Transforming Customers

hr sales Jun 13, 2019

By Jason Servidio

After an owner expands the business, he quickly discovers that he has an even bigger monster to feed than before and needs a higher car count immediately.

The fastest and most cost-effective way to achieve that is to advertise an inexpensive loss-leader oil change with a free inspection and try to up-sell the new customers on the inspection results. However, this rarely works, and here’s why. Soon, everyone in the shop is disgruntled because the technicians see that their recommendations are not selling so they deem the program a failure. They say things like, “I didn’t get into this business to change oil.” They also quickly perceive the advisors as unskilled at sales and lose all respect for the front employees. Service advisors feel that they are at the mercy of “bottom feeder customers” who only value cheap prices. They battle customers all day that say they already have their own mechanic or are, in no way, interested in fixing anything today. The advisors quickly perceive the program as a failure and feel devalued. The advisors start to simply “process” each ticket to get the customer in and out as soon as possible.

Everyone is waiting for these oil change customers to miraculously become a buyer. An internal war quickly develops between the advisors and technicians as the advisors try to give the technicians more and more oil changes and the technicians blame the advisors for no up-sales being made. The owner sees excellent employees that now want to leave. So he decides to stop advertising for oil changes altogether. He is used to a high ARO but now it’s rapidly declining. His business has been built on repairing cars and this new practice is ruining it, so he stops. The shop slows down and there are not enough repairs to keep his excellent employees busy, so they end up frustrated, disenchanted, and quit anyway.

The reasons for this failure are actually internal. First, there is no sales system and success is only measured by whether or not a customer buys that same day. Second, no one knows what the real goal is. It’s not been adequately communicated. Technicians and advisors have no idea what the other person is going through or trying to accomplish, much-less how to work in tandem.  Third, everyone is suffering  terrible tyranny from customers who only care about price and are strictly taking advantage of the deal. Finally, there is no instruction to anyone on how to blend it all together.

What are the guidelines? Do you know what you want? You can’t place blame on the customers if you don’t first tell them exactly what you expect from them and why you are offering such an inexpensive service. Do you know what you are really trying to accomplish? You can’t fault the technicians or advisors until they have had the proper training and have been counseled adequately regarding what the ultimate goal is.

The goal is that the new customers become loyal and make you their permanent mechanic.  You want your technicians and advisors to work in concert together to value and impress the customer so they actually decide to fix and maintain their car with you, not just show up for a cheap oil change that you will lose money on.  If you are going to lose money on an oil change, you must get something in return or why not just hand potential customers that show up for the cheap oil change a $20 bill and ask them to leave? It’s the same thing. A true sales system is necessary to avoid this vicious cycle.

At my company, our advisors are trained that they must accomplish 4 things with every oil change in order to be considered successful and none of them are that they sell something on the spot. They must know how to create these 4 things, or at least identify that they already exist in a potential customer. These four things are what we expect in return for being willing to lose money on the oil change service.

  1. They must create an open minded customer who will let them sit and talk to them about the vehicle for 5 or 10 minutes. If a customer is in a hurry, doesn’t want an inspection, or is not open minded, then we don’t take the car in yet. We do indeed train how to politely speak to the customer so we create an open minded prospect.
  2. They must have a customer that thinks about their vehicle as an entire entity, like we would our bodies. No one would say their arms are healthy but the rest of them is a mess. They are healthy or they are not. Their car is no different. We have to stop these customers from viewing us as a block of time in the day. We call it errand-running mode. We might as well have 45 minutes stamped on our foreheads. We train our advisors how to shift a customer’s thinking from errand running mode to opportunity mode. Think of it like this, if you are on your way to your doctor to have a sprained ankle checked out, you are already thinking about other things that are concerning to ask him/her about, like a mole on your back that's getting bigger, or some pain in your side. This is because you probably view going to the doctor as an opportunity. Too often, when customers are driving to go get an oil change they are just thinking that they hope they can get in and out fast and no one better try to sell them anything. This is because they view it as an errand. We train our advisors how to create a customer that views getting their oil changes no different than going to see the doctor, a unique opportunity.
  3. They must create a customer that knows we are a full-service repair facility, not a quick lube place; that we have highly-trained professionals and we would like to become their “forever” mechanic. All advisors get trained on how to actually convey this to the customer.
  4. They must do something to compel the customer to return next time and be able to answer this question: What, specifically, did they do to make the customer more likely to buy next time?

In order for this to be a success, there must be physical systems and criteria that can be measured. What are the standards? How many times can the same customer come in and not buy anything? Are we going to politely fire customers? If so, how? What is the best way to do this? How and when do we know if it’s all a success or failure?

You must have a structured and easily-duplicated oil change system in place that reinforces who you are and what outcome you desire. Remember, it’s okay to aggressively inspect vehicles and attempt to sell the needed items if you know how to do it without the customer feeling pressured. You can consider your efforts validated if a customer continues to return for an oil change knowing your process is to talk about the fluids, the inspection results, the scheduled maintenance, and so on, while also communicating constantly with them that you are trying to impress them so they decide to make you their full time mechanic. Then they are validating your practices and that’s a great start.

Everyone in the shop needs to be brought together and informed of what the goal is, what success looks like with this method, and how you plan on achieving it. This is the key. I have seen lights pop on in the faces of advisors and technicians when I tell them we are going to go after customers that know what we expect and know who we are and validate our business model by returning. Yet, we’ll also weed out the ones that don’t plan on cooperating so no one suffers the tyranny of “bottom feeders”. When I explain that we will indeed be advertising to oil change customers but also explain that success will be achieved when we transform them into permanent maintenance/repair customers in only 3 to 5 visits by executing the system properly, I finally achieve buy-in and, therefore, the best performance out of everyone.

A great portion of our continued success in this industry, in this current day and age, is measured in our ability to flip the customer from an oil change customer to a repair customer, then sell repairs, that’s what success means. Stop trying to sell repairs to oil change customers and watch the business grow.

 I believe that by integrating the system above into our businesses, we will all achieve success and experience growth.