Service to Sales Handoff: When, How and Why

At a dealership, we are responsible for doing everything we can for our customers. Sales and Service are set up to make a profit in their respective departments; however, sometimes their paths cross when it comes to assisting a customer to the fullest extent in an all-too-common situation… When to keep servicing and when to upgrade. 

The sales department’s job is to move units; the service department’s job is to maintain those units. Sales would love to see a car turnover every 3-ish years, while service would like to see customers keep their cars for 10 or more years. While the average consumer keeps their car for a happy medium of 5 years, there is a fine dance that each department performs to keep their workflow moving.  The big question here is, when does service finally say it’s time to visit the sales department for a new vehicle, and how should they broach that subject?

The customer with a 3-year-old car in a lease is an easy send-up to sales if they are talking about it, especially with most dealerships using an Exchange/Upgrade Department. The car, that’s about 5 years old, is starting to need maintenance and turning into a tricky sell.  Each customer has their preference and [most of the time] has a plan for how they would like to handle their vehicle. Responsible customers plan maintenance charges into their budget and continue to move forward with their current vehicle until it doesn’t make sense or their timeline is up.

Then there are the customers with older cars that are starting to cost more money than they’re worth. A great sell for most service departments; however, where do you draw the line? With a dealership, customers range from working with disposable income to spare down to fixed incomes that amount to peanuts, and the customer is asking to pay in installments. It’s up to the service department, tech, and advisor to present all of the options to the customer when it comes to extensive work on an older vehicle. The tech should be willing to present all valid options for repair to the advisor, and the advisor needs to work to build a strong rapport with the customer. This all comes down to excellent customer service. When it’s time to have this conversation, the customer should be comfortable, even considering the potential for a lengthy repair OR moving forward with a new vehicle. It’s also highly recommended that the advisor be comfortable with at least one salesperson to work with regarding a handoff. Customers are comfortable when they are confident in the next step of the process based on a smooth handoff and palpable comradery amongst departments. Customer service needs to be the main priority amongst both departments, as it is the tie that binds the two together. 

But let’s take a step back. The handoff is important. However, the presentation of all viable options in service is even more important.  Customers should be given clear options on both repairs or pursuing something new.  Advisors in the game for the long haul know that their ability to sell is important, but customer retention is even more important. A good advisor has confidence in themselves when they recommend a new vehicle; their customer will continue to come back and service with them again. Another aspect sometimes overlooked is the client’s recommendation to friends and family. These things come from excellent customer service, and sometimes an advisor says, “it’s time to move on” or “this repair is worth it.” Giving the customer all options, presented in non-biased terms with the will to answer questions in a factual and straightforward manner, is always going to be the way to go. When the customer asks for their personal opinion, a great philosophy to work by is that the “truth will set you free.” Give it to the customer straight up and know that they are doing their best, in the customer’s best interest, and they have done everything they can. Plus, as a bonus, the truth doesn’t change. By telling the truth, you don’t have to “remember” anything, as your answer will be the same for the same situation.

At the end of the day, it’s time to suggest a new vehicle when the customer is open to the option based on their current situation and vehicle needs. An advisor will only know that if they are learning their customers and focusing on their customer service skills first, ensuring that ALL viable options are put on the table when it’s time to discuss their vehicle.  A customer service-centric dealership will always weather the test of time over the ones hyper-focused on their bottom line. 

Doing right by customers is the best policy and always drives positive results in the bottom line. 

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