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AutoNation wants more service lane hospitality

Dealership group: Better hiring and training are keys to keeping advisers

Service advisers greet customers, inspect vehicles, write up repair orders and deliver vehicles back to customers.
Retaining service advisers
AutoNation's solution for high turnover among service advisors
• Recruit customer-friendly workers from restaurants and other service businesses.
• Train advisers to improve sales and customer-care skills.
• Continue training with classroom and 1-on-1 instruction.

Published in Automotive News April 7, 2014

AutoNation Inc., the country's biggest dealership group, is recruiting service advisers among restaurant waiters and other service-industry workers, part of a new plan to reduce turnover in a key position.

Service advisers, with 50 percent annual turnover industrywide, are difficult to keep, said Alan McLaren, AutoNation's senior vice president of customer care.

AutoNation's attrition rate is lower than the industry's and the group is shooting for 30 percent. Service advisers greet customers, inspect vehicles, write up repair orders and deliver vehicles back with the bill.

"We identified the service adviser role as perhaps the most critical role for us in the entire store," McLaren said. "There are perhaps only one or two people that have more direct eye-to-eye contact with our customers every day.

"Secondly, that role perhaps more than any other has such a massive impact on long-term customer loyalty and the financial performance of our business in the short term."

Last year, service business accounted for 15 percent of AutoNation's revenues and 40 percent of its gross profit, a spokesman said.

In mid-March, AutoNation began an online and classroom training program that will run for at least a year to train all of AutoNation's 1,375 service advisers, McLaren said.

AutoNation has six service advisers in an average store. The largest stores can have as many as 20.

Tough job

The service adviser is one of the toughest jobs in a store, McLaren said. "At times, it is a really difficult role because that individual is dealing with his fair share of customers who are unhappy with the vehicle or the experience they have been having."

The service adviser also has to have "a diverse mix of skills," including technical, customer handling and selling, he said. "That is a lot of skill base."

All of those reasons help account for the industry's annual service adviser turnover rate, McLaren said. "The more alarming statistic is when we replace them with a newbie, more than 70 percent do not remain in that position for a full year."

The online program has eight segments. The first gives in-depth instructions on managing and honoring appointments through the dealership management system, or DMS.

Other Web lessons teach how to prepare for a customer the evening before by reviewing prior service and recall work that needs to be done.

"It means we are prepared for you. If you took the time to make an appointment with us, we owe it to you to be prepared when you arrive," McLaren said.

Another Web session focuses on greeting the customer and doing a vehicle walk-around.

"We want the customer greeted and made to feel at home and comfortable," McLaren said.

Service advisers are also taught how to conduct a vehicle safety inspection with 36 checks and note what work may be needed in upcoming service visits.

Instruction continues to cover basic selling skills, such as how to present the repair work, the invoice and making recommendations for future service.

The last Web session covers returning the vehicle to the customer, explaining the work completed and the charges, and setting up the next appointment.

The online programs will be supported by classroom lessons. McLaren said AutoNation has doubled its field organization to eight people who will run classrooms and one-on-one sessions with some service advisers in the service drive.

Customer-oriented

AutoNation also wants to change the service adviser role from "being very technically oriented to being customer-oriented," McLaren said.

"In the past the best service adviser we could find is someone who knew the DMS system or had a strong service background -- maybe he was an ex-technician who wanted to get off the tools."

But AutoNation, like many other retailers, is finding that the people it put into these roles "did not link with the expectations of our customers," McLaren said.

The ideal candidate can quickly establish a relationship with people in a way that employees in hotels and restaurants do, he said. The new training will provide the needed technical requirements, McLaren said.

On average, and depending on the state, the pay of an AutoNation service adviser rivals that of a salesperson, he said.

Will the maitre d's, waiters and similar employees want to work in an auto dealership?

McLaren said a service adviser job can give someone with the right drive and work ethic a successful and well-paid career "without any specific educational background."

Retaining service advisers
AutoNation's solution for high turnover among service advisors
• Recruit customer-friendly workers from restaurants and other service businesses.
• Train advisers to improve sales and customer-care skills.
• Continue training with classroom and 1-on-1 instruction.
You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at dkurylko@autonews.com -- Follow Diana T. on Twitter: @dianakurylko

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