Dec. 28, 2009 – Training Day-Separate the greet from the diagnosis

OTTAWA, Ill. — Sarah Baietto’s biggest concern may be one of her biggest assets.
Baietto is a service writer at Starved Rock Harley-Davidson, the site of Powersports Business’ recent “Training Day.” During the service department part of the daylong event, Baietto discussed her unease about her lack of mechanical knowledge.
But Kent Meadows, one of three industry trainers on hand for the one-day event, explained that a service writer’s key role has little, if anything, to do with their knowledge of engines, transmissions or brakes. Instead the service writer must be an expert on customer service, up selling and providing a base layer of information to the store’s technicians.
“They fix the bikes,” Meadows, a regional vice president of dealer development for Assurant Solutions, said of service technicians. “You fix people.”
He compares the situation to a doctor’s office, where patients don’t expect the first person they encounter to prescribe their remedy. “They don’t expect the nurse to make a diagnosis,” he said. “The biggest thing you can do is the probing questions.”
Those consumer questions that could ultimately help in the diagnosis include: How often do you ride? How long do you typically ride? What type of problem are you having? What does that problem sound like? Did you have that problem on the ride over to the dealership?
That, plus relaying confidence in the store’s technicians to diagnose and ultimately fix the problem, is the key to the initial customer interaction.
Meadows also suggested some subtle changes in how Baietto discusses a consumer’s potential bill. Meadows said service writers should always discuss a dollar amount, rather than the possible time it could take a tech to finish the service. This should be done for a couple of reasons, but mainly to avoid future difficult conversations. For instance, if a customer is told a particular service will take one hour and it ends up requiring only 30-45 minutes, then it’s likely the consumer will question why they’re paying for an entire hour’s worth of work.
Plus, speaking in dollars rather than hours is likely less confusing to the average consumer, Meadows said. “Don’t sell an hour, sell a dollar amount because the customer doesn’t pull an hour out of their wallet,” he said.
Another fundamental task for service writers: Teaching consumers that service department work is never free, including for warranty work. Meadows suggested consumers should always know how much the manufacturer is paying for warranty work. This accomplishes two tasks: It underlines the importance of extended warranties to consumers, and it shows them that everybody pays for every visit to the service department.
Meadows also suggested Baietto write down each step of the store’s repair order process so that other staff members mimic it. This could save her time in future situations where she has to leave the service department desk temporarily and then return, only to find somebody else writing up a repair order. But without a process to follow, that co-worker may not cover certain elements that Baietto does, and it could cause questions and delays, including for the consumer.

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