Two years ago, Brett Beachler decided to renovate his family’s old-style service station, Beachler’s Vehicle Care and Repair in Peoria, Ill., into a modern repair shop that also introduced a new look for the service advisor counters. Working with consulting company Elite Worldwide, Beachler completely reimagined the check-in interactions between service advisors and customers. In doing so, he created an experience that not only helped the $1.5 million-a-year, eight-bay, 30-cars-per-day shop increase its new customer and retention rates, but also brought a new and contemporary look to the facility and the service advisor experience.
We realize that the very first thing a service advisor needs to do with first time customers is build rapport. Making good eye contact, smiling and shaking the customer’s hand are all part of that process. So when a customer comes into your facility, the last thing in the world you need is a barrier between your advisor and the customer. Ironically, that’s exactly what most service counters are, and most shops have them for two reasons: It’s the way it has always been done, and it provides a workspace for the advisor. Unfortunately, just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t make it right. The answer is to have service podiums.
When we designed our new building, I realized that I didn’t like the concept of the traditional service advisor desk, where the customer comes up to the service desk, the service advisor sits there in their comfort zone and the customer just listens. There are too many distractions. I’ve seen it so many times where the service advisor is sitting there talking to the customer and they pick up the phone while they’re talking to the customer. I don’t think they mean to be disrespectful, but it’s just habit. I wanted to divorce that situation of having that temptation in front of my guys.
That’s how I bought into the idea of service advisor pods. They are 24x36-inch podiums, separate from their work stations, where they greet and check in the customer.
The podium is mobile and simply contains a laptop, keyboard and mouse. That’s it. They are truly engaged with the customer this way. The podiums allow the advisor to quickly step from behind the podium to greet the customer, and also allow your advisors to easily show the customer their computer screen. These podiums can be large enough to provide each advisor with the necessary workspace, and are customer friendly at the same time. The podiums are also check-out pods. We have a cash drawer up there and we can do cash and credit card transactions.
The way the process works is that for most of the day, the three service advisors are working at their service advisor workstations, which contain their computers, phones, cameras and files. Those desks look like a teller window at a bank, so they can see everything going on in the shop and outside. We can see out the windows, we can see when people are walking through the door.
In the morning, we make sure all of the appointments are entered and assigned in R.O. Writer. We then print out the appointment information and any customer information we already have. Then, when we see vehicles pull up throughout the day, we will immediately figure out which customer it is before they come in. So we might go, “Well that’s a 1999 Chevy Malibu, let’s verify the license plate with the work order, make our way to the podium and greet the customer by their name.”
When my customers walk in the door, they enter a vestibule first, and the rule is that by the time their hands hit the interior door, I want one of the service advisors to be up at the pod. The idea is not that the customer comes up to the desk windows and talks to you there.
The whole purpose is to get engaged. We have a phone system that has caller ID and voicemail. If one of the service advisors is helping a customer at the pod, either another service advisor will pick up the phone or it will go to voicemail, and when he returns to his desk, that service advisor can easily call the customer back.
If there is an emergency, we also have an instant messaging system, so a technician or another staff member can send a quick message that way.
The change comes in the perception that people have of us. Since these changes, not only has our retention rate gone up, but so has our number of new customers (from 50 to 100 new customers every month). We’ve been able to much more easily cultivate the culture we want and the customer relationships we want.