By DAVID THOME
Special to ADAMM
Don’t know the difference between a rocker panel and a rocker arm, or why you hear something like a punk rocker’s death shriek coming from under the hood of your car? Don’t fret. Every new-car dealership’s repair shop has people on staff who can translate from Customerian to Technicianese and vice versa.
These people are called service advisers. They may or may not be handy with a wrench, but they are very good at getting to the heart of your concerns even before you drop off your vehicle for repairs.
“In a nutshell, I’m the communication liaison between the guest and the tech,” said Joe Weil, a service adviser at RUSS DARROW Kia in Wauwatosa. “The adviser needs to understand what the guest is experiencing to be able to tell the tech what needs to be addressed.”
Craig Prochaska, a service adviser for HOLZ Chevrolet, said that advisers need to be able to do a lot more as well — from making sure the dealership has the parts needed for the job to arranging for rental cars, and from explaining warranties to following up to see if the customer is satisfied.
Tech training is not a requirement for the job, said Chris Niemiec, service department manager at WILDE Subaru in Waukesha, but “great people skills” are a must. “The most important aspect of the job is to help the technician efficiently diagnose the issue,” he explained.
Edmunds.com Senior Features Editor Joanne Helperin says the adviser also must discern whether a customer is talking about scheduled maintenance, such as brake service, or a potential problem that needs to be addressed quickly, then monitor the progress and contact customers about whether the job can be finished on time or if it’ll cost more than estimated.
Finally, Helperin says, bills may “look like hieroglyphics,” so service advisers are charged with making sure customers know what work was performed and why — including warranty and recall work, which are done for free, do not require owner authorization and are often done when a vehicle is in the shop for other reasons.
Dealerships have a good reason to employ service advisers who know what they’re doing: Competent ones help keep customers happy, and happy customers are likely to come back when they’re looking to replace their vehicles.
According to an article on the automotive industry education website DealersEdge.com, customer satisfaction surveys and customer retention are “the big buzzwords among service managers these days… How well did the service experience meet the customer’s expectations?”
Dealers Edge also points out that service prices at dealerships are now very competitive compared to independent shops. Having an efficient repair shop that meets customers’ expectations can even make it possible for a dealer to offer lower prices on the vehicles it sells.
The website says that conscientious service advisers should recommend maintenance that can save a customer time and, in the long-run, money. For example, having the oil changed when a car is in the shop for a brake job means the customer can make one less trip for service. Furthermore, advisers should alert vehicle owners when it’s time for periodic services like radiator flushes, new tires and new wiper blades.
Prochaska, of Holz Chevrolet, said he also goes to lengths to make sure customers don’t end up getting service they don’t need.
“If someone says they hear a noise, I’ll go for a ride with them to verify it,” he explained. “If we can’t replicate it — if I don’t hear the noise — I don’t have any information to pass on to the tech. I’ll still take your car, if that’s what you want, and we’ll try again to replicate the issue, but sometimes, it’s best to bring it back when you hear the noise.”
Asking the right questions, Niemiec said, usually gets to the core of the issue: “ ‘There’s a noise coming from the brakes? Is there also a vibration? Does it happen after the car’s been sitting a while? Does it happen mostly at low speed, or on the highway?’ The adviser has to pay attention, make sure the customer’s main concerns are addressed, and then follow through with the work order in a way the tech understands.”
Added Darrow Kia’s Weil, “I could try to pull an extra $150 out of somebody, but if they feel like they’ve been taken for a ride, that’s no good for anyone — the customer, the shop or my career. My goal is to form a relationship with the customer, let them know they can trust us time and again.”