Tough Conversations in a Dealership

Tough Conversations To Have in a dealership


In today’s dealerships there are many circumstances that create “difficult” conversations between staff and customers. We have to remember that usually these circumstances are not created by either parties, but have to be dealt with just the same. As a business manager the delivery of good customer service is high on your list of priorities, but are you providing the support and guidance to your staff so they are prepared and comfortable with holding these “difficult conversations” in a way that delivers a satisfactory customer service result.

 Example: At the Service Counter a Customer is expecting a fault to be covered by warranty. How do your staff deliver the message “no that’s not covered by warranty” When this situation is handled poorly it is the biggest creator of customer frustration and bad press for a Dealer.  

What does the Service Writer know from their interaction with manufacturers? Two simple tangible points:

  • Warranty is purely meant to be “fault of manufacturer” rectification. That is all manufacturers will reimburse you for
  • Straight forward issues are NEVER a problem, we just fix it and charge the manufacturer

But what happens when the decision process is not black and white?

 This usually creates an emotional conversation that can easily become confrontational.

  • The problems all arise from the “grey area” whereby what the manufacturer will authorize, and WHAT the customer expects vary (often a long way apart
  • So the danger is setting up an unattainable expectation in the customer with the “grey area” issues. IF we say yes we will fix it, then find out later manufacturer won’t pay, then we have a problem
  • Unfortunately, most front line staff are not trained on how to handle this emotive situation

So how do we help staff handle these tough conversations?

  • Service Counter staff have to be trained to recognize “grey area” issues early
  • Help staff understand the customer is not annoyed with them; they are annoyed about the situation. The customer may seem agitated and emotional, and this can cause staff to push back with a similar aggressive stance
  • Staff must be empathetic, do not make any promise
  • Customers will judge you “not by what went wrong, but by what you do to rectify”
  • First step is to settle the customer down, write down their concern, and open a CO so the record is not lost
  • Then clarify their issue. Find out WHAT is causing frustration, not WHAT they think needs to be done
  • Once we have settled emotion, got the facts, then we tell customer, please leave this with me and research the issue. Ensure you follow-up within 24-hours 
  • The 24-hour period gives “breathing space” to work out how to overcome customer concern
  • The problem is always who is responsible for paying. Once we have resolved that, then the fix is easy

 Internal conversations between staff can be a good indicator of the type of workplace culture that exists in the Dealership. A poor culture is a big problem for managers. The first symptom that Dealers are suffering from poor internal communication is high staff churn. Everyone blames wage competition pressure, but it is not. Very few people leave somewhere they are HAPPY at for a few bucks.  

To solve this problem the Dealer must be a good communicator.

So the first step is to review your communication methods:

  • Does every employee have their own computer screen and email? This is imperative in today’s environment
  • A good idea is the use of group emails for disseminating INFORMATION only, not opinions or rhetoric. But there MUST be a policy in place for acceptable communication standards
  • Does the Dealership have a good policy structure, documented and accessible to all staff? HR 101, but a lot of Dealers fall short in this area. If you don’t have strong skills in this area, seek professional assistance to develop templates to start you on the journey
  • How are customer complaints received? How do you record and follow up on these? Who is responsible? This is a big one and MUST have a solid policy

 The biggest efficiency drain in a Dealership is “walking, talking” time. In other words, if staff have to communicate in person with another, this requires walking, then talking and eventually the business efficiency suffers. Dealerships MUST audit processes regularly to look for opportunities to reduce “walking, talking” time. 

Examples include: 

  • How do technicians order parts for a service job? Ideally a simple email from their work station. Do all staff have personal terminals and internal email capability?
  • Do Parts staff advise the Service area when Special Orders arrive?
  • Where do we store parts once picked from stock?
  • How does a Salesperson advise when a unit is sold and needs preparation?

 This list could be as extensive as you wish, but think about where good communication and process can improve efficiency, then document and communicate the new process. Start with the biggest “pain points” and move down the priority list. If you aren’t sure what these issues are, ask your staff because they live it everyday and will tell you straight away what the “pain points” are In summary, what we want you to think about, is WHAT are your tough conversations? How can you improve the process around these conversations? Improve your documented process guidance, and establish a good communication protocol.  But the main takeaway is to remember this work never ends. Changing circumstances require review and adjustment of your practices on a continuous basis.

Tough Conversations To Have in a dealership

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