Show me knowledgeable, professional service personnel and I'll show you people who understand the importance of road testing. I'm beginning to believe it's another automotive service tenet so basic it's actually taken for granted and overlooked. Road testing skills seem to be such a trite issue and foregone conclusion that many veteran tire dealers stopped cultivating them. Worse yet, it appears they also stopped teaching them to their staff.
For many dealership people I meet, road test know-how is unfortunately still a mystery.
The truth is, many service sales people react like techs I grew up with: They continue using a technique as long as it appears useful, then discard it after they reach a level of false security telling them they can get by without it.
After all, road testing is a hassle. There's traffic-and that nagging customer in the passenger's seat. And there's sleepy-eyed Joe, the counterman who plowed Mrs. Wilson's car into a delivery truck last year. The owner still moans about his insurance rates.
But when lax procedures fail, ``intrigue'' can occur. As I explained in my last column, good-condition vehicles (albeit ones with cameras hidden on them) appear in the bays. And since people have become so accustomed to closing service sales without ``wasting'' time behind the wheel, they close one easy sale too many.
Only this time it's the wrong sale to the wrong person-a TV producer. Suddenly, the ace service sales pro is reluctantly experiencing the 15 minutes of fleeting fame Andy Warhol once described!
Then, if you fancy yourself a big player in the auto service field, you cry long and loud to anyone who'll listen that the media is picking on you. You put a 1990s spin on the old Tarzan line. ``Me Tarzan, you Jane,'' becomes: ``You media, me victim!''
And if you're a front-line service sales person, you give trade press reporters that bewildered look at industry events and innocently ask, ``Why is the media after us?''
Allow me to explain. Whenever a tire dealer hangs the label ``Automotive Service Center'' on his business, he's declaring himself and his staff automotive experts. The corollary to this declaration is, ``Trust us with your service dollars because we know what we're doing.''
If, in fact, you are a knowledgeable service authority, you do things authorities or experts do-like following procedural steps to ensure accurate diagnoses.
It may be road testing vehicles to verify you understand the actual problem the customer wants you to fix.
Or you coach your technicians to follow detailed service checklists that promote thorough repairs and reduce comebacks. Long before anyone ever heard of MAP (the Maintenance Awareness Program), your staff should have learned that experts develop and religiously use symptom sheets, service checklists, etc.
TIRE BUSINESS' Chuck Slaybaugh once wrote of the need for dealership personnel to ``walk the walk, talk the talk'' in the auto service arena.
Proper procedures such as thorough road tests gradually teach even non-technical types what feels right and what doesn't. It provides the firsthand knowledge all the service sales classes in the world cannot: A sense of how healthy vehicles behave.
Eventually, proper procedures such as road testing and using symptom checklists earn dealership personnel the knowledge and confidence commensurate with the title on the dealership building: ``Automotive service experts!''
Likewise, when an allegedly bloodthirsty TV producer rolls in with a suspect Chevrolet (the one that already has new front struts on it), service sales people aren't fooled for a moment.
Because they're experts, they quiz the customer carefully and road test thoroughly. Because they find no excessive leaning, squatting, nosediving or thumping, they have no reason to sell new struts or strut mounts. And like Little Red Riding Hood noticing the wolf's teeth, they may politely compliment the TV producer on the pretty blue paint his car's struts have.
There shouldn't be any mystery to this. You either know what you're talking about-and try to learn what you need to know-or you don't. If you don't, then frankly, you aren't prepared to ``meet the press.''
If this puts you and your dealership in an unflattering light, there's probably plenty of blame-and shame-to go around.