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The Proactive Service Manager

Fixed Ops Strategies to Prevent Chaos in Your Service Department

A few months into my new role as the service manager at a large metro-area dealership, it became obvious to me, that having the title, didn’t necessarily mean I was the one in charge. Crazy was becoming my new norm and my days were filled with putting out fires and fading heat. The questions, concerns and complaints were virtually unavoidable. They came from all directions and every source imaginable. In a moment of clarity amidst the chaos, I had a revelation. If I could figure out a way to prevent the fires from starting, I wouldn’t have to run around putting them out. I knew in order for things to change, I would have to put some foundational processes in place. Having received no formal training, and no real guidance, I didn’t have all the tools back then. Over the years, I learned a few steps that will help you make the transition from being a reactive manager to being a proactive one.

Here are a few fixed ops strategies and steps to implement in your service department to put out fires before they start.

Observe and Evaluate – When was the last time you walked through the process?  Did you look at it from both the internal and external perspective? Are there any unnecessary steps that cause friction? If you were a customer, how easy would it be for you to do business with your service department? These are some simple yet powerful questions. To get on the path of becoming a proactive manager you must start with your process. The only way to see how good or bad it is, is to observe it from the sidelines and evaluate your findings. Walk-through the process your employees and customers are involved in, do they make sense are they relevant?  If you find any friction points in it, make necessary adjustments to improve the experience for everyone involved.

Clear the Path – Being a proactive manager means you take the time to identify potential road blocks before you take action. You will encounter obstacles when implementing new processes and ideas. When you anticipate them, you are way more effective in executing the plan. These obstacles may come from multiple sources, like technology and equipment needs, employee resistance and the other departments of the dealership. Change happens fast, you must be flexible, to adapt and overcome the spikes and dips in the business. Clear the path for your team to execute the plan and eliminate all excuses.

Set High Expectations – How often do you set expectations and communicate those with your team? Choose performance goals that are specific, trackable and quantifiable.  Write them down and review them often. The goals you set should reflect the direction of where your department is marching. Daily communication is the key. No one likes to be left in the dark. On top of it, you cannot hold someone accountable to the expectations they are not familiar with. To get the most out of goal setting compare your progress and performance with year over year numbers. Once you set expectations and communicate those with your team, make it easy for them to access their progress information and encourage ownership. For best results utilize a three-prong communication approach – digital communication, one-on-one, and group meetings.

Always be Training – How often do you take time to train your people? To implement a new process or make a culture shift your people must have a skill set to accomplish those. Training takes planning and planning takes time.  Take time to insure positive start to any new venture. How it starts so it goes, you must avoid false starts. Keep in mind everyone’s pace and style of learning is different. While some pick new information up quickly, others take time and require more hand holding. Once the change is implemented, continuous training is the key to successful employee development. Keep sessions short – 10 -15 mins and focus on specific elements of the process.

Trip Their Trigger – Do you know what motivates them?  Being a leader means recognizing the talent inside your employee. Once you’ve discovered it, help them exploit it. Does their pay plan reflects their job description? Do you have the right set of rewards in place? Are all your people cast in the right positions? If some of your people are struggling, maybe they are simply in the wrong position? Good employees are hard to come by, so learn what makes them happy and productive. You’ll be surprised how much they will flourish once they are in the right spot.

To sum it up, if you want to become a proactive manager, you must start with observing and evaluating your current processes, removing all obstacles for your employees, spending time to train them and understand what motivates them.  In addition, you must inspect what you expect.  Observe customer interaction, review repair orders before(!) they are dispatched.  Spot-check the multi point inspections, spend time in the cashier’s office and customer lounge. Do this in an effort to provide much needed feedback on employee performance in a timely fashion. Finally, you must have an intent on becoming a proactive manager. Nothing comes easy. If you want to continue to play the firefighter’s role, more power to you.

by Dan Hahn

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3 Ways to Improve Your Training

In a recent survey of sales people 95.4% of respondents indicated that training plays a big part in their career development, however, 18.4% of them said that it never happens in their dealership.  Oh, dealership do meetings, but most them are housekeeping ones.  Managers want to make sure trade-ins are parked, lost keys are found and appointments are set for that day.  In some rare cases  they throw few motivational items into the mix.  Hey, everyone needs a little motivation every now and then, and there is nothing wrong with housekeeping items.  Yet what sales people need the most from their managers/coaches is skills development training.  Think about it, if you make your sales force better your life will be easier and you might have to pay more taxes as a result of it.  Here are three things you can do to improve your training offering.


  1. Get it on the calendar. Most dealerships view training as an event.  At best training is a once per month activity.  Look at your current approach.  Are you placing too much emphasis on housekeeping or product knowledge related meetings?  If the answer is yes, it is time to prioritize your training, by getting it on the calendar.  You must schedule it.  Nothing will  happen unless you commit to actually doing it, and calendar is the first thing you must address.  Your people love consistency, make sure to isolate time specifically for their sales skills training.  Ideally, it should happen daily, first thing in the morning.   Do not fool yourself by scheduling it later in the day.  It will rarely happen and your people will lose interest.  I’ve seen too many good intentions of making sure the second shift participates in training, fail.  There are a lot of distractions during the day, so go ahead and schedule it in the morning.  If, for whatever reason you cannot do it daily, to insure everyone participates schedule it at least two to three times per week.  Commit to cover only sales skills training during that time.
  2. Get Prepared. Because most of the retail people are always distracted it is hard for them to… squirrel.  Life in retail is busy and at times unpredictable.  That does not mean you cannot take time to prepare for your scheduled training meeting.  To avoid the big flop, establish the topic and the flow of your training few days in advance, or at least a night before.  Since most sales managers are good sales people, they think they can wing it without giving much thought, preparation or let alone practice.  Decide upfront what do you want the end result of your training to be.  What is one thing you want your people to do different or better as a result of it?  Then work from that point.  If you cannot design a curriculum, use someone else’s.  The goal is to be prepared.  Utilize handouts and encourage note taking to improve retention.  Finally, practice your opening and closing statements.  Those would be most impactful and memorable for your people.
  3. Keep it short. In a recent research, neuroscientists found that our brains retain information better if it is delivered to us in short bursts, preferably in 15 to 20 minutes.  With all the moving parts in the dealership you want employees to be actively involved during training.  This is why keeping your sessions short will be a huge win.  They will like the time frame and retain information better.  The flow of your meeting could be something like this – opening/intro statement (1 minute), training content (8 minutes), practice/role-play/Q&A (5 minutes), closing statement (1 minute).  This is your 15 minute meeting.  Keep things simple and stick to the format you decide to utilize.  To keep it short there are a couple of things to keep in mind, don’t allow people to hijack the meeting, no negativity – this is a learning environment, problems and concerns need to be addressed in a different format.

No matter how tenured your staff, they all want to do better.  This is why they are capable of so much more than what they are producing now.  Your job as a manager is to focus on their capabilities development and it starts with your commitment to training.  To improve your training offering, commit to scheduled training sessions and prepare to deliver a solid content in a short and organized manner.  Remember, their success equals yours.


by Tony Troussov

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Will VR Solve the Learning Riddle?

Imagine you are a new employee in the industry where your success depends on memorization of multiple processes and scripts.  You have never done this type of work before and now have a monumental task in front of you to memorize pages upon pages of different conversation scenarios.  If you are in the industry that relies heavily on face to face sales you might be able to relate to this.  Now imagine you were given this task and were told you need to practice and then role-play in-front of your sales coach or worse yet, in-front of a group of your peers.  Oh, you forgot about role-play?  Sorry to remind you about this form of public speaking.  Just like speaking in front of a crowd, there are very few people out there, who feel comfortable being publicly humiliated in front of their peers.

Often times simple script memorization can be a difficult task.  Add variables into any script and it becomes extremely difficult to learn fast.  Additionally, most sales positions rely on the speed of the conversation and if one has not practiced it thoroughly, they tend to be left with one very expensive option – practice on their customers.  The lack of achieving rapid success in sales is one of the main reasons most don’t succeed in that field.  These multiple challenges add to the dilemma for most organizations with sales staff.  The answer to this learning riddle may be found in the new and emerging technologies, specifically, Virtual and Augmented Realities platforms.

In my 2500+ platform hours of doing training, I found that people memorize and retain information differently.  Everyone, learns at their own individual pace.  Additionally, three things are for sure, majority have a difficult time memorizing scripts, do not enjoy role-play activities and struggle with practicing new conversations.  Since most scripts involve conversations, practicing with another person is crucial in order to create a real-life environment, receive a feedback and the verification of information learned.  Other questions also arise.  Who will spend time with a new associate to help them learn new information?  What is the schedule look like for them to attend training?  In many cases, managers are too busy managing sales activities and have limited time to invest into successful training program for new employee.  Corporate or outside trainers can help, but their formal training programs are only available at certain times.  Online training can be available on-demand, yet it rarely represent an opportunity to role-play or practice.  This is where VR technology can be a great solution.

During the last couple of years, VR technology is making its ways into consumer world.  Early applications were video games and movies.  With a “whole-body” activities VR can replicate certain tasks that lead to skills that might be harder to acquire otherwise.  After significant research, Science Direct suggests that these activities “lead to significant learning gains and  higher levels of engagements”.   University of California study reports that “…people learned more in the immersive virtual reality system than in the 2D video system.”  When it comes to measuring accuracy of skills, Yale University medical study highlights “gallbladder dissection was 29% faster for VR-trained residents.  Non-VR-trained residents were nine times more likely to transiently fail to make progress and five times more likely to injure the gallbladder.”  When it comes to “reality” of a virtual reality for soft skills, a study from University of London, concluded that subjects of their study experienced the same public speaking phobia when they spoke to live or virtual audiences concluding, “the result was strong in spite of the relatively low fidelity of the virtual characters.”   Based on these studies and reports it does not take a strong leap of faith to see how VR can be a game changer when learning new sales skills.  But, is there such a thing?

There is a group of young developers in Europe, who recognized the potential of VR learning platform.  Specifically its impact on creating a learning environment and facilitating faster learning.  To date they created a prototype of VR Learning Platform.  This VR setting creates a realistic sales environment that in essence becomes a sales “batting cage” for an employee to gain confidence through unlimited on-demand sales skills practice opportunities.  Various customer scenarios are designed to simulate real-life sales situations to provide a healthy dose of reality in a virtual world.  The gamified sales world also allows participants to record interactions with their virtual customers and share those results with managers or sales coaches.  The virtual role-play aimed to raise confidence and develop or improve sales skills regardless of participant’s skill level.  With consumer version on the way, its application in any sales environment will be a true gamification of learning.  The question is will sales industries be open to adapting this new technology into their training strategy?  In a recent survey sales professionals were asked if they would “take advantage of on-demand training through new technologies like VR” – 82.7% of respondents said “yes”.  This may not be an indication that VR will be massively adapted by entire industries, but one thing is for sure, there will be many early adapters.

Each and every day technology is changing the way we do life.  The day is coming, when using VR sales “batting cage” will be the easiest way to tackle new hire’s fear of role-play, helping them learn multiple scripted conversations and make interactive learning available to them on their schedule.

by Tony Troussov

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Develop Great Habits in 2017

For two years in a row the US market reached over 17 million vehicle sales. Experts predict 2017 will be another record setting year for franchised dealerships. Good times in the auto industry have become the new norm. Yet many newer, less tenured employees were not around during the bad times of 2008/09. The veterans in the business know, that everything is cyclical. They also know that in bad times one builds good habits. The opposite is true as well – bad habits can be easily developed during good times. In many cases those habits can be well hidden and ignored in lieu of good results. In order to dominate during good and bad times here are five things you must focus on continuously.

1. Employee development. Great companies are created by great people. In many cases those companies raise their own talent. Talented people will not stick around if they are not challenged and given an opportunity to grow and develop their skills. It is important to identify learning gaps as they may be in the areas you least expect. Based on a recent survey of multiple dealerships employees, one third of the respondents chose leadership skills as most desired subject they wanted to learn about. This comes as no surprise, since leaderships/management skills training is often ignored in the automotive world. To help them grow you must focus on their capabilities development by providing great just-in-time training and a healthy regimen of skills upgrading opportunities.
2. Experience is KING. Those of you who were around during “cash for clunkers”, might remember the lack of great customer experience during that time. To be fair, dealerships were offering “first come, first serve” experience approach and customers did not mind the time and brain damage it took to get a deal of a lifetime. Well, those days did not last long. Today’s consumer expects great experience online, over the phone and in-person. They have low tolerance for shenanigans and old-school games. Moreover, transaction time has become important to them like never before. To win in any economy focus on great experience that exceeds each customer’s expectations.
3. Process improvement. Process and experience often go together. During good times it is easy to lose focus on either one or both. Continuous process improvement will enable your business to grow in a steady and incremental pace. As the saying goes, “the best never rest”, evaluating processes and constantly looking for better ways to deliver your promise to your guests will help your departments function at peak performance. Pay attention to communication. In many environments, lack of communication is the harbinger of process breakdowns. Your employee’s feedback is another vital part of communication you must utilize to improve. How often do you ask your employees to provide this necessary feedback?
4. Forecasting and tracking. These two disciplines can be first to slip away when things are going your way. It is easy to slack off and not take time to put much thought into projecting your numbers. Does each department forecast production and track their progress? Do they truly do it daily? Does each department know and understand what other department’s goals and status is each day? Think of ways they can help each other if they knew what everyone’s rate of travel is. What about good old fashion “make a deal” or “save a deal” meetings, how often do they happen at your dealership? Do you think you can pick up two or three deals per day or per week?
5. Expense control. There is a term I learned long ago that is called “the creep”. No it is not a person, it is your expenses that creep up on you over time. You do not notice when your admin cost goes up, or when you add another “valet” in your service department. Certain software monthly fees go up, while your BDC wants to add another caller to “cover” the schedule, oh and parts department ordered more parts to add to their obsolete collection. What seemed like a great idea at the time, ended-up driving your expense structure way out of control and your retention suffers. Reviewing your expenses often and making necessary adjustments is critical to stay lean and healthy in any economy.

Developing and maintaining good habits during the good times takes discipline. It takes focus and unwavering commitment to keep getting better. Concentrate on developing your employees, by offering them the best training possible and opportunity to grow. Insure your people provide the best customer experience by constantly reviewing and improving their processes. Continue to forecast and track each department’s production drilling it down to each individual producer. Monitor your expenses and watch out for that “creep,” that sneaks-up on you without you knowing it is there. One last thing, I left out accountability. You see, if you are doing true employee development, process improvement, forecasting and tracking, accountability will take care of itself. So, when you focus on those five components of your business and keep accountability part of your culture, you will stay ahead of the pack and dominate the market during any economy.

by Tony Troussov