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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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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