With broad experience as a technician, running his own shop, and working with hundreds of repair shop owners and their teams across the country as the president and owner of RLO Training, Dan Gilley pushes his clients to reach their personal best with a no nonsense approach and a great sense of humor. We recently talked with Dan about what he sees as one of the most common mistakes shops make and how they can remedy it.
Eric Lawton (EL): Thanks for talking with us, Dan. In your experience working with repair shops across the U.S., what is a common theme you see that challenges the success of their business?
Dan Gilley (DG): One of the most common challenges I see, industry-wide, is that the majority of independent repair shops are owned by former technicians, who for the most part, are the best when it comes to technical ability. The area where they could improve is in customer service. Independent repair shops rank high when it comes to skill, but the industry has not done very well with customer service at the front counter.
EL: How do good customer service and people skills play out at the front counter?
DG: The repair industry has, for many years, tried to define customer service from its perspective instead of letting the customer define it. For example, many shops try to communicate their schedule to customers and require the customer to bring in their car based on the shop’s availability. But customers have busy, hectic lives, too. If one shop is open 9-5 Monday through Friday, and that customer works 8-6 Monday through Friday, plus they have to get the kids at daycare, pick up their dry cleaning, etc. etc. – and another shop offers Saturday hours, which shop is that customer going to choose? Customers today are sophisticated. They can push a button on their smartphone to find the next repair shop that is available when they need it.
EL: It seems that in a market that is super competitive, sometimes customer service is the only way a shop can truly set itself apart.
DG: Exactly. The market is very competitive, and business owners must hone their business skills. Every contact a customer has with a business is crucial… website, initial phone contact, first impression as they pull in, the greeting, the lobby, the staff… Business owners must improve the entire customer experience.
EL: What is the most important thing a repair shop can do to improve their customer service?
DG: The first, most important thing is to have the right person at the counter. What I see from my experience is that too many shops put a good technician who loves cars at the front counter. The problem is – this guy may love cars, but he may not necessarily like people! What shops need is someone who LOVES people and likes cars. Also, customer service and customer handling systems and procedures must be in place and be followed consistently. Just like technicians who have processes in place to diagnose vehicles, advisors should have processes in place on how to answer the phone, greet the customer, and speak to both new and repeat customers.
EL: What are the most important qualities you see that make a great service advisor?
DG: Foremost, service advisors must love people. It is much easier to fix a broken car than to change a person’s personality. You need the right person with a people-pleasing, outgoing personality that customers respond to. Second, this person must be trained in sales. Finally, service advisors must also be organized. He or she should have some technical knowledge – but of all those skills, technical knowledge is the least important, and it’s the easiest attribute to acquire.
Being flexible, accommodating, and prepared to deal with customer demands requires the right person and training. I see quality shops spending 40 to 50 hours a year on continued training for technicians. The best shops also invest 40 hours of training for their service advisor. Without training, customer service skills decline over time since they aren’t reinforced or improved. The well-trained service advisor is the face of the business and is the key to winning and keeping clients!
EL: Thanks again for talking with us, Dan, and sharing your expertise.
DG: My pleasure!
Dan Gilley is the president and owner of RLO Training. Dan began his automotive career when he bought, repaired, and sold a 1959 Cadillac convertible at age fourteen. Since that time Dan worked as both a technician and service advisor at several independent repair shops and new-car dealerships. Dan’s real skills were developed as an independent auto repair shop owner for over twenty years. Early in his career Dan became passionate about learning all he could about the auto repair business. He attended seminars, business schools and was a member of RLO’s Bottom-Line Impact Groups™. Dan joined the RLO team in March of 2003 as a full time instructor and coach sharing his passion with others.
In 2010 Dan became President and owner of RLO Training. He continues to passionately work to further the automotive industry and encourage shop owners and their teams in achieving personal and professional best. Dan and his team are continually updating their multiple workshops and creating new, different and specific courses for the industry. Dan strives to maintain RLO Training as the unsurpassed training company to provide the most profound impact on the automotive industry.
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