Word to the Wise on Addressing Customers

Dealership service advisors need to slow down, choose the right words and listen to concerns.

Lee Harkins

May 21, 2013

3 Min Read
Word to the Wise on Addressing Customers


The tongue is a tough worker. It is one of the strongest muscles in our body. What makes it so powerful is its ability to help form spoken words.

The downside is that once out of the mouth, words can’t be retracted. Words can cause damage if used improperly.

I have conducted many service-advisor training sessions. Two key areas I cover during role-playing sessions are use of words and tone of delivery. I’m about relationships first.

The last thing a dealer wants is customers perceiving advisors as slick-talking salespeople whose mission in life is to extract as much money from their wallets as possible. The good news is most advisors are uncomfortable behaving that way.

The first thing I tell advisors is to slow down. Talking fast in an effort to move to the next customer creates the risk of skipping important points. Time lost going back to include those points and review information a second time results in more time spent with the customer. So nothing is gained by talking fast.

Worse, fast talking conveys a lack of interest. It appears to customers the advisor is trying to push them out the door.

Advisors should also be good listeners. That quality is a great sales tool. Most service-department customers have rehearsed in their minds what they want to say about their car. Show respect and give them time to explain why they brought their vehicle to the dealership.

Part of active listening is asking questions. It shows interest. Train advisors to use their tongues constructively and professionally. Managers should spend time at the service lanes monitoring advisor-customer conversations. Take notes and, if necessary, work with advisors on optional ways of interacting.

At employee meetings, ask advisors how they would pose questions and explain things to customers. Share expectations.

Make sure advisors use proper phone skills. Most stores have phone tracking systems that record calls. Listen to those and take corrective action as needed.

Our M5 staff conducts mystery phone shopping for clients. I’m shocked at some of the calls. In many cases, the advisors rush the caller, show no interest and don’t ask for the appointment.

Common courtesy shouldn’t be uncommon. Advisors must be perceived as nice people who are open, approachable and easy to do business with.

I have been in stores where the only customer greeting is: “You have an appointment?” or “Your name?” Those curt openers are grounds for termination. Not for the advisors, but for managers who allow it.

A good morning, welcome to the dealership and an introduction are the least to expect.

I’ve had managers tell me they are aggressive and fast-paced because they need to generate profits. I agree with generating profits, but it should be a long-term proposition.

When you pressure and rush customers, many won’t return. Some training programs stress the aggressive, quick, over-and-done approach. But the results always are the same: Sales jump briefly, then fall hard.

Advisors’ abilities to build relationships begin with the words they use. Get them off the fixation of extracting money and on the relationship.

If customers like an advisor and feel comfortable with that person, they will be back. Our business is about needs. Each time I return for service, I have more miles on my car. The chances of it needing more repair and maintenance work increase with each visit.

How an advisor speaks with customers will either increase business or drive it away. Make sure they are using the right words in the right way. It may take patience and regular follow-up, but it is worth it.

Fixed-operations consultant Lee Harkins heads M5 Management Services based in Pelham, AL. He can be reached at 205-358-8717 at [email protected].

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