A service writer's primary goal is selling the business' integrity and expertise. This goal has not, does not and never will include diagnosing a customer's vehicle. One of the most common mistakes I see service writers make is trying to troubleshoot vehicles' ills for doubtful motorists. Sometimes they look like heroes because—surprise, surprise—they make the right calls. But all too often they look like chumps when they make the wrong calls. What's worse, these bungled diagnoses infuriate customers. And the bad calls only reinforce and perpetuate the impression that automotive repair people are incompetent and/or untrustworthy. Attempting to play technician—instead of selling the techs' capabilities—ends up being horribly counterproductive. Actually, none of this is really new. When I worked in full-service gas stations in the late 1960s, I quickly learned that a service writer or service manager could shoot from the hip and, diagnostically speaking, hit the target some of the time. But just as often, the service writer badly missed the target. Then he had to convince the customer that the added expense of the proper repairs were completely justified and legitimate. Sometimes the car owner took the situation in stride; other times we never saw that motorist again. Mind you, this was the legendary era of simplistic cars and trucks that were much more similar than dissimilar. The fact that 90 percent of the business was domestic vehicles certainly helped rather than hurt us. The bottom line: By age 17, I saw it was much easier to scale back a repair estimate than to pile cost onto one. Based on my observations, some service sales people today haven't grasped this concept yet. What's more, I hear service sales pros talk about exceeding customers' expectations and creating a “positive experience” at the tire dealership or service shop. To me, the most critical and fundamental customer expectation is an accurate job estimate—or at the very least, a very carefully qualified estimate. (“If we don't encounter this or that, the range of repair cost usually is X to Y dollars.”) Many, if not most, motorists have encountered qualified or conditional estimates in other areas of their lives. This includes everyone from the carpenter or roofer to the doctor or dentist. Yet some sales pros seem to forget a thorough visual inspection, combined with the relevant diagnostic tests, is the foundation of an accurate repair estimate. Houses can't stand on weak foundations. Likewise, auto service providers don't stand long on the weak foundations of shoddy estimates, either. To me, the complexity of today's vehicles begs for more careful estimates, not shoddy or glib ones. The labor time required to perform many tasks—not to mention the parts cost—is substantial. Some service pros would call it staggering. The potential negative impact of a bungled estimate is much greater than it used to be. Dub it “estimate shock.” Yes indeed, explaining and qualifying certain details of a job may slow down a transaction and possibly cast needless doubt in the prospect's mind. The motorist may wonder if you and/or your crew really knows what it is talking about. Ultimately, “qualifying” a job may cost you the sale. I urge service sales pros to maintain a solid rapport with their techs, Listen to their cues about the things required for repair jobs that are done right the first time. Likewise, watch the dealership's or service shop's invoices for trends in repairs. Take note of the parts and labor really required to satisfy the customer. Then tactfully and politely recall these experiences when preparing job estimates. For example, “Our experience has been that this, that or the other condition could badly skew this estimate. We can't determine that until we perform a careful inspection and diagnosis.” So don't attempt to diagnose a vehicle problem if you're not a tech—and not one who has inspected the vehicle. Gambling on glib quotes just might backfire on you.
Service writers must guide customers
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