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Building a Customer-Centric Service Department

By Ken Rock, Customer Care Manager, Auto/Mate

Ken Rock

Many service managers approach management and process change with their own goals in mind. Whether you want more ROs or more labor hours per RO, it’s easy to focus on the results that you want, instead of on the results that the customer wants.

But in today’s customer-centric world, focusing on the customer should always be your top priority, and the top priority of every employee in your service department. After all, there’s a reason it’s called a “service department,” and not an “auto repair department.” The word “service” implies that you take care of your customers and put their best interests first.

Here are a few, basic daily best practices for building a customer-centric service business.

Professionalism Counts

You can’t expect your employees to do or say something you haven’t trained them to do. As a manager, you need to set the example of what expected behavior looks like.

This starts with how you dress every morning. Does your service department have a formal dress code? If you want to be perceived as professional, you’ve got dress as a professional.

Make it clear to employees that the workplace is not an appropriate venue for personal drama. It doesn’t matter if someone’s going through a tough divorce or they got a speeding ticket on the way to work. Your employees’ problems are not your customers’ problems.

When doors open for business, all employees should be smiling and in a good mood—including you. Every day, no exceptions.

Start the Day Off Right

Every morning before the doors open, hold a brief meeting with advisors and the shop foreman. Discuss the day’s appointments, open ROs, shop capacity, how many techs are available and all the other things you normally discuss.

Then ask everyone how they plan to exceed your customers’ expectations, or make your customers happy today. If you fail to bring this up, the message to your employees is that your customers don’t matter. If you make this your top priority every day, your employees will too.


My favorite dealer I ever worked for had a saying. “You can’t do business sitting on your ass.” He even wore a button with the acronym YCDBSOYA.

If you’re a service manager or director, visit the customer waiting area at least once every day. Introduce yourself to the customers and sit with them for a few minutes. Ask about their experiences and what they think you can do better. Show you care and demonstrate that you’re approachable.

Share stories about your dealership, your employees and your involvement in the local community.

Do the same with your staff. Spend time every day getting to know them. Ask them how the equipment is operating. Ask if they have any concerns.

The closer you can get to your customers and your employees, the closer you will be to creating that utopian ideal where your dealership is the first place that people think of when something goes wrong with their vehicle.

Midday Checkup

Halfway through your day, have another quick meeting with the shop foreman and advisors. How is the day going? Do you need to call any customers to give them status updates? Do you have enough techs for the workload?

As a manager you can’t expect employees to always report problems. Often times they don’t, so it’s your job to find out what’s going on and act proactively so a small problem doesn’t develop into a bigger one.

What happens at lunchtime? In some dealerships, the shop virtually closes up at lunchtime. This is not a best practice for a good customer experience. When customers call or come in at lunchtime, what is their reception? Can they get questions answered quickly or do they have to wait until someone comes back from lunch?

If this is happening at your dealership, stagger lunches to ensure there’s always enough coverage.

Closing Time

Before you go home at night, do you check and inspect the general health of your service department?

First, view your service department from the customers’ perspective. Start with the bathrooms. Has cleanliness been kept up during the day or are the bathrooms dirty?

Is there trash lying around the customer waiting area? Are there unclaimed parts lying out in the open at the parts desk?

Keep your service department meticulously clean. A sloppy appearance breeds a sloppy mindset.

Review carryovers and workloads for the next day. Check to see if all customers have been called or texted. Even if a customer knows they’re not getting their vehicle back that day, make sure they get a daily update.

One of my favorite quotes is by Teddy Roosevelt: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain and difficulty.” If you’re a service manager and your goal is to grow service department revenue, something has to change.

Technology can help, but never forget that the ability to manage your employees, make the customer experience a priority and good, old-fashioned hard work are part of the equation.

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