Back to the Basics

6 fundamentals and 1 Pro Tip worth revisiting to help service to drive a better customer experience.

By Jesse Swain

Vice President of Customer Experience

Barletta Boats

Today’s dealers operate in an entirely different service environment than they did just a few short years ago, and some of the most successful dealers have started running their service departments a little differently to remain successful.  Some of the service department fundamentals that I’ve identified in these dealers and that I’d like to share with you today are nothing new, and they will not only help drive greater efficiency but also help deliver a much better customer experience. Besides, these 6 fundamentals are always worth revisiting to help sharpen up your business. 

1.     Internal Communication
Highly successful dealers often practice excessive internal communication between department managers. Quick, daily huddles within the dealership can help ward off many unforeseen hiccups throughout the day. A great tool that helps keep everyone on the same page is software that can help with efficiency and aid in delegation. As a manufacturer, we can see the benefit this offers dealers, oftentimes, unfortunately, through the interactions we have with less-organized dealers. At those dealerships, lack of effective communication, delegation and accountability lead to multiple people from the same dealership contacting us for the same issue.

2.     Customer Communication
Great dealers practice “getting ahead of it.” It’s always better to call a retail customer with a potentially disappointing update than it is to bury your head and wait for the customer to call requesting the status of their repair work. Some of the most common customer complaints we see on social media relate to a lack of communication — “They never called me back!” Once this complaint surfaces, it doesn’t matter how well you take care of them, because the customer experience has been spoiled. 

3.     Training
Ongoing training and cross-training helps service teams know their product and allows them to be capable of completing tasks in multiple areas of the department (Service Advisors who know how to handle warranty claims in the event the Warranty Admin is absent, etc.). Training opportunities at successful dealers can be as simple as sending Service staff to work Boat Shows for some much-needed customer face time. This helps your service staff get to know existing and new customers in a different environment than at the Service counter. Additionally, the best technicians in the industry are those that are invested in by their employers, whether that’s through manufacturer or other industry training opportunities, particularly to help them find be successful in the high-tech world we work in. 

4.     Dealer/Manufacturer relations
When dealers and manufacturers work together on all levels, the customer experience has a much better chance of being a great one. Nowhere is that more evident than in the service department, where dealers oftentimes rely on manufacturer support to take care of the customer. The most successful dealers typically strive to build good working relationships with manufacturers, and vice versa. One of the worst things a dealer could do for a customer is to not raise their hand and ask the question when something out of their realm or reach comes up.  Strengthen your communications and relationships with manufacturers to improve the customer experience on all levels.

5.     Parts Department Inventory
Great dealers know their fastest-moving parts and keep an inventory of them to minimize downtime and help keep customers on the water. Not only will it help keep customers happy, but it will help your service team become more efficient. Think about how much time is spent pulling the boat in from the lot, uncovering it, diagnosing the problems, and then covering it back up, and taking it back to the lot. Do you really want to do it more than once if you don’t have to?  Keeping fast moving parts on your shelves will help.

6.     Service Writing
The Service Writer has one of the most important roles in the dealership. Great Service Writers practice the “one and done” approach by touching on every different system within the boat and confirming that the customer doesn’t have any complaints other than the obvious one that the boat is in for. Many times, a small repair need gets overshadowed by a large one, and when the time comes to pick up the boat the customer realizes that they forgot to mention that the anchor light wasn’t working, which can cause more delays in getting to the water. Service Writers also have to opportunity to upsell other services and accessories during the initial boat check-in process, and some dealers even offer an incentive or commission for doing just that. 

And here’s a Pro Tip: As they grow and add boat and engine brands, great dealers assign their Service Writers to specific brands, which helps with product familiarity and drives greater efficiency throughout the entire department.

There you have it. As dealers run into higher levels of customer demand and more challenges on the workforce and supply chain side of the business, getting back to some of these basic fundamentals. While they’re not necessarily new, they offer a good refresher in case your service department needs a good kick-start to get moving again.

A graduate of Universal Technical Institute, Jesse Swain spent 6 years as a technician at marine dealership and marina before spending another five years working for two different marine engine manufacturers. Today, Jesse is the VP of Customer Experience at Barletta Boat Co., where he uses his expertise in service management, warranty administration and troubleshooting to help Barletta and its dealer network drive outstanding levels of customer satisfaction.