A service advisor can make, or break, a shop-client relationship, even if repairs are done expertly.
Key to ensuring that the communication strategies work for the shop is, firstly, to have a communication strategy.
Each shop can have a different take on this—how repairs are discussed, how estimates are prepared, how customers are advised of progress—as decided by how a shop’s management and team wants the business to be positioned with customers, but is should be consistent across all who have direct contact with customers.
This includes the owner.
Beyond this, being an effective service advisor requires adhering to a set of key considerations:
Let honesty and integrity be your guide
Clients entering a shop can feel vulnerable and can be wary being talked into unnecessary repairs. Especially if they are arriving after a breakdown, are upset, and feel out of their depth in understanding what might have gone wrong.
Slowing down and allowing the customer to absorb the information on a repair process, and what might be included in the estimate, not seen to be rushing to add a list of items to that estimate—even though they are necessary—will help to build trust.
If you are providing an extensive list of repairs, ensure the customer knows what is required and what is recommended, but can be delayed if necessary.
It should go without saying that any and all repairs included in any estimate are there legitimately. Being effective at communicating this may require a conversation with the inspecting technician to be sure you understand the justification for the recommendations before communicating to the client.
Avoid shop talk and jargon with clients
There are certainly cases where knowledgeable clients can understand even the most arcane automotive terms, but they are the exception.
Most clients know little about what is involved in their car’s operation. It is wise to tailor your customer communications to this majority of clients. Jargon and technical terms can drive a wedge between the service advisor and the client and this is exactly the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish.
As much as possible you want to be on the same level as your clients, reinforcing the idea that you are looking after their best interests. You should balance this with discussing what is actually wrong with the vehicle, but avoid going on at length with too much detail about specific parts or diagnostic findings.
The right balance will be different depending on the client, but watch for cues from the client; if are they are asking for more detail, always provide it with the goal of building their understanding of why a repair is being recommended.
Keep estimates concise
When an estimate involves simple service items, this is easy. But when an extensive list of repairs is required, with a consequently large dollar figure attached, there may be the temptation to provide excessive detail in an effort to show value for the repair dollar.
This can cause the same reaction from the client as too much jargon and technical detail, leading them to potentially think you are looking to confuse them, and may be interpreted as less honest rather than more transparent.
While some detail is necessary, a long list of repairs and their associated costs can make for an anxious customer. Instead, focus on explaining the benefits of the repair recommendations, and the total cost, while also having the inspection checklist at hand to show that the vehicle is in generally good condition, but for the needed repairs.
Know policies and exceptions
There will come times when special circumstance may seem to dictate exceptions to standard practices on repairs and pricing. This may mean bumping up a repair in the order to get a vehicle in quickly. It may mean using brands or quality levels you don’t customarily use. You will certainly have a policy on customer supplied parts and how that is handled. And undoubtedly there will be clients who are financially challenged.
You should be fully aware of your shop’s policies on these and other areas, and they should be applied consistently.
Every exception allowed has an impact on everyone in the operation and should be applied only when necessary and within the policies as set out.
Satisfied client is the goal
Ultimately the goal of an effective service advisor is to ensure that clients are taken care of and that their vehicles shuttled through the repair process efficiently and effectively.
There is a financial imperative for the business of course, but that is the result of the right approach in ensuring clients understand the importance of the repair and its value, and that they can leave feeling confident that their repair dollars have been invested well.