“I just want an oil change; don’t try to sell me anything
else!” Most of us have heard this before. But, what if this
customer’s car is in need of additional service? What about items
that fall into the needed “repair” category — components that
are failing or have failed. Of course we would want to tell them
about things that are potentially dangerous. In many cases
though, we may want to honor the customer’s wishes to avoid the
perception that we are selling unnecessary services. That’s a
reputation we just don’t want.
But, what if this car legitimately needs some serious love to
stay safe and dependable? Chances are you or your service advisor
has been in this spot, either because the customer said,
“Just do what I say” or worse, because the customer did
not say anything but we assume they are thinking they may be sold
unnecessary services. Don’t let this become your shop’s normal
approach to business – it will cost you honest money and it is
unfair to an uninformed customer.
Let’s consider customer perceptions vs. reality.
If we assume most customers do not want to be sold additional
services; we are assuming they do not want to know about
necessary maintenance or repairs. That is a disservice to our
customers and ourselves.
The Car Care Council’s on-going “Be Car Care Aware” campaign sums
it up perfectly. From the website Q and A page: “Why does
vehicle maintenance go unperformed? Consumer neglect of regular
care is a result of a lack of awareness and understanding of the
inherent dangers and issues caused by unperformed maintenance,
misinformation and misperceptions on what needs to be done when,
and lack of reminder mechanisms.” I agree with this
statement and see, “a lack of awareness and understanding” as a
huge opportunity for every auto care business.
Information allows customers to make informed decisions.
Sometimes it’s easy. Just show them their worn brakes or CV
joints, leaking radiator, discolored and smelly transmission
fluid, etc. But, it’s just as easy to leverage OEM service and
repair information. The manufacturer specifies what components
should be serviced, replaced or inspected based on mileage or
time. It’s good practice to share that information with the
customer. You will be building a relationship AND increasing the
Today, OEM information is almost required to capture more
profitable work. At the least, it makes it easier.
Many service advisors, myself included, learned by watching and
doing. Like many, the way I learned was less effective and
professional than it could have been. I was friendly and honest
with my customers and they usually purchased what I advised, but
the shops I worked for had a “only fix what’s broken or asked
for” philosophy. That’s just the way it was.
Later, when a dealership I worked for sent me to an OEM service
advisor school, I learned to present and discuss factory
maintenance schedules and completed inspection forms with my
customers. This technique led to profitable sales and satisfied
customers. Everybody won! What made it all work? We used factory
information to educate, not to sell.
When an advisor’s advice is backed up with factual, written
information, you are on your way to building a relationship of
trust. Here’s how to help customers make decisions based on
Be the informer and keep it simple.
Using an information system that provides factory-based
maintenance schedules, print out the schedule for the appropriate
mileage interval, regardless of the reason for the customer’s
visit. If it’s a comeback – take care of that first.
Don’t assume that the customer won’t want the services or
even the printed schedule itself. Sometimes that car, regardless
of age or appearance, is more important to the customer than you
think. Dependable, safe transportation may be extremely important
Let’s say your customer is Mrs. Smith and she brought her car
in to replace a worn and squeaky belt. Place the schedule on the
service desk so she can read it and say, “Mrs. Smith, we’ll take
care of the belt as discussed. I also need to let you know this
is what the manufacturer says is needed for your car at its
current mileage. This helps it to remain reliable and safe. We
can take care of this today as well if you like.”
Review the items on the schedule with Mrs. Smith. She will
most likely ask how much it will cost. After you tell her, she
will make one of three choices: “Not today,” or “Okay, since the
car is here anyway go ahead,” or “That’s more than I can spend
today. What are the most important items on the list and what can
wait?” If it is the third choice, review the schedule for the
It’s that easy. There should be no pressure given or perceived.
Just simple information being shared with your customer about
legitimate and needed services. The customer will then decide.
There is another advantage to doing this. In addition to the
replace, lube, or adjust items called for in the maintenance
schedule, consider what else is indicated: Inspect, Inspect,
Inspect. The schedule provides directives to do what many shops
likely do anyway: inspect for things needing attention. The only
difference is in customer perception. The customer hears you say,
“Part of the maintenance schedule called for inspecting the
brakes. We did, and in-fact the front brake pads are very thin
and should be replaced.” This is different from the customer
wondering why the brakes were just randomly looked at. If you use
some type of inspection form already – Bravo! – keep doing that;
it enhances the maintenance schedule process by providing a place
to note the inspected items’ condition.
I put this process to the test outside of the dealership when I
was a trainer for ALLDATA working with independent shops. I was
amazed at the response customers had after simply presenting the
factory maintenance schedule and saying the right things at the
time of write-up, regardless of the original service needs. On
average, three to four out of ten customers opted to do the work
or some part of it. The others kept the schedule with some
arranging for the service later. Not a bad return on a few
minutes time. In addition, I don’t think any of the customers
felt they were being sold, not even those who declined the
service. They simply left informed. In fact, I have seen
customers respond by saying, “I didn’t know you guys did that
work, I thought you were a repair shop.” That one surprised
me but proves we can’t assume our customers know what we do.
Another one, “Thanks, nobody has ever shared this kind of
info with me before.” That new customer became a regular
customer at that moment.
I had previously been under the impression that dealers had an
advantage in providing these services because they were
representatives of the factory and the customer felt under
obligation to keep their warranty. I now think independent shops
have the advantage because you have better and more personal
customer relationships, offer better convenience, AND possess the
information the dealers have.
Possibly, your shop’s operating practices or service advisor’s
style are based on a similar history as I shared earlier. Whether
that’s the case or not, most customers are not banging your door
down for maintenance-related services. The good news is most of
them simply don’t know what is needed. The other good news is you
likely already have this often-untapped source of information to
Mark Gunnerson has over 30 years experience in the automotive
service industry and conducts industry-related training and
ALLDATA, founded in 1986, with more than 86,000 subscribers, is
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