Proper training can make a valued customer experience

One of my earliest employers would hold a total-store staff meeting once a month. He would open each meeting by shouting: “Your first job in my store is …” and we were to all shout back “Sales!”

This dealer principal understood that any one of us might be approached by a customer, and that customer might represent a considerable amount of business to his dealership. He wanted to be sure we all knew how to properly greet a customer, how to uncover the customer’s wants and needs and how to fulfill those wants and needs. This might have been as simple as greeting them, finding out that they wanted the parts department, leading them over to the department and handing them off to the proper person. He provided basic sales training for all his employees, even down to the lot porters.

I’ve never forgotten that lesson. It was a very unusual concept back then. Although we are doing more total-store sales training sessions now than in years past, it is still rare today.

It certainly helps to provide this training to all your staff. If everyone on your team had a basic knowledge of those first three steps — greeting, probing and satisfying the need — your business would increase sales and customer satisfaction would improve to some degree.

That said, you really need to go a step further and recognize all the positions in your dealership that require people with an attitude and aptitude for sales and customer service. Quite often we put people in these slots that are not capable of doing that job. It’s like trying to use a defensive lineman at quarterback. It generally doesn’t work well — we set them up to fail. In some cases, it could be at a significant cost to our business.

So what are some of the customer-facing positions in your dealership that require people with these skills besides unit salespeople? How about parts counter staff and clothing or accessories folks? Do you have sharp, well-trained salespeople in these positions, or have you settled for warm bodies that have basic knowledge of the products?

We know that the P&A department is the largest contributor to gross profit in your dealership. In addition, this department ties up a significant amount of operating capital and even restricts your cash flow at times. Wouldn’t it make sense to invest in the right people and provide them with good sales training?
How about your service writers? This is a front-line sales position if there ever was one. Their job is to properly greet customers, establish a relationship with them and probe for their wants and needs. Then they have to do a walk-around inspection to determine all the services that should be performed and up-sell where it makes sense — and all in about 20 minutes (at the most)! They have unique characteristics because they have to be organized and be good salespeople at the same time. If you haven’t noticed, good salespeople are not generally known for their excellent organizational skills.

The ability of your service writers to do a thorough job at the time of the write-up has a significant impact on customer satisfaction and repeat sales. If they fail to catch those additional repairs, the unit can be tied up on the bench while someone calls the customer for an authorization. This hurts service productivity. In addition, each one of those calls reduces customer satisfaction.

Are you hiring the right people for these important sales and customer service positions? Have they been provided with the training to maximize their potential?

In the end, it is good to provide everyone in your store with basic sales and customer-service training. However, it is better to invest the time and effort to put the right people in those customer-facing slots and provide them with thorough training. The result will be happier customers and a more profitable dealership.

Steve Jones is senior projects manager at Gart Sutton & Associates. He has worked in the powersports industry for more than 30 years, for dealerships and manufacturers, and as a consultant and trainer. Contact him at



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