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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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Take Control of Your Activities!

The “time management” concept has been around for a very long time. There are deluge of books, seminars and podcasts regarding this subject. Someone once said, “You cannot manage time”. Without getting into semantics, this point is correct – time cannot be controlled. Instead, what you can control are the activities you perform at any given time. In sales your world can be a chaotic. There are multiple interruptions that can distract you from your goal. Here are four principles that will help you stay focused on your activities to produce better results – awareness, choice, discipline and commitment.

Awareness. Have you ever been in a sales situation and totally missed it? You were going through your process and were totally unaware that your potential client checked out. Now, think about the time you were physically lost because you were distracted and took a wrong turn. What made that feeling worse is you weren’t sure which direction you needed to travel to get to your destination. In today’s business environment you can easily get distracted by someone’s text or some form of notification on your phone. Taking action is imperative to achieving your goals. The awareness of what is going on around you is the first step in helping you identify the actions you need to take to influence results. To find your way out of the woods you need to stop, assess the situation and become aware of which direction to travel, only then can you move forward. Oftentimes solutions and steps are in plain view but you are unable to identify them because you are unaware that these solutions or steps are possible. To become aware of the right direction, learn to ask the right questions. To help you focus ask yourself, “Does what I’m doing right now get me closer to my goal?” To identify solutions ask yourself, “What is possible?” When you slow down to think about it you become much more aware of solutions your mind brings forward. When you become aware of these options it is time to make a choice.

Choice. This is America! The great thing about your life both personal and business – you have choices. When you realize this it takes a lot of pressure off your shoulders. With that being said, you still have to choose wisely. Just because you can do something does not mean it is a good move to make. This seems pretty obvious, but let’s face it, we all have made some stupid moves in the past, or as Larry Winget said “your success is your own fault.” Think about your favorite team missing a winning field goal and ending up with a big “L”. You wish they could do it again and make it right, but the game is over. In business, like in sports, there are no “do-overs”. Make a mistake and it could cost you a deal. In most cases you cannot recover. The speed of the game kills perfection. When it comes to choosing the right activities for the day, you want to make sure you choose the ones that will bring you the most results and get you closer to the goals you set. Once you make those activity choices it is time to become disciplined in your approach.

Discipline. Ever heard of New Year’s resolutions? Ever made one? How long did it last? The problem was not with a decision or choice you made, the problem was with the lack of discipline on your part. Great intentions fail without discipline. Whether it’s a physical exercise, dieting or business activities, they are all short lived without discipline. The meaning of the word discipline is “control gained by enforcing obedience”. We all hate “micro-management”, yet without self-enforced micro-management you are bound to fail. Discipline is sticking to the activities you chose and being obedient to your own rules. As rudimentary as it is, this is one of the most difficult things to master. The problem with most sales people who fail in business is the lack of discipline to stay committed to their process.

Commitment. When you become aware of your choices and choose activities that get you closer to your goals, you then focus on developing a disciplined approach that will ensure long term success. Discipline goes hand in hand with your commitment to your own success. The actions you take every single day and your commitment to executing them in a disciplined manner will ensure you will reach your goals no matter how long it takes. Unfortunately, some people lose commitment to their success. This self-sabotaging behavior will slow down your growth in business. Part of the reason why people become non-committal to their activities is lack of immediate results. It’s true with physical activities and it’s true in business. It is like the commercial that shows a man in a gym running a quick lap and then getting on a scale to see if he lost weight. Of course you can easily get frustrated with activities that don’t bring instant results. Remember this though, discipline and commitment imply long-term. In this “instant gratification” world it is hard to be patient for results. Some sales happen fast and some take weeks, months and even years to close. Whatever the time frame you are working with, you cannot afford to compromise on your disciplined activities.

In order to take control of your activities and generate better results for you and your team, think AC/DC – Awareness Choice/Discipline Commitment.

by Tony Troussov

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Are you ready when your phone rings?

You arrive at your dealership.  Your lot looks beautiful.  The inventory stands tall.  Your brand new facility is spectacular.  Your new responsive website is amazing.   You paid top dollars for SEOs and digital presence.   You feel proud.  You walk into the building and hear a receptionist paging the sales department to answer a sales call.  You look over to the bull pen in hopes that your best sales person answers that call but to your disappointment it was answered by someone less talented.

Consumers are shopping online at a higher rate than ever before.  In addition, according to Google/Polk studies, the decision time is shrinking with 81% of shoppers deciding to buy within three months of online research.  With 58% of those buyers buying within one month the competition and urgency has never been greater.  With a great focus on the online presence and technology that goes with it, it seems like most dealers are positioning themselves to reap great benefits.  It all sounds wonderful, until your sales or BDC staff answers the phone.

According to just one provider,, their online shoppers are three times as likely to contact the dealership by phone.  And most recent study reveals that phone calls are outpacing e-leads by a staggering four to one ratio!  It makes sense since most of the research is done on a mobile phones.  How your team handles these phone conversations will determine the success of your online presence.  With high stakes in this game of a “high tech” environment a large portion of success is determined by a “high touch” the shopper must experience from their communication with your dealership.

A study by Marchex Institute concluded that 20% of the calls went unanswered during the business hours.  53% of answered calls were from shoppers with detailed inquiries who demonstrated intent to buy.  23% of phone calls were information gathering – inventory, hours and directions.  19% of callers called about vehicles not offered by the dealer.   The final 4% were calls confirming appointments and purchases.

Combine all of the above with the Google study which says, only 20% of vehicle buyer’s start with the brand they will ultimately buy.  This means that any dealer has a chance of capturing the business.  The big IF here is his/her sales/BDC staff’s ability to provide a different experience both on the phone and ultimately in person.

Hundreds of secret shopper reviews by Best Mark revealed the sad reality of phone call experiences.  80% of the sales people did not ask for caller’s name and did not provide theirs.  89% of the sales people did not sell a solid appointment.  91% of the time they attempted to sell a car over the phone instead of selling the appointment.  Finally, 95% (!) of the sales people did not use a defined road to an appointment and simply winged it.

Similar to any sales activity within the store, incoming sales phone calls require a defined process and just like any process the required components are, 2.monitoring and ongoing coaching.  On top of that, repetition of the three components is crucial in achieving the desired success.   Do you have an established phone call process/script?  Is it documented?  Can your staff identify the “road to the appointment”?  When was the last time your staff trained on this process?  Do you record all of your incoming phone calls?  How often does someone on your team monitor those calls?  Are you tracking your opportunities, appointments set, appointments showed and units sold, both for e-leads and phone leads?  Who is coaching your staff on a daily basis to help them improve their skills with phone ups?

Today’s shoppers are heavily cross shopping brands and dealerships.  They enter the competitive market with an open mind.  They compare vehicles, dealers and prices to the max.  Will your staff’s skills help you or hurt you in this competitive environment?  Will the shopper simply rule-out your store based on their phone conversation with your staff?  These are serious questions that require serious actions.


by Tony Troussov

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How to leave an effective message

“Is There a Message within Your Message?”


Have you ever received a message from a salesperson? (No, not one from your store.) How effective was the message? Did it raise your curiosity level? Did it prompt you to pick up the phone and call back? Were you confused about the intent of the caller or, worse yet, not even sure who the caller was? Like any consumer of goods, at some point you’ve heard a good and a bad message from a salesperson.

When guests leave your store without a set appointment, your salesperson’s job is to follow up with them to schedule one. In the ideal world, this can be done with a single phone call. The reality is a salesperson could make multiple attempts, leaving a voicemail eight out of 10 times. (Of course, getting multiple contact numbers from a guest could improve the odds.) Most salespeople give up after leaving one message. Over time, when there is no callback from the customer, one could give up on follow-up altogether.

Most salespeople take very little time to prepare for a phone conversation (i.e., practicing/role-playing, writing possible objections down, and so forth), let alone prepare to leave a 30-second message. When you are not prepared to leave a message, you can go on rambling for a minute or two. Have you ever gotten one of those two-minute messages? The same is true with your salespeople. Preparation is the key to an effective message. Creating an effective message is easy when utilizing the steps to a callback, and your guests will hear a message that prompts them to pick up the phone and call back.

It is important for salespeople to know why they are making the call in the first place. What is the reason for this communication? Whatever the reason is, the main function of the message is to get a callback. In essence they are selling a callback. Too many times salespeople sell a car, payments, trade-in value or nothing while leaving a message. When that happens, the message becomes polluted, and the salesperson sounds like dozens of other salespeople on the voicemail—there is no message within the message.

Additionally, preparation consists of creating a script and practicing it. Writing out a message script or outline will help improve the quality of the message, which in turn improves the callback ratio. The good news is this part of the preparation takes only a few minutes, but can produce great long-term results.

Below is a step-by-step example of a voicemail script.

Intro: “Hi (customer’s first name), this is (your name) from (dealership, location). My number is (phone number).” Experts recommend leaving your contact number twice, at the beginning and end of the message, and saying it slowly with the last digits in pairs.

Set the stage: “You visited our store last night and test drove a (vehicle).” There is a chance they stopped at several dealerships.

Throw in a compliment: “I really enjoyed meeting you and your family!” Saying something nice about the customer offers a personal touch.

Reason for a call: “You mentioned you wanted to … I wanted to know how it went,” Establishing the reason the customer left is essential to meaningful follow-up.

Desired action: “Call me …” Keeping it simple is the key. Get to the point; you want them to call you back. Any additional pleasantries could convolute the message.

Contact info: “… at (phone number). This is (your name) at (dealership, location).”

Farewell: “Looking forward hearing from you.”

The entire message takes 25 to 35 seconds. In contrast with a lengthy, unclear and pointless message, a concise and clear communication with spelled-out contact info and a call to action will get results. Less is more.

To create a meaningful message, your sales staff must know why they are making the follow-up call. In preparation for a phone call, a salesperson must create an outline for a phone conversation and a message, in case a customer does not answer. Practicing a voicemail out loud a few times will increase confidence, which will help make the message stand out.

Keeping the message short and to-the-point is a great message in and of itself—you value your customer’s time. Remember, when you are leaving a message, you are selling a callback. When talking on the phone, you are selling an appointment, and only when you are face-to-face with the customer, you are selling a vehicle.

 By Tony Troussov, MA