The role of a service writer has evolved into perhaps the most important position for the modern auto service shop.
Many shop owners have realized that they can no longer be the lead tech, the manager, the diagnostician, the bookkeeper and the service writer. The service writer plays a key role in the success of the shop and must provide the very best in customer service, while at the same time be effective in maintaining sales goals, profits and managing the workflow.
The best service writers are multi-talented people who have great customer service skills, understand the modern automobile, know how to motivate technicians and can balance the daily workflow.
It's also critical that the service writer understands the business' financials and is included in setting the shop's goals. He or she should know the shop's break-even point and keep track of other key numbers such as technician productivity, shop efficiency, sales numbers, part profit, labor profit and gross profit dollars.
Essentially, the service writer needs to know when the shop is profitable and when it's not. Weekly meetings with the shop manager or the owner must be held to review the numbers and make adjustments as needed.
Probably the most valuable role of the service writer is in customer service. This is where great service writers are separated from good service writers. The customer experience is everything today.
Consumers are tired of poor treatment, and when they find a business that makes each experience memorable, they will return to that business.
Great service writers understand this and will go the extra mile to make customers feel welcome and special. There is a direct link between great customer service and a high sales closing ratio.
Customer service does not stop when the car is completed and delivered. Great service writers make follow-up calls to ensure that the customer is completely satisfied.
This little touch is very effective, reinforces the service experience and anchors the customer to your shop.
One word of advice: Keep service writers out of the bays. Service writers are not hired to be technicians. Service writers that work dual roles will not be effective. A baseball player cannot play second base and the outfield at the same time.
When looking for a service writer, look for those who possess people skills and leadership ability. Your company must have a job description along with a written, detailed orientation/training policy.
Don't worry too much about mechanical knowledge because you don't need to hire a former technician. In fact, some of the worst service writers I have hired in the past were former techs.
Although a background in automotive is a plus, it should not be a prerequisite for getting hired as a service writer. The service writer represents your business. Your customers judge your shop more by how they are treated than by the work you do on their cars.
Customers cannot always see the quality technical work performed on their brakes or steering system. After an expensive repair, there may be no discernable difference in how the car runs.
What they can see is how they are treated, greeted and welcomed. They may not see a difference with the way their cars run, but they will remember the service writer's friendly handshake and warm smile.
Joe Marconi is owner of Osceola Garage, an automotive service and tire shop with two locations in Baldwin Place, N.Y. He also operates www.AutoShopOwner.com, a networking website where repair shop owners and personnel can share ideas.