Customer Service & Communication Skills

Vehicle Information & Accuracy

One of the first things a service consultant should do is prepare the documentation of each vehicle brought in for service. The RO (Repair Order) and vehicle history file must be maintained and updated for paperwork and billing to be accurate. The correct VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) must be used to identify any applicable warranties, TSB’s (Technical Service Bulletins), recalls and campaigns. Many shops use the VIN to locate vehicle history as well. To make sure there are no errors, the information on the documentation should be compared to the vehicle itself. Likewise it is very important to collect the customer’s contact information. To provide the customer with estimates, updates and follow-up these details must be accurate or you will potentially lose time and productivity in the shop as well as a way to invite the customer back in the future through marketing efforts. An accurate RO is the only way the history of the vehicle can be maintained and all of the necessary repairs can be identified. For example, if the wrong VIN number were written on the RO, it would be impossible to get the correct warranty and service bulletin information on the vehicle. Also, parts couldn’t be ordered or the wrong parts could be ordered. This type of situation does not generate good customer satisfaction, but does entail lots of frustration for the customer, service consultant and other departments in the business.

Identify & Document Customer Concern

Being able to interpret what a customer wants done to their car is one of the most important parts of a service consultant’s job. The process includes carefully listening and identifying the customer’s primary and other concerns. By asking the right questions, the service consultant can make sure that all of the customer’s concerns are identified and that as much information as possible is given about the vehicle’s problems. Being able to identify the customer’s concerns is the first step, but just as important is making sure the written documentation truly represents what the customer wants done and that it can be easily understood by anyone else reading the RO.

Check Vehicle Service History

It is very helpful if the vehicle’s service history can be reviewed to see what service has been performed previously. This type of information helps the service consultant see if the repair history relates to the present customer concerns, if the vehicle has been properly maintained, and identifies any possible additional maintenance that needs to be performed. In a situation where a customer has concerns about a prior repair, the history can be used as a reference for discussion. Without documented vehicle service history, it can be very hard for a business to defend itself against certain customer complaints. It should be quite obvious that this type of situation does not generate customer satisfaction. On the other hand, being able to show the customer the detailed service history of their vehicle is very reassuring.

Identify/Recommend Service & Maintenance Needs

Whenever a vehicle is brought in for repair or maintenance, the service consultant should identify and recommend any service and maintenance needs. This helps the customer properly maintain the vehicle and provides the opportunity for the service consultant to sell additional needed work to the customer. Using the manufacturer’s required maintenance schedule for that specific vehicle and or a service menu designed by the business, the service consultant can identify the service and maintenance needed. The vehicle manufacturers design the required maintenance schedules. Service menus can be combinations of required and recommended services and are usually created by the business. Both the maintenance schedules and service menus are great visual aids in working with a customer to determine their vehicle’s needs. Showing the customer the schedule or menu gives them visual support for any suggestions the service consultant makes. The schedule and menu are also good references for the service consultant to make sure that all of the recommended services are identified. It is helpful and important to their image and potential sales, that service consultants be very comfortable using the schedules and menus.

Identify Customer Type, Method Of Payment & Obtain Authorization

The type of customer being served must be identified in order for the RO to be properly processed and billed. Examples of customer type are first time, warranty, extended warranty, repeat repair and fleet. Many businesses will have internal customers along with their external customers. Identifying first time customers should help the business office recognize that a new file (paper or computer) must be created. A warranty job should be identified so that the warranty paperwork and request for factory support can be completed. An extended warranty job should be identified so the proper charges and paperwork can be completed. Fleets many times have special billing rates or procedures. Finally, internal work must be billed to the right department at the correct rates. One of the most critical parts of the authorization process is for the service consultant to make sure the customer has the means to pay for the repair on his or her vehicle. The process of repair authorization should include reviewing the probable charges and making sure the customer is willing to pay for the repairs. Some businesses require that the method of payment be established at this time. This is another reason why the service consultant has to keep the customer aware of the need for any additional repairs that are found by the technician. It is important to make sure the customer wants the additional repair and is willing to pay for it. Another reason that customers must authorize any additional work is that in many states if the customer does not authorize the additional repairs or maintenance, he or she does not have to pay for all of it. For example, in some states, customers are only responsible for 10% over the agreed upon cost of repairs. In terms of customer service and satisfaction, one of the worst situations is to hand a customer a bill that is over the payment amount agreed upon. In this case many businesses will not charge the customer the additional charges in order to keep them happy and coming back. This conduct can be very expensive to the business and is something to avoid. A customer signature on the RO is legally required and therefore, necessary. The signature gives the business the authorization to do the repairs and maintenance. It also indicates that the customer has read the repair order and agrees to its contents.

Job Status & Completion Expectations

Many consultants are tempted to establish completion times on jobs other than basic maintenance when vehicles are dropped off. Since technicians have not yet had a chance to perform any diagnostic work this practice can set the consultant and the business up for failure. A better approach is to set a time with the customer when you will contact them to advise them of your findings, cost of repair and realistic completion time. On longer jobs or at the completion of work a call to the customer advising them of the status of the job is a welcome service. If the need arises to keep the vehicle longer than initially planned, most customers would rather know about it earlier in the day than at five o’clock in the evening, so that they can arrange alternative transportation.

Service Facility Procedures, Benefits & Capabilities

Many automotive businesses that sell, as well as repair vehicles, give customers a tour of their repair facility after the purchase of a vehicle. The tour usually includes an explanation of the service department procedures and many times will include a discussion of the capabilities and benefits of using the shop. Even if a business only does repairs, this type of tour will help build customer trust in the shop. It also helps make the customer more comfortable and knowledgeable about the repair process and procedures.

Alternative Transportation

If a customer has to leave his or her vehicle in the shop for a few hours or days, arranging alternative transportation can be another responsibility of the service consultant. Automotive repair shops vary in the type of alternative transportation they provide. Some have a shuttle that will take the customer to and from work or home, some provide rental cars, others may provide a loaner car for the duration of the repair, and some, of course, may not offer any type of alternative transportation. Another responsibility of the service consultant may be to determine which customers should be given alternative transportation. When there are loaners and rental cars that can be provided, there is usually a set number available. Therefore, each customer’s need for alternative transportation has to be identified so the largest number can be provided with vehicles. In terms of good customer service and satisfaction with the repair process, timely and well-run alternative transportation is an important part of the repair experience.

Customer Follow-Up

One of the final steps in the repair process for the service consultant is to explain to the customer what has been done to their vehicle and to make sure the customer understands the charges and/or warranty coverage. The service consultant should first examine the RO to make sure it is complete. The next step is to review the RO with the customer, pointing out the repairs that were done, parts used and the charges. If the service consultant has followed-up throughout the repair process, this final step is usually very easy. The customer should have no surprises and be satisfied. To make sure your customers are satisfied and interested in coming back for future service, following up after the repair work is also an important step. A few days after the service visit, the service consultant or customer service representative can call to make sure the customer is satisfied. This gives the customer an opportunity to ask any final questions or express any concerns. This is one more opportunity for your business to make sure they have provided quality service to a satisfied customer and to ‘fix’ any problems that would prevent the customer from returning for more service. Any surveys that are completed by customers should be carefully reviewed to identify any improvements that can be made to the service procedure.

This post was written by: Martin Hand


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Martin Hand

About Martin Hand

ASE Certified L1 Advanced Mastertech. Martin Hand has over 15 years experience in Asian and European Import Auto Repair. Specializing in electrical diagnosis, engine performance, AT/MT transmission repair/rebuild. Martin is also pursuing a degree in Computers Science & Information Systems starting at Portland Community College while he plans to transfer to OIT. Certified in Java application level programming, experienced with other languages such as PHP, Ruby, JavaScript and Swift. Martin has future plans of automotive diagnostic software development.

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