Business conditions are great for dealerships to recruit and retain service advisers, yet the ability to do so continues to be a weak spot, said trainer and consultant Jeff Cowan, owner of Pro Talk Inc. in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
The keys to success are setting and enforcing clear and demanding expectations, rewarding success and constant, ongoing training — even for experienced employees, he said.
"Because of the pandemic, the car has become the customer's most valuable possession," Cowan said in the NADA Show workshop "Attract, Hire and Retain the Best Techs and Service Advisers" on Wednesday.
Customers don't want to fly or take public transportation, so they understand the value of maintaining their cars, Cowan said. "Customers are much easier to handle," he said.
"These next couple of years will be the best service years you ever had, because the pandemic has reset that customer," Cowan said. "But you're going to need top service advisers."
Meanwhile, high unemployment because of the pandemic means "it has never been easier to get service advisers," he said. "For crying out loud, there are millions of people out of a job." The average service adviser makes $75,000 annually, and according to Cowan, about 20 percent make $100,000 a year.
So why do dealerships have so much trouble recruiting and retaining advisers? Cowan's first reason is the term "service adviser." He says it's a misnomer.
"Get rid of the term," even in help-wanted ads, he said. "People think they're some sort of adviser. At the end of the day, they're a salesperson. ... You're looking for someone who can sell."
Cowan described two versions of help-wanted ads he recommends, one aimed at experienced applicants and one for "no experience necessary." The one for newcomers skips "service adviser" and uses "a first-class sales position."
Both ads stress what's in it for the applicant, such as income, lifestyle and benefits, rather than what sort of applicant the dealership wants. In the interview process, he said, the dealership should look for "closers," salespeople who can close deals.
For retention, Cowan stressed training, including requiring employees to recertify training credentials yearly. Cowan said he wishes he had a dime for every time someone told him in an exit interview, "They didn't train me to do the job."
"If you can't find these people, you're not running the right ads; you're not interviewing the right way," Cowan said. "If you're not retaining them, you're not motivating them the right way."