Funnels to Success

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In the quick lube profession, a funnel is a pretty standard piece of equipment in nearly every shop, and for good reason. Most shops have several in varying sizes and lengths and with a variety of shapes made for each specific purpose.

No matter what the shape or size though, all funnels have a singular function they are used for: They ease collecting, gathering or combining fluids and putting it all in a very specific, sometimes hard-to-reach, location. They also prevent the user from spilling excess fluid outside of the intended introduction point.

 You don’t realize how necessary and useful a little, cheap, plastic funnel is until you can’t find one when you need it. The result of trying to cheat and not use a funnel when called for will often result in wasted product, product not going where it is intended to go and sometimes even result in a big mess of spilled fluids. Clearly, funnels are vital and necessary items to have in your lube shop. They will make your day a little easier and allow you to do a more thorough and professional job with each customer.

It’s probably safe to say everyone reading this article has a very clear understanding of what a funnel is and why we use them so frequently.

Now let’s apply all that we know about the function of a funnel to your customer service procedures.


The Customer Funnel

When you pour eight quarts of expensive premium synthetic motor oil into your customer’s new Cadillac CTS, you use a funnel to make sure it all gets in there and doesn’t leave a mess behind. Metaphorically, your customer funnel works in much the same way.

When a typical customer arrives at your shop looking for an oil change, view them as being at the “mouth of the customer funnel.” Everything this customer thinks, sees, hears, smells and experiences is going to be absorbed and then reflected through his perceptions right back into your shop — into your funnel. You want to make sure all of the perceptions your customer experiences will give you the ingredients you want going into your customer funnel.

A big, friendly wave as you approach the vehicle to get the customer’s name promotes the perception that your staff is happy and professional. The customer will sense that, and his perception of this will subtly influence his attitude toward you, your people and your shop. That outwardly-positive attitude reflection will go straight into your customer funnel.

As you finish an upbeat and exuberant greeting, you politely guide your customer into the bay. What will they see? What will they hear? What will be the totality of their further perceptions for the next two minutes of today’s visit to your location? What else is going to go into your customer funnel? Are they going to be pleasantly surprised with how clean and organized the location appears to be? Will they be suitably impressed with how quickly your technicians get to work on their car, cleaning their windows and checking their tires? Will they like the fact the hood is raised almost immediately once they are in the bay and work is starting under their hood?

The answer to each of those should be a resounding yes. You want them to have all of those positive experiences and more — those experiences will go directly into your customer funnel. And these are the exact ingredients you want in the customer funnel — nothing more, and certainly nothing less; only positive attitude reflections.

These positive attitude reflections will all continue to mix together in your customer funnel as you continue to generate the specific actions that result in them. They won’t happen randomly. You must be the one to make it happen. When you have filled your customer funnel with the proper amount of these positive attitude reflections, you will then be able to easily use the funnel to direct the flow of all this positivity exactly where you want it — without making a mess and without spilling or wasting even a tiny bit of it.


Keep your Customer Funnel Clean

If you were to use one of your shop’s plastic funnels to install some thick engine-honey type additive into a customer’s engine and then directly re-use that same funnel to install a gas-tank additive into another customer’s vehicle, what do you think the result might be? Is it possible that some of that thick additive designed for engines may find its way into the gas tank of the next customer’s car? Absolutely.

Of course, it is entirely possible that nothing noticeable may happen at all. But, then again, it might, right? Why take the chance on possibly creating a poor customer service experience and a possible claim against your shop? Instead of doing sloppy work and courting disappointment, take the time to be proactive. Wipe the funnel clean before you use it for the next application. This way instead of hoping you have not caused any potential problems, you know the possibility of cross-contamination has been reasonably removed and you have reduced the possibility of an unhappy customer to near zero.

You must treat your customer funnel with the same type of care and cleanliness. Don’t let any unwanted ingredients into the customer funnel.

If, as a customer is pulling in and they see oil spills on the shop floor, they may think that you run a sloppy shop or maybe you just had an accident or problem servicing the previous car. It is very possible a simple oil spill on the shop floor can lead a typical customer to this conclusion, simply because it is human nature to always assume the worst when things appear out of place. Your customer may not say anything or even acknowledge they are aware of the oil spill, but that information and the resulting perception will then be absorbed by the customer’s mind — a probable negative conclusion and reflected negatively into your customer funnel.

What if the tech working on the customer’s vehicle is chit-chatting with the lower tech about something that does not pertain to the work at hand? Will your customer perceive that these two technicians are so professional they are each fully able to do a technically-skilled procedure without even fully concentrating on it, while at the same time talking about something else entirely? Or is it more likely the customer will be annoyed that they are barely paying attention to what they are doing on his vehicle and are more interested in talking about the latest gossip? What do you think is the most likely perception your customer will have in that situation?

Do you want the possibly-negative perception of that scenario reflected back into your customer-funnel?

Make every effort to ensure that your customer’s perceptions will result only in positive attitude reflections going back into your customer-funnel.


One at a Time Per Funnel, Please

As oil is being poured into the customer’s vehicle from quart-sized bottles, do you typically have one tech start to pour the bottles in, leave this duty after a couple of bottles have been installed and then a few minutes later to have another tech finish pouring the rest of the bottles in? I certainly hope you do not, for the potential for mistakes is dramatically increased when you let several people be responsible for one very specific duty.

Your customer funnel is the same: If you personally are the one who greets the customer as they arrive, then you are the one who has instigated every perception the customer is going to have up to that point. As the customer experiences those perceptions and you receive the reflected attitude back from them and into your funnel, who in your shop could possibly know more about what is already in that funnel up to that point than you? Obviously, no one can know more than you at this point. Would it then be wise to turn that customer funnel over to another technician and hope he knows exactly what has been collected in the funnel so far? I would say no.

In my shops, the person who greets the customer out back is typically the same one who will service the customer for the entirety of their visit. We do not have a greeter who hands off the customer to the hood tech, who in turn hands off the customer to a manager when the tech can’t get the sale. If I am not the one to greet a customer, then I will not get involved with that customer unless a situation arises that requires it. The general rule is whoever starts the process stays with them through the entire service. Of course, there are always exceptions that arise from time to time, but we have lofty goals and we strive to hit them.

When you have completed your entire service procedure with a customer and are ready to ask if they would like to purchase an additional service you may be offering, now is the time that all the ingredients you have been collecting in your customer funnel are going to be installed in your recommendation engine. Will these ingredients lubricate the recommendation engine effectively, allowing the customer to decide, “Yes, I want to complete that service” today?

Were your funnel’s ingredients pure and clean enough? Or, did you possibly get some contamination and grime from unwanted, negative attitude reflections in the funnel that will not provide the best lubrication for the recommendation engine. Poor lubrication in the recommendation engine can result in a sluggish, poorly running and undependable engine.

Keep your customer funnel clean, fill it up with only positive attitude reflections from your customers and top-off that recommendation engine with the best lubricant possible!

As always, make it happen. See ya’ next month!  


KIT SULLIVAN is a partner in a multi-unit, Florida-based quick lube company. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Sullivan has more than 28 years experience in sales and management training. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. He can be reached via email:

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