Service personnel can increase productivity and service sales by communicating more effectively with motorists. Accomplishing this goal may require all the creativity you can muster. After all, motorists (a buddy calls them "civilians") really don't speak automotive service and maintenance language. This may seem so obvious as to sound trite to some readers—until you spend time in tire dealerships and service shops listening very carefully to service writers, service managers and technicians. Some display well-honed skills at eliciting vital vehicle history and symptom information from motorists. Likewise, they have a talent for explaining topics such as diagnostic results to customers in simple, unthreatening ways. But sadly, many other service personnel I've observed couldn't get the time of day from a motorist—let alone extract reasonable descriptions of the vehicle's symptoms. What's more, they couldn't describe a diagnostic conclusion as straightforward as a flat tire if their lives depended upon it. First, I appreciate the challenge because I've worked the service desk and I've been observing automotive service transactions for years. I'm convinced of two things: Many service personnel sorely need to improve their communication skills. What's more, it takes practice, patience and persistence to improve the way you talk to motorists. Focus on the prospect, listen as carefully as you can and don't hesitate to ask a motorist to repeat something or possibly mimic a noise or describe where it seems to originate. Second, don't feel self-conscious about mimicking certain noises or conditions for the benefit of an uncommunicative prospect. Naturally, some people at a service counter are much better mimics than others are. By all means, see what your vendors might offer in the way of videos, animations, etc., that may describe various symptoms better than you do. Familiarize yourself with these sales/diagnostic aids—and then use them. For what it's worth, some people actually record various automotive noises so they have them handy for use at the service desk. Third, suppose you're having difficulty communicating with a motorist. If so, then don't assume that you and this service sales prospect actually are on the same page. Experience has taught me that many "civilians" have established their own meanings for various automotive terms and definitions. This can be one of the most frustrating experiences you could encounter at the service counter. For example, I've heard consumers use the phrase "turn over" to indicate an engine that rotates (cranks) normally and then starts up. But to other civilians, "turn over" means the engine cranks but does not start. I've heard drivers insist that their vehicles "boiled over" even though the cooling systems showed no evidence of any problems. After much more interrogation and some road testing, we discovered that these drivers had overworked and then overheated the brakes. Apparently, when they smelled overheated friction material—glazed brake linings—they dubbed the condition "boiling over." Meanwhile, folks in some parts of the country describe an engine misfire as a skip. Be careful because they may describe everything from a rough idle to misfiring during acceleration the same way. "My car's engine skips," the driver may say. The first time some service personnel hear the word skip, they're distracted by the image of a major problem such as a jumped timing chain or timing belt. Try to get on the same page with the motorist by politely forcing the person to fill out a questionnaire on vehicle history and symptoms. Then encourage the person to speak up whenever he or she doesn't understand some part of the questionnaire. Often, this is an effective, non-threatening way to start the dialogue you need to have to understand the motorist's concerns and needs.
Success hinges on effective communication
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