There’s no better way for a dealership to generate good will — or ill will — than with its service department. One that operates efficiently, does good work and goes the extra mile for customers can earn that family’s business for life. One that doesn’t … well, a recent article in Business Week magazine provides that answer. It cites research conducted by General Motors, which shows that a customer who gets good customer service is five times more likely to buy another car of the same brand as someone who doesn’t.
Here are some innovative programs and procedures Boating Industry’s Top 100 Dealers have implemented to set their service departments apart.
There’s nothing more frustrating for a boater than having to wait to get back on the water. Long delays in the service department, especially those for quick fixes, can turn a boater into a biker pretty quickly. A handful of dealers have come up with different names for the same solution: immediate service.
Crystal-Pierz Marine’s (Ranked 5) Urgent Care Repair; Link Rec’s (Ranked 22) Link Care; and Colorado Boat Center’s (Ranked 53) Urgent Care all are designed to get customers into the service department immediately, quickly diagnose problems, fix what can be fixed and order parts for the larger jobs if necessary. The common goal is to get customers back on the water sooner. What could make a boater happier?
Back it up
Duchow’s Boat Center’s (Ranked 42) commitment to quality service is more than an empty promise. The dealership backs it up with a “Service Workd Done Right the First Time or It’s Free” guarantee on all of the work its service department performs.
May I take your order, please?
If urgent care is not within your capacity, consider drive-thru specials. Promotions with drive-thru winterization, trailer repair, spring set-up and the like can be incredibly convenient for consumers and incredibly profitable for you.
Show me the money
If there were something that could make service customers happier than returning to the water quickly, it would be doing so with the best price possible. At Marine Center of Indiana (Ranked 50), service customers are always greeted with a description of the service completed and a final price that is lower than the original quote.
Service on the go
Get your technicians laptops. A recent Business Week article noted that notebook computer sales rose 35 percent from Nov. 2005 to Oct. 2006. And why wouldn’t they? You can buy them now for less than $400.
Duchow’s Boat Center (Ranked 42) offers Royal Care Service to its customers. For an annual membership fee of $299, they get express lane diagnosis, while-you-wait repairs, free loaners, discounts on service labor, storage, parts and accessories, a free half-day boat or pontoon rental, social events, exclusive e-mail sales, free propellers on annual renewals and watersports clinics.
In and out
To keep boaters happy on the weekend, Marine Center of Indiana uses an “In By Monday, Out By Friday” guarantee. As the name suggests, customers who drop boats off on Monday can pick them up on Friday for most repairs.
Most dealers have room for improvement when it comes to efficiency. Slalom Shop Boats and Yachts (Ranked 6) and Clark Marine (Ranked 31) took different paths through the same process to improve service turnaround times. Clark read and employed philosophies from a series of books on Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma in an effort to dramatically decrease the amount of time boats are in for service. Slalom Shop used Six Sigma Black Belt Rick Hersey of GE Capital Solutions to teach its service department how to cut the waste from its processes. No matter how it’s done, shortening the service time wait, without sacrificing quality, will always make for happier customers.
Customer convenience is a priority at Colorado Boat Center, where the company’s 24/7 Advantage Program allows boat owners access to a secure area of the dealership’s property so they can drop off or pick up their boats anytime, day or night, seven days a week. The program, which is only for customers who buy boats from the dealership, requires a registration process as a security precaution. “Many of our customers drive hundreds of miles to get to us, so keeping them coming back can sometimes be a job in itself,” the company wrote in its Top 100 application. “By doing business different and constantly creating new and better ways to service our customers’ needs, our facility is very convenient, despite the distance.”
Many of our Top 100 dealers use monetary bonus plans and other various incentives to reward technicians for efficiency. But with the ever-growing need for competent personnel, a program that rewards longevity is also a good idea. Crystal-Pierz Marine has just such a program in place with its “7000 Hour Club,” which honors employees with a plaque and gives them a certificate to purchase tools once they’ve reached 7,000 hours billed.
To measure or not
One of the most contested philosophies among marine dealers is that of service department efficiency. Do you track it or not worry about it? If you do track it, what’s the best method of doing so? Do you just divide billed hours by total hours worked, or is there a better way to do it? Do you share the results with employees or do you keep them to yourself? In our minds, technician efficiency and total service department efficiency should always be tracked. This doesn’t translate to making technicians hurry and do a sloppy job. It just means that you should measure the efficiency of the work. The old cliché of not being able to manage what you don’t measure rings true here. Measure it and have a baseline for your business. Then you can decide if and how you can make it better.
Set the schedule
Your service department is slammed in the summer and slow in the winter. While there’s nothing you can do to change the seasons, you can try to change when your customer’s schedule service. Sail and Ski Center (Ranked 12) has used a marketing campaign designed to change the customer’s boat-servicing habits to move what it calls “low-hanging-fruit work,” like oil changes and other routine maintenance, from the summertime to the off-season.
The dealership gives every customer that buys a boat a brochure detailing when they should have their vessel serviced, including an annual fall service visit. Infograms and other mailings are also sent out periodically. These efforts have not only drummed up business for Sail & Ski through the winter, they’ve also freed up service capacity during the summer.
Grow your service as you grow your business
Here are three ideas that s are worth considering as your business grows.
1] Mobility is key. Many dealers like Short’s Marine (Ranked 78) and Colony Marine (Ranked 25) have begun taking service to the customers by employing several mobile service trucks.
2] More free service. When boats are still under warranty, boaters want to have nothing to do with a bill. That’s why dealers like Singleton Marine Group (Ranked 3) and Bosun’s Marine (Ranked 47) provide customers with free service calls when the boat is still under warranty.
3] Express shop. The only thing better than having a quick repair facility into which customers can trailer their boats is having a similar operation on the water. Gordy’s Lakefront Marine (Ranked 15) offers an on-water express service shop for light and emergency repairs.
Six simple steps to upgrade your service
While there are many unique initiatives underway throughout the Top 100 Dealerships, here are five easy procedures we believe all dealers can and should put in place.
1] Walk through. Everyone walks a customer through a new boat before the first use. Everyone should use the same practice with a boat coming out of the service department. Seattle Boat Co. (Ranked 16) walks every customer through completed services to ensure everything was done according to the customer’s expectation. Fuel and battery levels, cleanliness and other essential aspects are also checked on the boat before the owner takes it away. If anything is incomplete or does not meet the customer’s satisfaction, the dealer corrects it before the boat leaves the store so the customer can return to the water assured the problem has been fixed.
2] No debates. One of the many sticking points between dealers and manufacturers is the warranty debate. Don’t put your customers in the middle of this. Do the right thing. H&S Yacht Sales/Southwestern Yacht Sales (Ranked 17) empowers its service writers to solve gray-area issues up to a certain dollar amount in order to keep the customer satisfied. This is backed up in the service department by the funding of a specific dollar amount per boat as a “warranty reserve.”
3] Free service. OK, it’s not really free. But as a package, many dealers have begun offering a “free” 20-hour service. Getting customers back to the dealership for routine and preventive maintenance is a system that’s bound to build loyalty. Clarks Landing Boat Sales (Ranked 41) was one of many Top 100 dealers to offer this amenity to its customers. Boats can be dropped off at either of the dealer’s locations, where they will be inspected, maintained and washed. Customers can go over any concerns or questions that have cropped up at that time as well. And the best part, if you’ve built the cost of this visit into the price of the boat, is that you can turn a profit on it.
4] Be a loaner. Every now and again there’s a problem that will take a lot of time to repair. When such is the case, have a loaner available for customers to use during their boat’s down time. Especially in climates where the season is short, this can be an invaluable service for customers that can mean a customer for life and generate great word of mouth for you. It can also be used to introduce a customer to a new boat they might consider purchasing in the future.
5] Go digital. Every dealer should have a Web site these days. If you don’t, get with the program. As dealers have grown in their Web presence, many are finding new ways of making life easier on customers. Marine Center of Indiana, for example, has a schedule service option on its site, so customers can login and make an appointment online. This is a feature made possible by Channel Blade Technologies, a Web solutions provider.
6] And on the Seventh day… While most boaters are on the water enjoying the final day of the week, what are most dealers doing? Taking a day of rest. When problems arise on Saturday or Sunday, boaters are typically left without a solution. Dealers like Staten Island Yacht Sales (Ranked 33) have implemented a Sunday hotline that customers can call to get help when necessary. Other dealers offer a 24-hour service number that can be called when problems pop up. This can often be done by buying a cell phone that technicians answer on a rotating basis.