Time to Bring Back the Lost Art of the Vehicle Service Walk-Around

By Jason Beckett

The lack of available new vehicles and higher costs means that consumers have been holding onto vehicles longer. This is expected to increase back-end service business and service revenue, which is a silver lining during this time of inflation and high interest rates. According to Cox Automotive Chief Economist Jonathon Smoke, “The service department usually does well and is somewhat counter-cyclical during economic downturns.” 

As a dealer, you can hope service revenue increases in 2023 due to economic conditions or you can hold service advisors accountable for proper vehicle walk-arounds and help service revenue increase while building long-term client relationships. 

Every dealership service department can diagnose and repair a vehicle. Those service departments that train service advisors to complete a consultative walk-around based on client needs build customer rapport and trust and see higher repair orders (ROs). As service advisors in most cases are paid through a commission-based structure that incentivizes them to sell services, why do too few complete this necessary task? 

The number one reason is Time. Service advisors often feel overwhelmed and pressured to get vehicles into bays for the requested service so they can move on to the next customer. While this is understandable, it ignores several key points. First, today’s scheduling software can be easily adjusted to give advisors a few more minutes with each customer while continuing to keep cars flowing through service lanes. 

Second, a proper walk-around can be completed in as few as three to five minutes. Lastly, a collaborative walk-around with the customer builds trust for a smooth service experience, adds as much as $130 per RO as per Initiative-taking Dealer Solutions internal data, and sets the stage for a long-term customer relationship. How can you not make time for that? 

Which brings me to the second reason: training. Too many service advisors skimp or avoid the walk around because of a lack of training. They are expected to hit ever higher hours per RO, but they receive very little insight as to how to do it. How is that fair? Let’s train advisors to confidently complete this crucial process to benefit them, the customers, and the dealership overall. 

No one wants to turn advisory staff into selling machines. Increasing the hours per customer per repair order needs to be a natural outcome of a thorough inspection and attention to the details of what the client needs. The goal is to create a relationship by showing a genuine interest in the client and the client’s vehicle. A relationship leads to ongoing service business and the opportunity to sell another vehicle. 

A great walk-around starts by meeting clients at their vehicle – tablet in hand to take notes and video. This sets the tone for a collaborative process between the advisor and the client. The client can help with the inspection by turning on the headlights, honking the horn, turning the steering wheel to the left and right for visuals of the tires, turning on the windshield wipers, etc. All the while, the advisor can be engaging the client in conversation and starting to form a relationship. That process takes two to three minutes tops. Once the inspection is complete, the advisor and client can walk together to the service desk. 

Once at the desk, advisors can recommend only the service or repairs the client needs (backed-up by video or photos). Then they need to stop talking and start listening to the client’s needs and concerns. Too many advisors talk themselves out of a sale because they talk more than they listen. An advisor who listens may pick up on a concern that hasn’t yet been discussed but that is important to the client. 

Advisors also need to pay attention to body language. A client in a hurry may wave off the collaborative walk-around. That’s ok. Don’t do a walk-around with a hostage. Instead, advisors need to be trained to follow the client’s lead and adapt their process and behavior to match. 

Service advisors have two goals. First, build friendly relationships with clients based on expertise and trust. Second, meet the clients’ needs for a safe, reliable vehicle. When advisors have the time and training to perfect the art of the walk-around, meeting these goals will naturally follow. 

Jason Beckett is the President and COO of Proactive Dealer Solutions, a leading provider of training and software solutions for the automotive industry. Since joining the firm in 2014 as Vice President of Product Management and Marketing, Jason has refined its vision to support dealerships in providing an excellent customer-centric experience. His areas of expertise include strategic planning, product development, and project management.

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