Recent studies have shown that the average person speaks around 4,000 words per day. However, numerous tests confirm that we are very inefficient listeners. Studies have shown that immediately after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener has heard, understood and retained only half of what was said. Further, within 48 hours that comprehension drops off another 50 percent to a final level of 25 percent retention of the original statements. In other words, we often only understand and remember one fourth of what our customers say to us. With this rate of retention it becomes obvious there are numerous opportunities each day for misunderstanding what our customers are asking for. This lack of comprehension can lead to a high level of confusion in our daily operations.
There is nowhere in a powersports dealership with more chances for this confusion to take place than the service department. The original conversation starts with the customer describing his problems to the service writer, the service writer then explains the problems to the technician, after diagnosis the technician has to tell the parts associate what he needs, who then tells the parts manager who tells the parts vendor! We have all played the telephone game where we line up a group of people and whisper some statement, and by the time it gets to the other end of the line it sounds nothing like how it started. That is often what I find happened when talking with an unhappy customer. To help ensure a customer’s concern is addressed correctly at our dealership we use two very strong tools: Communication training and a repair order writing process.
We all train on the technical aspects of repairing the units we work on, but the facts show it’s just as important to hone our communication skills. Author Steve Covey covers this topic in his famous book "The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People." In our dealership, we train with what we call The 5 Cs: Clarity and Consistency in Communication Creates Control. And almost every time we have an unhappy customer we find the issue has been the lack of one of those “Cs.” Therefore, we spend between 30 minutes and an hour each week enhancing the listening skills of all our dealership staff.
Our service department has found the best way to ensure the 5 Cs are followed is to have standardized process to handle each repair order. First, our service writers “actively” listen to the customer’s problems and repeat them back to the customer as they write the repair order. They further ask the customer a series of questions about the conditions in which the problems occur. Writing the customers statements down is vital to ensuring the customer’s initial problem is addressed. We also require each person who is part of the repair process to note actions and sign off as they complete their part of the process. We live by the adage “if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.” Keeping all information written on the repair order and holding each department accountable not only reduces the chance of mistakes, it is valuable for training if something goes wrong. We allow our technicians to look up their own parts, and their list is reviewed by parts personnel before they are ordered. Having two people agree on what is needed to complete the job has also proved to be a great time saver by reducing the chances of getting the wrong parts. As a final step when the job is complete, the shop foreman does a quality check of the repair to make sure the customer’s concerns have been addressed.
All of this writing takes a few more minutes for each job, however you will find the time saved by getting the job done right the first time will be enormous. Using this process lets the customer know you were listening to their original problem and ensures they are happy with your service department.
Jackson Smith is the parts and service manager at Destination Powersports, a multi-line OEM dealership located in S.W. Florida. Jackson has over 30 years experience in both the automotive and powersports industries.