By Jeff Parvin CWS-VI

Flexibility, communication, common sense, cooperation and professionalism are keys to a successful service department. Most of your customers are reasonable and understanding people. Satisfied customers are the foundation of a successful dealership by guaranteeing their future business and also referrals to their neighbors, relatives, friends and co-workers.

This article is a basic outline; there will be equipment and circumstances unique to your business that may differ from this information. Hopefully, some points will help you to improve your service business and customer satisfaction.

When a customer contacts the service department, determine if the work requested is emergency, urgent or routine. Emergencies are customers who are without water because of an equipment problem; they may be experiencing catastrophic equipment failures (flooding) and the like. Policies will vary from dealer to dealer on how to react to these emergency calls. If it is feasible, you should have a 24-hour hotline and an on-call service technician. For many, that won’t be possible due to limited resources—such dealers have regular business hours and have service technicians carry a beeper or cell phone. Urgent calls for service usually include when a customer has water, but it is not being treated because of an equipment problem. Urgent calls should be scheduled the same day, if possible. Routine service calls include regular maintenance (filter changes, salt deliveries and the like). Routine calls should be scheduled as conveniently for your customer as possible.

Complete a service invoice. If this is a previous customer, look up their record. For current customers, verify that all of the information is current; for new customers, set up a new service record. Whether an existing customer or a new caller, train you staff to include as much information as possible to prepare your service technician for the service call and have them double check driving directions for accuracy.

Schedule a day and time for the service to be performed. In a perfect world, exact times could be given and adhered to—in the real world there are traffic tie-ups, personnel problems, emergencies, unexpected, extra-long service calls, poor directions, truck breakdowns, etc. Let the customer know that this is an approximate time and that if the technician is running late or early that they will be called. If you know that the customer has a special time requirement, make note of it, so that the technician can adjust accordingly.

For example, if it is 1:30 p.m. and the service tech is running late and Mr. Smith took off work to be at his house from 2 p.m. to 2:30 while Mr. Jones was scheduled for around 1:15, but, Mr. Jones is retired and told you that anytime that afternoon would be fine. Even though it may require going off the planned route, iMr. Jones should be called to work out a later time for his service call since he’s flexible about scheduling. Such changes show good thinking, but if too much rescheduling is being done on a regular basis, the service manager will need to determine if the problem is with scheduling, personnel or equipment and make necessary corrections to avoid aggravating customers.

Scheduling service calls can be done in many ways. For a small customer base, often one technician will be able to install equipment and work service calls around the installations; larger dealerships may require separate, dedicated service technicians and installers. A dealership that covers a vast geographic area may schedule by zones for different days, or service technicians may be assigned specific regional areas to keep travel costs minimized.

The person doing the scheduling must be a customer service expert and that takes training. The way the customer is handled by the employee taking your phone calls will set the mood of the customer/company relationship. They should be familiar with the geographic area and be knowledgeable enough about equipment to make simple suggestions—like bypassing a leaking unit, being sure the softener has salt, shutting off a feed valve to a leaking RO, etc. They must also have a basic knowledge of labor rates and material costs. After basic information has been covered, there is a point where the correct response is,”the service technician will have to determine that during the service call”. An answer like that will help to avoid inaccurate troubleshooting over the phone and will also forestall giving the eager do-it-yourself type a free service call by phone (unless you do not mind that).

Communication is the oil that keeps the dealership running smooth. The service technician must keep his office and customers updated if he is ahead of, or behind schedule. The office personnel must advise techs in the field of new emergencies and schedule changes on a timely basis. Customers must be called if appointments need to be changed. Service order and invoice records should be completed by office and field personnel. Accurate, up-to-date and complete records will avoid mistakes, delays and upsets.

Meetings should be held to ensure that updates, feedback, concerns and suggestions can be shared and handled appropriately. A monthly dealership-wide meeting may be needed to keep everyone headed in the same direction and to enable different departments to understand each other better. Between managers, schedulers and technicians, weekly or daily meetings may be needed. To maximize meeting benefits without wasting time, prepare and follow an exact agenda that allows for any necessary information to be dealt with in a productive and timely manner.

Communication with your customers can take many forms. Follow-up phone calls, customer satisfaction surveys, newsletters, courtesy visits, ‘service due’ notifications, sales flyers and the like can all add to the quality of the company/customer relationship.

Follow-up phone calls can be done by various personnel—sales people, owners, managers, technicians—and at different time intervals. Phone calls can be made during the installation, or at any appropriate time during the company/customer relationship. Calls may even be made to customers who have indicated they are going to do business with a competitor—if they are not satisfied with your competitor, you may end up getting their business.

Customer satisfaction surveys can be used to obtain written feedback regarding specific aspects of your company’s performance. Questions can be geared to equipment, personnel, service, timeliness and possible referrals and to specific or general subjects. A customer may be more open in a written (rather than verbal) format. “Did the service technician explain the work performed completely?” “Were you treated in a professional manner by our company?” You may also take this opportunity to request permission to use pictures of or comments from their installation for future sales presentations and marketing materials.

A monthly, quarterly or annual newsletter can be used to enhance the relationship between you and your customers. Include information about company events (personnel additions, achievements or promotions) or new equipment and accessories can be featured. Water concerns, on a local or national level, might be included. Coupons or referral bonus certificates could be added to a newsletter to make it a vehicle for encouraging referrals or to enhance service program participation.

Courtesy visits are another communication tool to keep your customers satisfied. An appointment can be scheduled to conduct simple pre- and/or post-equipment tests and to answer any questions or concerns the customer may have. This is good opportunity to talk about additional equipment or accessories and to ask for referrals

Service notifications are a powerful way to build your service department and keep your customers satisfied. Your manual or computerized system can be designed to generate service notifications by phone, mail and/or e-mail. The system should be flexible to allow for various service intervals, depending on the customer’s individual needs. You can offer an incentive to customers, such as a rebate or discount, for joining the service notification program.

Sales flyers and other promotions may also be used to communicate with (and keep your name in front of) your customers. For example, if your database is organized in a way that allows you to access customers by specific types of equipment, you could send a sales flyer to all customers who do not have an RO system.

Service basics
Service has several key components, including: appearance, conduct, competence, timeliness and satisfaction.

Appearance of both your equipment and your personnel helps to set the tone for the service department. A clean, neat, well-lettered and professionally driven truck is a positive advertisement for your dealership. The service technicians’ clothing should be neat and as clean as possible and complete (no tears or holes). Appropriate clothing will vary from area to area and can range from a uniform to jeans and a company tee shirt. Hair should be well groomed and be of local ‘business style’ on both men and women; men’s mustaches and beards should be kept short and neatly trimmed. Good general and oral hygiene must be insisted upon.

The service technician should have good overall manners. He or she should not curse, spit or be offensive in any way while in any public place or on a customer’s premises. The technician should treat the customer in a courteous, professional manner and accurately address questions and concerns, though should not allow a customer to delay them unnecessarily.

Competence comes from training, experience, reference materials and field support. If the technician cannot solve a problem in a reasonable time period using his experience and service manuals, he should confer with someone with more experience. If someone cannot be reached by phone from the job site, then the call should be rescheduled for a later date for the technician to return with help to complete the call properly. The customer will appreciate the extra effort instead of someone who says they fixed the problem when they really did not!

Timeliness is expected by the customer. As discussed previously, if the technician is running behind or ahead of schedule, he should let his customers know, either by calling them, or having the office call.

Satisfaction is for everyone. The customer must be satisfied to ensure his future business and referrals. The business owner must be satisfied that the service department is a profitable division of the dealership and a source of referrals to maintain future growth. The personnel must be satisfied that they are an important part of a solid organization with a bright future.

About the author
Jeff Parvin is Vice President of Sales/Marketing for Aqua Treatment Service Inc., a leading manufacturer of ultraviolet water treatment systems, stainless steel tanks and the AquaPRO Dealership Program. A former Goulds-Bruner dealer, Parvin moved to wholesale with the Noland Company and the Water-Right Dealer Program and subsequently to Aqua Treatment Service Inc. He conducts water treatment application, installation and service seminars, gives support to the ATS accounts and manages the ATS sales/marketing program. For more information, contact Parvin at (717) 697-4998 or email [email protected]




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