Out and out
Here are profiles of former service advisers who talk about why they quit not only their jobs, but also automotive retailing. We aren't naming their former dealerships. Stephanie Hernandez McGavin compiled these profiles.
As a service adviser, Jason McConnell says, "I did things my service managers said couldn't be done."
McConnell needed just two months to become the top adviser at the Infiniti dealership where he worked. In an average year, he says, he wrote an average of $1.2 million in service orders.
But the long hours and intense environment of the job weighed on him. McConnell, 47, says he became disheartened by bosses who seemed to care more about making money than serving customers.
"I was making money, but I lost all happiness," he says. "So I decided to make a drastic life change." He quit the industry to focus on his home remodeling business.
"Growing and becoming a part of [the dealership] was important, but I was just a number there," McConnell says. "Where's the benefit for me long term?"
Shannon Vaden spent a quarter-century as a service manager, parts manager, fixed operations director and service adviser before he quit the auto industry. He says the industry became much more cutthroat in response to the Great Recession.
"There isn't that sense of stability anymore," says Vaden, 45. "It's a "what have you done for me lately?' kind of environment. It's all about the dollar, and not about the customer."
As dealerships increasingly relied on their service departments as profit centers, Vaden says, service employees could maintain their pay levels only by selling customers "elixirs and snake oil" they didn't need. He says the last dealership where he worked held his "paycheck hostage" unless he played along.
"It's sad, because I love what I did," Vaden says. "I like taking care of people and being a problem solver."
Vaden left auto retailing in March to start a handyman business.
Mark Peterson worked 12-hour days as a service adviser, but he says his paycheck didn't reflect the job's demands.
"Since it was commissions-based salary, if you wanted a pay raise, you would be told to sell more work," he says. "You put more hours in and you lose family time."
Peterson, 44, describes the "daily beat-down" he endured from service managers, technicians and customers -- plenty of criticism, little appreciation. Good managers never seemed to last, he says, suggesting problems in the dealership's culture.
As a former service technician, Peterson says he knew when the dealership tried to sell customers unnecessary service work. He says some techs appreciated his honesty with customers, even if that cost everybody sales. But others didn't.
Peterson says he misses the camaraderie with co-workers, as well as fixing cars and customers' problems. But he doesn't miss the stress the auto industry imposed on him: "You're basically not seeing your family for a job you don't really like to do."
The small-town Alabama dealership where Jose Felix worked as a bilingual service adviser allowed him a low-pressure work schedule. That changed when he moved to a high-intensity dealership in Houston.
"They wanted to sell pretty much everything," says Felix, 39. His managers expected him to "upsell" aggressively.
"I was a technician. I know a lot of things weren't really necessary, and here I am trying to sell them," Felix says. "I felt like I was kind of trying to take advantage of people, and I know I wouldn't want someone doing that to me."
When he couldn't keep up, the dealership let him go. He stayed in customer service, but in a different industry.
"I see myself as more of a helpful person than a salesperson," he says. "I don't like to push and sell to people -- and not so much to angry people."
Jason Ratcliff says he liked the good pay and competitive nature of his work as a service adviser at an Infiniti dealership. Working with angry, demanding -- and even irrational -- customers, though, was something else.
"You had to go ridiculously above and beyond just to satisfy customers and the management," he says. "I had to base my work performance on the full perspective of the customer," even if that customer was unreasonable.
Because he had no interest in vehicle sales, Ratcliff, 34, didn't see a path to advancement at the dealership. He also became dissatisfied with the commission-based elements of his pay package.
"There wasn't any consistency," Ratcliff says. "It was a very highly stressful position."
Neil Mosbarger says he devoted a lot of time to gaining the trust of his customers at the Nissan and Honda dealerships where he worked as a service adviser. Too much time, his managers told him.
Although he racked up high scores for customer satisfaction, Mosbarger says, his bosses "wanted the fastest and most effective person that will sell anything, whether [the customer] needed it or not. And I was not one to be that way.
"Did it affect my paycheck greatly compared to others? Absolutely," says Mosbarger, 54. "But I was not a money-motivated person, which is probably not conducive to that type of position."
Mosbarger also grew dissatisfied with his long hours and low commission-based pay.
"You didn't get raises -- you didn't get much of anything, except a hard time," Mosbarger says, adding that managers "very rarely said anything good to you."
When he concluded that his bosses wanted him to be a salesperson, not a service person, he quit. Looking back, he says, "I'm not sure how I stayed as long as I did."
For Chad Price, service adviser was a good job for someone who didn't have a college degree and liked working with people.
But after 13 years, he was fed up with resentful customers, few vacation or sick days, and limits on his family time caused by the demands of his job. His managers defined the quality of his work solely by his customer satisfaction score, says Price, 44. They determined his annual bonus by the amount of service work and parts he had sold.
He felt pressure to upsell to trusting customers. "In the back of your mind, you're thinking: "I've got to get my numbers up,'" he says. "It came to the point where I couldn't take pride in my job."
Price has gone back to college to complete his bachelor's degree in criminal justice. He wants to become a police officer.
In the early 2000s, Ian Anderson recalls, franchised dealerships stepped up their competition with aftermarket stores for service and parts sales. That included a shift in the pay of service advisers to a greater focus on sales commissions, he says.
It was a big change.
Previously, Anderson, 40, says, "there wasn't as much of an emphasis to try to sell everything. You sold what a customer could afford and you sold what they needed. You didn't feel pressured to do things that weren't in line with what you believed in."
Under commission-based pay plans at the Honda and Toyota dealerships where he worked, other service advisers sought to sell such things as transmission flushes and fuel induction services to new-vehicle owners. He knew such work was seldom essential. He didn't like what the adviser's job had become.
At the repair shop he now operates, Anderson says he wants to give his customers affordable options. He says, "My thing was to open a shop where I would be transparent."
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