Spotlight on service

Service departments rarely get the attention
they deserve.

Compared to sales — with its shiny showroom and sizable commissions — the service department is often treated like a back-up singer. She makes the band sound better, but she rarely makes it into the spotlight.

If there was ever a time to change that thinking, it’s now. In a year in which boat sales are continuing their downward trend, a focus on alternative profit centers is critical. Many of the best performing dealerships around the country are thriving despite the economic downturn by creating additional business and profits in their service departments. And they’re always looking for another tactic to try out.

We’ve witnessed a number of these standout service strategies being implemented by our 2007 Top 100 Dealers, and we’ve gathered the best of them together to help you bolster your service department. The result is a list of the Top 10 service ideas dealers should adopt to sustain their businesses today and drive future growth.

The concepts contained in this article cover the gamut of marine service department operations from the most basic to the truly groundbreaking.

Approached with the right creativity, each can help you improve the service experience you offer customers and make you more profitable. They’re ranked in descending order from the most innovative to the most critical, but all are intended to help you create a well-run service shop that can’t help but steal the spotlight — and fatten up your bottom line.

10.Make your team accessible
Although it’s part of the daily routine for service departments everywhere, when John Doe’s boat has a minor breakdown at 10 p.m. on a Friday, it’s a big deal for him. If he can’t connect with his boat dealer, he’s out of luck for the rest of the weekend, even if it’s a simple fix he could have made himself with a little guidance from an expert.

Making your team accessible starts with the phone. During business hours, the service department phone must always be answered promptly. While this sounds like a given, it’s often not a reality. The next step is to give out your technician’s phone numbers — or the numbers for company-issued phones the techs carry — to service customers so they can connect with someone when the shop isn’t open.
With the right structure, offering customers 24/7 access to service help isn’t as painful as it might seem.

At Clark Marine (Ranked 66), all techs are on call at all hours for answering customer concerns. The Manchester, Maine-based company includes the emergency numbers with its Very Important Customer Gold Card for new boat buyers. If techs answer and heed a customer’s call for help outside of normal hours, the company makes it worth their while. In addition to being paid for any billed hours they accrue during the incident, the techs are paid regular overtime and they get a $100 bonus just for answering the call. Having that 24-hour availability has gone a long way toward ensuring customer loyalty, said Rob Brown, owner.

“This is proving to be an exceptional value to our customers,” Brown said. “They are boating with more confidence knowing that if a problem arises, we are on call.”

9. Go mobile
In a world that demands convenience at every turn, marine service technicians are taking repair to the customers and their boats, instead of requiring the boats come to them. Nearly 40 percent of Top 100 Dealers offered mobile service to their customers in 2007, compared with only a handful in 2005.

Customers are willing to pay a premium to have someone travel to their boat rather than taking time out of their day to drop a boat off for service or pick it up afterward.

Slalom Shop Boats & Yachts (Ranked 5) has gradually built up its mobile service operation so that now the service department operates more than half the time at dockside. The Lewisville, Texas-based company has 11 mobile service and delivery trucks, and each of its four senior techs has a mobile service vehicle to handle away-from-the-shop repairs. At least two or three of its technicians are on the road every day.
“We service a dozen area lakes from one to three hours away,” said Darrell Wilson, owner. “We offer the same service dockside for the customer that does not buy a trailer or buys a yacht that is unable to come to our facility for service.”
Slalom Shop sees mobile service as a given for its customers at slips or boathouses on other lakes and not a burden the dealership has to carry. The amount of off-site service the company does correlates with the size of the boats it services, which include pontoons, runabouts, ski boats and yachts.

An added bonus for Slalom Shop customers is that the dealership offers mobile service free for the first year of ownership as long as the boat is located within its area of primary responsibility.

8.Create a package deal
Over time, you’ve probably noticed certain service trends: many customers who purchase an oil change want you to look at their other fluids and so on. Why not bundle these services to entice
even more customers to have such maintenance taken care of at oncewhile adding a little money to the bottom line?

Boats Inc. (Ranked 38) has grouped a couple of its services together and is reaching out to a select group in marketing the special. The Niantic, Conn.-based dealership’s Reel Deal program bundles winterization and spring tune-up packages together, along with a slew of extras. However, this package is only available to Boats Inc.’s marina customers. The Reel Deal is designed to be a year-round turnkey service program. Along with dockage, storage, hauling, launching, shrink-wrap, compound and wax service, bottom painting and a boat wash are included in the deal.

“All yards in the Northeast offer these services, typically à la carte or with a program that is harder to read than an outboard purchasing program,” the dealership said. “We opted to offer it as a totally inclusive package and incorporate a payment plan to make it much more palatable for our customers.”

In addition to gaining extra work for the service department every year, the Reel Deal program helps Boats Inc. fill its marina. Now, instead of waiting until April to gauge occupancy for the year, much of the space is already filled with Reel Deal customers before the year starts.
More than 85 percent of its dockage customers take advantage of the deal, and there is a waiting list for the program that stretches out about two years, the company said. Through the Reel Deal program, boaters save approximately 30 percent over choosing the services à la carte. Boats Inc. makes paying for this extensive service plan easy by offering a three-payment option.

7.Schedule smartly
A lot of time can be saved and therefore technician efficiency improved by taking a closer look at your service schedule. Penciling in items on the periphery, such as vendor visits and unit movement, can keep technicians on track, which means boat service is completed on time, making customers happy.

Westport Marina (Ranked 47) recently added new scheduling software for its service department to better time customer drop off and return, leading to better department efficiency. The new software allowed the Denver, N.C.-based dealership to build additional time into each day to diagnose customer boats quickly and handle emergency comebacks without upsetting the rest of the service schedule. Using the new scheduling system, the service manager ensures that all jobs are laid out for each tech at opening time and coordinates boat movement to make sure techs remain as efficient as possible. The process change has increased all of the company’s technicians’ efficiencies over prior years. The department collectively posted 116 percent efficiency through the first half of 2007. The new schedule worked so well for technicians, Westport expanded it to include lifts, wash and rigging personnel.

Improved scheduling leads to external benefits as well. Customers no longer have to drop off their boats and wait two weeks until the dealership gets to the job. Instead, the customer can bring the boat in the day before work is scheduled
and pick it up the day after. The new system allows Westport to e-mail the customer directly from the scheduling software, which increases the timeliness and level of communication. “This allows us to communicate with the customer immediately as to the repair quote and parts orders, and then deliver upon our promises with regards to price and time,” said Greg Hart, director of sales.

Regular meetings involving all service personnel help ensure everyone is on the same page and provide an opportunity for the department to grow as a group and business segment. The more often those meetings can be held, the better.
Quick daily meetings to lay out the day’s activities can be complimented by more in-depth weekly meetings that can be used for things like education, problem solving and sharing best practices.

Staten Island Yacht Sales (Ranked 36) has an aggressive service department meeting schedule. The company holds weekly service department meetings during which the group uses a four-step evaluation process. For every boat serviced, the department asks, “If we had to do it all over again, what would we start doing, stop doing, do more of and do less of?” The exercise has helped give every team member a sense of responsibility for continuous process improvement, the company said.

Key service department employees — including customer representatives, the service manager, service billing staff and service coordinators — hold Monday morning meetings to review the last week and to prepare for the upcoming week.
They cover:
1. Boats leaving that week.
2. Boats that left the week before.
3. Recent additions to the used and new delivery schedule.
4. Trades due in.
5. Trades with issues.
6. New boat arrival schedule.
7. Open items from current deliveries.
8. Open items from last season’s deliveries.
9. The phone call list, which is a master list of all the service calls received during the week.
10. The road call list, reviewing past road calls and those scheduled for the next week.

Staten Island Yacht Sales’ customer representatives hold daily phone calls with the service coordinator to check the status on all service activities and to identify any surprises that have come up.

Finally, the Staten Island, N.Y.-based company holds weekly road service meetings between customer representatives, service supervisors and the service coordinator, to monitor the company’s mobile service efforts.

5.Start an express service program
Service work comes in all sizes, from routine maintenance and quick fixes to major overhauls. Why not make it easier for those quick fixes to move in and out of your shop just as fast as they can be fixed? You can offer “while you wait” oil changes and build flex time into the schedule to complete emergency repair work.

Crystal-Pierz Marine (Ranked 25) has long been an express-service innovator with its Urgent Care Repair initiative. Crystal-Pierz said Urgent Care Repair is an approach to boat service designed to get customers back on the water as soon as possible. The service is available at all of the company’s seven locations in the Midwest. Here’s how it works:

-Upon arrival, an Urgent Care Repair technician inspects the boat with the customer.
-A diagnosis is provided on the spot, if possible.
-If repairs can be performed within a reasonable -If the repair requires more time to service, or parts that are not in stock, parts are ordered and the boat receives priority when they arrive at the dealership.

Urgent Care has led to faster turns and greater efficiencies for the Rogers, Minn.-based company. Crystal-Pierz doesn’t charge customers extra for this beneficial service, nor do they need to schedule an appointment.

“From our years of marine service experience, we’ve learned that a sizeable portion of boat repairs require less than an hour to remedy,” the company said. “The problem is that most dealerships simply don’t have the system or the manpower in place to do it.”

The program also helps decrease yard needs. With up to 60 percent of service boats moving through Urgent Care in under an hour, fewer units have to spend time overnight in the yard waiting to be worked on. This, in turn, decreases yard damage.
Taking this concept one-step further is Traverse Bay Marine (Ranked 98). This Traverse City, Mich-baseddealer is serious about service. In fact, with boat sales in its market particularly hard hit, service has been driving the company’s growth. That’s why it’s no surprise the dealership has launched an overnight express service. For a
premium price, Traverse Bay Marine customers can drop their boats off at the end of a long day of boating and pick up the newly serviced vessels the next morning in time for another day of boating.

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