people person,” says Ray, whose employer, Toyota of North Charlotte, has a 94 CSI score. “You can teach them the computer systems, and you can teach them some of the tactics for selling, but they’ve got to be personable.”
Focus on Car Care First
Thompson’s workplace in Georgia has a 938 CSI score (out of 1,000) and a new-car customer retention rate over 50 percent. A big reason for that? He encourages service advisors to concentrate primarily on keeping clients’ vehicles safe and reliable.
“Don’t sit at your desk,” Thompson says, “and have the same demeanor as a salesperson trying to sell them something. If you sent the customer out to the shop and you show them what you’re talking about, now you’re partners. Now you’re an advocate. The focus is the car, the focus is not their wallet.”
It’s a story heard all too often by dealership leaders: Customers insist they were ready to spend additional money at their dealership of choice, but no one ever reached back out to them for further discussions. Ray typically avoids that issue in his department in North Carolina, because he encourages his staff to have a thorough dialogue with customers.
“I always try to instill in employees to process what the customer’s needs are,” he notes.
Require Consistent Pitches
You can’t pick and choose to which customers to make upselling pitches. Because if you do, too many opportunities will slip through the cracks, and your department’s bottom line will suffer.
“I always use this analogy,” Thompson says. “Say you write up 15 cars in a day—you do a walk-around, you see tire wear on 10 of those cars, you bring it to customers’ attention, and you recommend an alignment to every one. You might sell one alignment a day. But, if you don’t ask any of those customers, how many alignments are you going to sell? None.”
Offer all Possible Parts
Your parts department can drive additional sales in many instances, provided employees listen intently to customers. Thompson trains his parts personnel to quote a customer on everything they could possibly need for a repair.
“Find out a little bit of information from the customer,” he suggests. “Don’t just give them what they’re asking for. You ask, ‘Okay, great, I can price you out that compressor; May I ask you why you’re replacing it? It stopped cooling? Well, maybe we need to get it in the shop and get it diagnosed first.’”
Track it for All to See
By simply tracking job sales through the use of computer software, and making employees aware of the results, you can keep selling at the front of an employee’s mind. It’s similar to the motivation hitters have in Major League Baseball to constantly attempt to improve their batting averages.
“You need to track it and measure it,” Ray says of selling. “Because there’s no way to really grade anybody on that, or give them feedback if you can’t see where they are, where they’ve been and where they’re going.”