Taking these additional, personal steps to aid a sales prospect also may be instrumental in beating a bigger, better-funded competitor. Bigger and better-heeled, experience has shown, does not necessarily translate into effective customer engagement and successful personal service.
I have visited and observed the operation of numerous automotive service facilities around the country. My work as a reporter, automotive equipment salesman and a technical instructor presented these opportunities to watch sales transactions firsthand.
Some service sales people seem reluctant to leave the service counter or stray from the phone. They appear too busy — possibly too indifferent — to engage prospective customers unless something absolutely dire occurs on the other side of their service counter.
A service desk or sales counter can be a hectic, pressure-packed work environment. But unless something very wrong is occurring inside an automotive service facility, it should be frantic only occasionally — not regularly.
A sales team may be working shorthanded or an unexpectedly busy day occurs.
But service sales pros still should acknowledge the presence of new arrivals during busy periods. Greet them and politely beg their indulgence while you serve the folks who arrived ahead of them.
Offer motorists little courtesies such as coffee, soft drinks, magazines, Internet access, television, etc. Later, as time allows, engage these new sales prospects about their particular automotive concerns.
These encounters may teach you more than you expected. For instance, the person you are waiting on may admit that a competitor's sales person failed to provide the time and attention that they expected.
Once again: Closing a service sale with one motorist may demand more time and involvement than the last sale did. Regardless, be patient, professional.
More than once, I have watched prospective new customers test the mettle of service sales people. For example, an anxious motorist may announce, "Please, I need you to look at my car — that blue sedan."
Several times, a frazzled service writer has responded, "Sir, I am looking at your car right now!" (No, the motorist does not necessarily get the joke.)
Holding a motorist's hand
Anticipate that some customer engagement constitutes hand-holding — nothing more and nothing less. Some service sales people loathe it because the effort may not generate a sale today or later on.
But a meaningful percentage of the motoring public will remember your efforts the next time they have to spend money on their vehicles.
One example of a good-will gesture and some car-wise hand-holding occurred during a heat wave. I happened to be collecting test data from vehicles at my pal's repair shop.
Due to the onslaught of high heat and humidity, vehicles with broken air conditioners appeared one after another. Although my buddy wanted to assist me with my homework, he could not because he was covering for a service writer who was out sick.
A pleasant, older lady was among the new faces in the customer waiting area that day. My pal said she seemed unsure if the air conditioner in her car was operating normally.
"I have to sort out sensible appointments for these new arrivals up front," he said. "And I am uncertain about that car with the 'inadequate-cooling' symptom because the owner seems so vague about vehicle history."
I needed a break from my work and volunteered to ride shotgun during a road test. I grabbed a notepad, pen and a trusty pocket air conditioner thermometer.
As I have done so many times in the past, I slipped the thermometer probe into the car's uppermost dashboard air outlet.
Thankfully, this vehicle was a relatively basic Asian car with a relatively simple air conditioning system. I noticed two valuable clues.
First, I explained to the owner that the temperature-control dial was not rotated fully over to the "coldest" position for maximum interior cooling.
Second, a button on the dash was set to "exterior air inlet" instead of the more-efficient, more-appropriate "recirculation" position.
After hearing this information, the taciturn car owner blurted out, "Who fooled with those doggone controls again?" I shrugged my shoulders.
This was not the first time — nor the last — when a driver overlooked that someone else had disturbed dashboard controls.
Soon the car owner noted that the interior seemed to feel noticeably cooler than it had been earlier in the day.
Furthermore, my thermometer in the dashboard outlet confirmed that the air flowing out of it measured 30 degrees cooler than ambient temperature.
I told the woman about a practical guideline an instructor had emphasized in auto air conditioning class. An air outlet temperature 25 to 35 degrees cooler than the ambient air temperature — especially considering the weather conditions that day — was very acceptable.
Therefore, the thermometer was happy and so was the car owner. I only wish that all diagnoses were that straightforward. Unfortunately, they are not.
So, imagine that a careful road test and a bit of hand-holding earn your business a new customer as well as referrals.
If that happens, then the effort was a good use of your time. Plus, those are outcomes every tire dealer and service shop operator would welcome.