It’s official: “Selling service” is no longer an abstract concept. Your service department can be a true profit center for you and a reliable resource for your customers. The more customers you can keep, the better; but you have to have a plan. There are six key touchpoints related to service, each of which represents an opportunity to enhance service retention.

1. First Contact

Whether the customer visits your website, contacts your store or both, you must provide them with the correct and complete information when they want it. Sticking to the facts and getting them right helps close the sale and enhance loyalty for the next sale.

Do you have information on your site about your preparation-for-winter program and what that involves? What exactly is included with an oil change? Let’s say their radiator leaks. Do they know your techs can inspect it? Do they realize the difference in cost between replacing the entire unit and just replacing the core?

Many people are willing to pay the dealership more if they are sure you know their vehicle better than the local mechanic and will do a better job. The customer may never meet your service technicians. The impression they get regarding your store’s knowledge and ability often originates from the people answering the phone.

Quiz your service department. Ask if they can quickly quote the price of an oil change for diesels and other engines not serviced at the standard price. Someday, a customer will ask the same question. The right answer, delivered promptly, will help bring them in for the first appointment and hopefully many more.

2. Check-In

Years ago, J.D. Power and Associates discovered the check-in process was critical to hotel guest satisfaction. At restaurants, the time it takes between the host or hostess seating the customer and the first acknowledgement of his or her arrival by the waiter or waitress is extremely important to guest satisfaction. The same is true with auto service, only more so.

Most of the people who visit your service department are not there because they enjoy it. Many arrive with fear and anxiety about what it will cost to fix their vehicle, how long it will take and whether or not they will be treated fairly and honestly. Greeting customers quickly and warmly is vital. A smile goes a long way. If you can’t get to the customer right away, make eye contact and let them know you recognize they are waiting for you.

The time it takes to get checked in is also important. If the customer made an appointment, his or her information should already be entered and waiting. If it is a returning customer, his or her info should be accessible with a single click. Many stores are moving to tablet computers, putting information directly at the tips of the services managers’ fingers and making it easy to input customer and vehicle information directly into the system.

Customers don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Let them know when you will be in contact with an estimate and work out which form of communication — text, phone or e-mail — is best for them.

3. Visual Aids

Visual aids can be an effective sales tool for your service department. Texting a photo of a healthy radiator along with a photo of the customer’s leaking unit will help close the deal and make a lasting impression.

Visual aids can be an effective sales tool for your service department. Texting a photo of a healthy radiator along with a photo of the customer’s leaking unit will help close the deal and make a lasting impression.

In the service department, closing deals requires constant communication. Illustrate problems by texting photos of the affected part (e.g., their scarred brake disc) and photos of what a healthy part should look like. If your service manager and techs aren’t comfortable with that, invest in a tool like ClearMechanic to make it easier.

Next, create pre-written, ready-to-text descriptions of repairs and maintenance measures. Explain why it’s so important to replace worn belts or change the transmission fluid. Help the customer understand you’re trying to help them avoid more expensive problems in the future, not just line your own pockets today. These tools and techniques build trust and confidence in the customer, resulting in higher average ROs and improved service retention.

4. Pick-Up

When the customer returns to pick up his or her vehicle, you have an excellent, one-time opportunity to demonstrate the value he or she received. The oil was changed and all your systems and fluids were checked. The brakes were fixed and the tires were rotated.

Value is often defined as benefits divided by price. Your dealership may not be the lowest priced option, but it does deliver the most benefits for that price. When customers view dealerships as a poor value, it is generally because the benefits delivered were not recognized. Helping customers understand what they received for their money is as important for the next sale as the pre-work communications were to selling the RO at hand.

5. After the Repair

It is common for dealerships and manufacturers to have an office worker or third-party service call customers to measure their satisfaction with the work. What is less common is having a service technician or service manager call to be sure everything is working as it should. That’s even less common at Midas, Goodyear and Pep Boys.

This can be a huge differentiator for your store. But it will only work if the person making the call genuinely wants to hear about any problems the customer may still be experiencing. Once in a while, this may result in rework the customer otherwise would not have come in for. Yes, that’s an added cost for you in the short run. But it’s a nice investment in customer loyalty that can pay off for years to come.

6. Invitations

Smart dealers who are invested in service mine their CRM system for more opportunities. Some use coupons and other direct marketing tactics. But very few mine their data for opportunities to invite customers in. Why not give it a try?

Identify the owners who bought a vehicle you generally get high service penetration for, live in an area where you generally get higher service penetration and are not coming to you for service. These are the people worth picking up the phone for.

Give them a personal invitation to meet with you and talk about how your store can help them receive a more enjoyable and less costly ownership experience. Of course, this conversation should happen during the vehicle delivery process. If that didn’t work, then it’s time to get personal again.

Now go evaluate your touchpoints and improve your process. Then watch the profits flow.