The Two Biggest Challenges

The two biggest challenges in fixed ops today.

Training and staffing are the biggest barriers to increasing service sales, improving CSI and customer retention as well as keeping good employees. When either of these 2 basic components of a dealership are being ignored, that dealership goes into a declining repair order count, reduced customer base and profit stream failure situation.

Let’s tackle training first. What type of training do you do? OJT? Shadow? Formal in a classroom environment? No training? Do you just toss ‘em out there and tell them “Go for it!”?

How you train and what level of training you are willing to provide sends a message to everyone in the service department. Contrast that with the front end. In most dealerships, there is one department that gets all the training and one that does not.

Have you ever been in a sales meeting? Did they or did they not have training? Do you see outside trainers for sales, F&I come in to the dealership for training? Of course, you have! In the sales conference room, are there stacks of training videos covering subjects like “Greet to Win” or “Tactics for Getting Approval”? You betcha!

Contrast that with the service side. Little to no formal training in many cases. I defy you to find a service sales training video. Most stores have very little ongoing training of any sort for service sales. Many advisors start in the service business the same way. See if this sounds like your story or someone you know. It goes like this…

… “We need someone to answer the phone and greet people in the service drive. Here is the phone, there is the service drive, now get to work!” I have heard this same story countless times while training all over the United States.

If you want different results, you need to do something different. You can do it better!  

a. Train for results. If you want a service advisor to answer the phone correctly, sell in the service drive correctly, complete the service sales process correctly and become a valuable member of the team, then train them. Don’t assume they know what to do. You know what assume means, right?

b. Develop a training schedule and a training curriculum. Don’t wing it. Have your own core training modules for your store.

c. Be ready to train when you hire. Don’t abandon the training schedule based on changing conditions in your store. Things happen, plan for things happening and continue to train.

d. Have a follow up review. Set aside some time to observe and correct. Not everyone will get it right the first time.

e. Fail to train, plan to fail.

Staffing. This is a tricky one. If you have ever traveled, you know what checking into a hotel at 8pm can be like. In my experience, I’ve found most hotel chains lower staff levels after 6 or 7 pm, (unless it’s an airport hotel, and even then, it’s iffy). You check in at 8pm, there might be a wait. Yet, in the morning, plenty of people behind the desk to get you out the door as fast as possible.  (this is another area that is being downsized due to technology removing the need for physical checkout).

How do you staff properly? Try and follow the “one minute, one person” rule. In any customer centric business, one minute can be an eternity.

We have conducted our own time studies and found that when a customer must wait for more than a minute to be greeted, the CSI score drops exponentially. And the customer completely loses track of present time and instead reverts to “inconvenienced time.”

All of you have heard it before. “I’ve been standing here for 5 minutes and no one has helped me.”

Yet, the person has been waiting for a little over a minute. Technology has done more than help us calculate with spreadsheets and watch videos on our phone.

It’s reset all our “internal clocks.” What was considered fast 10, 15 or 20 years ago won’t even get a Thank You today.  

A minute in today’s world is “the golden minute.” Get it wrong, and gold turns into lead, and starts dragging your CSI score to the bottom of the ocean. Get it right, and the CSI score starts to shine like a gold coin on a sunny day, bright and full of reward.

“One minute, one person” rule is simply this. If your customer must wait longer than one minute to be greeted, longer than one minute to be escorted somewhere, longer than one minute to get an answer to a question, then consider having extra staffing during those times.

Extra staffing is not a luxury. It’s a necessity in managing expectations. I’ve often referred to the “Trader Joe” model of staffing. They are simply following the “one minute, one person” rule. Walk into a Trader Joe’s anytime and see if you can walk the entire store without seeing someone or be greeted. It’s impossible.

Contrast that with some well-known big box stores…and well…you get the picture. Even if you do find someone, better hope they have had their meds and coffee break before you ask them a question.

A word or two about expectations. It seems some of you (my own staff included) fear a “bigger commitment” or of being overwhelmed by greeting and acknowledging a customer’s presence, like greeting them somehow binds them to you like the owner’s old Aunt Edna at the Christmas party, or something like that.

It does not. Your goal is to reset the customers clock when they come in for service (if you are busy in the drive) by greeting and ACKNOWLEDGING them. Acknowledging them takes all of 15 seconds and sends a message to everyone who observes it that you and your team care.

It goes like this.

“Mr./Ms. Customer, my name is __________. Please take a minute, get what you need from your vehicle like sunglasses and garage door openers and come inside for some free coffee, juice or water. One of us will be out to get some information from your vehicle and we will come and find you and start the check in process.”

Clock reset.

You can even add “It will be just a few minutes.”

That is all anyone can expect. Granted, “heaters” may not be open to waiting, but at least you greeted them and acknowledged them.

Remember, heaters are gonna heat.

Training and staffing will continue to be areas of opportunity in many dealerships for years to come. Get a training plan in place, staff appropriately and watch your service sales and CSI take off like a rocket!


Leonard is a Service Manager Coach and Service Sales Trainer. Working with Service Sales Teams and Team Leaders, he has increased sales performance, profitability and customer satisfaction through on-site training in Leadership, Service Sales and Fixed Operations. He has completed multiple in depth fixed operations evaluations in dealerships across the country while working with General Managers and Dealer Principals to repair profit streams, increase service sales and improve CSI through training and coaching. He is a contributing author for “Strategies for Success” and wrote “200k in 200 Days, Developing a Culture of Profit and Professionalism” from his experience and observations as a well-traveled coach and trainer.