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Mastering the Art of Service Advisor Communication


3/1/2003
By Gary Goms

Learn the who, the what, the when, the where and the why of selling to service writers.
 

You can call them service advisors, service managers, service writers or anything else you want. But, whatever the job title, they advise the customer of needed service, estimate the repairs, schedule the work and order enough parts to keep their shops busy all day. Each job they schedule begins with a parts order and concludes with a finished repair. Each repair they finish adds to the bottom line of both the repair shop and the jobber, which happens to be you. And, what happens between ordering the parts and completing the finished repair is best defined by what a journalist would call the "who, what, when, where and why" of the parts transaction.

GETTING THE "WHO" RIGHT
Occasionally, in the rush of business, the "who" part of the transaction becomes lost in the communications between the parts professional and the service writer. To better illustrate, let's say that, instead of going through his service writer, a technician places a "direct" order to the parts professional for an oil pump drive rod that he desperately needs to complete an engine rebuild.

The "who" becomes very important in this situation because, first of all, did the technician attach the part order to a purchase order or repair order number? The answer is usually negative. Is the technician authorized to order parts? That would depend upon the management hierarchy of the shop. Some shops encourage the technician to order parts; others discourage it. Finally, "who" signs for the part and files the invoice that goes with it? Will it be the technician or the service writer? And, if the original invoice is missing at the end of the month, will the shop pay for the part? Or, if it's a reman part, "who" makes sure the core is returned and properly credited to the correct purchase order or R.O. number? These are all questions revolving around the "who" in customer communications. It's the counterperson's job to make sure the "who" in the sales process happens to be the service writer!

THE "WHAT" ISSUE
Given the difficulties posed by the modern repair process, most well-managed shops have become very brand conscious, which has to do with quality control. Without quality control in the modern high-production shop, an ever-increasing amount of work will become expensive comebacks. And, because of the limited component accessibility of the modern motor vehicle, subsequent warranty comebacks are becoming much more expensive for the service writer to resolve.

That's why service writers tend to choose only brands with a proven track record in both quality and ease of installation. To the service writer, white-box and universal-fit parts not only consume large amounts of installation time, but can also fail to deliver the performance and longevity associated with a top-line, brand-name part.

Let's illustrate by ordering a simple item such as a set of replacement spark plugs. When the service writer writes up the estimate, he sees that the "book" time to change spark plugs on a late-model, 5.4-liter Ford Expedition is 2.8 hours. That may sound unrealistically high, but given the problems posed by poor access to the spark plugs, this number may actually be on the low side if the technician hasn't had previous experience in doing this job.

To better explain the service writer's brand-consciousness, I'd like to point out that, while the non-OEM brand may work just fine, it may last only 75,000 miles instead of the manufacturer's specified interval of 100,000 miles. Even worse, the heat range of the non-OEM plug may be a little too cold, which can cause diagnostic headaches by causing low-speed fouling which will result in a misfire that turns on the check engine light after only a few thousand miles of operation. Consequently, most service writers will limit subsequent warranty exposure by specifying OEM-equivalent parts for any critical application. So the "what" of the parts transaction really matters, as in, "What brand or quality level do you want in order to prevent expensive comebacks?"

 

THE "WHERE" IN DELIVERY
Too often the parts professional forgets the "where" part of the communications issue by tossing the part in the shop's customer pick-up bin instead of delivering it to the correct person at the correct location. After all, a commercial truck shop may have a mobile mechanic working in a temporary work location or a shop may have multiple service bay locations.

Of course, the service writer may want the part placed in the customer pick-up bin because he wants his technician to personally compare the part with the original or add matching parts to the order. A good example of this might be adapting a new carburetor onto a specific vehicle application that may require changes in the fuel line and throttle linkage. Or it may be an off-brand constant velocity axle application that requires matching or substitution.

The problem of delivering to the wrong location, the wrong technician or the wrong person in the shop hierarchy is that, for the service writer, the day's work simply isn't getting done on time. "Where" is a pretty simple issue in most cases, but parts professionals must remember that getting the "where" part of the communication process right is the difference between helping and hindering him in his efforts to operate at a profit.

"WHEN" WE NEED THEM
The word "when" has many different meanings in an auto repair shop. "When" can be now, at two o'clock, this afternoon, tomorrow, Friday or perhaps next week. When is an important part of the communications issue because the word "when" defines the word "efficiency" in the modern shop. Without a "when" attached to a part, a service writer's carefully planned workweek may turn into chaos by Tuesday morning.

Since the goal of most service writers is to schedule about 10 flat-rate hours of work in an eight-hour period, efficiently scheduling repairs is one of the most important parts of the service writer's job. Of course, scheduling 10 hours into eight sounds impossible, but not for a modern production technician working in a well-equipped shop. In fact, the goal of most shops is to operate at 125-percent efficiency.

So, the word "late" doesn't exist in the service writer's parts ordering vocabulary because Tuesday's schedule can't readily be compressed into Wednesday's schedule. Missing a scheduled part delivery by one day can literally back the service writer's already busy schedule into the following week.

If a part is a special order, the service writer will want to schedule the job a day or two after the projected delivery date. If it's an everyday item like an oil filter or spark plug, the operative word in the service writer's dictionary is "now!" Forgetting the "when" in the communication process can be devastating to any jobber store. It's so devastating, in fact, that the jobber store's status can slip from being a first-call source to a second-call nonentity.

THE "WHY" WORD
Ask yourself "why" the service writer called you in the first place. Sure, he could have called a warehouse or another wholesale outlet, but he often finds that it's difficult to communicate with strangers. But he would rather communicate with you because you know "who" he is. Next, your store obviously sells "what" he wants, and you know when, where and why he wants them delivered. "Why" did the service writer place the order with you to begin with? Simple: It's because of your ability to communicate!















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