Upsell or Service: Customer Perspective

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After the last couple of months of beating up on social media, I will get off my soapbox and back to the matters at hand. Recently, I returned from a management training event where I spent the week with just the managers of an organization. During my presentation, I covered the basic job descriptions for the main positions in shops.

When we finished discussing the job description for the technicians, one of the attendees asked, “What is the job description for the manager?”

It brought a lot of smiles and comments that the manager’s job description includes being a nurse, psychologist, arbitrator and adult daycare counselor. Trying to get the meeting back on track, I suggested the manager should have an eye for inventory control. He or she needs to be ready and willing at all times to jump in and help the crew in whatever area of the shop is needed and, obviously, if the manager can and will jump into the fray of servicing vehicles, he or she must be an accomplished technician. The manager is normally the one who makes the employee schedule, so an appreciation for controlling labor costs is also important.

After all these things were discussed, I continued by suggesting a new priority within the job description for the manager. He or she should be the eyes and ears for the customer. Yes, I said for the customer. In shops, we often become complacent in seeing what a customer sees or hearing what a customer hears.

Back in the day, when I oversaw a shop, customers would say the oddest things to me.

 Things like, “Why do your pit technicians wear their safety glasses on their head and not over their eyes?”

 One customer asked me why our restroom never had soap or paper towels, and then proceeded to tell me our waiting room smelled like a dirty diaper. Err! Once, I even had a customer jump into the pit. After I politely asked them not to do it again, the customer explained he had seen my technicians jump into the pit so he assumed it was OK.

Several times during local and national elections, outraged customers would call me and chew me out because I was supporting one candidate over another. I soon learned it was because other customers would plant campaign signs in our landscape because they thought it would be OK.

At times, customers sitting in their cars during the oil change service would ask if the technician in the pit was OK because they heard them yell out something while working on their car. I still have a complaint letter from a customer that says while waiting in line at one of our shops, the personnel washing their windows and checking the tire pressure used colorful language while they were talking back and forth across his vehicle about a football game. The compliant from the customer was that he did not come into our shop with his two kids to learn a new vocabulary. Later that week during our monthly shop meeting, I brought up the letter and the two culprits tried to defend themselves because, according to them, they were not talking to the customer or his kids. I am afraid my two technicians missed the point.

Our customers see and hear the things we have learned to ignore. The job description for the manager includes all of the things discussed above. The manager must see, hear and even smell the shop the way a customer does.

Once a manager is good at perceiving the shop the way a customer would, the next step is to teach the difference in upselling a customer and providing a good service. We all know our profits come from the additional products and services we provide. The shop would go broke if all we did was change the oil and filter, so the temptation is to encourage upsells. That being said, we also know the real value is to provide a good service. I have never worked with a shop that provides good service where upsells are an issue. It is apparent if you provide good service, the upsells will follow.

Good managers monitor end-of-day reports and know how to interpret the numbers to good service. As an example, if an end-of-day report shows the shop serviced 75 cars but only eight air filters were sold, then it is easy to see the shop did not provide a very good service that day. On the other hand, if the same shop on a different day serviced 75 cars and 23 air filters were sold, the shop did provide a good service. In the first example, the technicians were not presenting the filters, and in the second example, the technicians did show the air filters to the customers and explained the reason for and the benefits of replacing the filter. Experienced managers know if the second example is followed, historically, 30 percent of customers will purchase an air filter and appreciate the quality service.

 It shouldn’t be complicated, but often technicians confuse upsells with quality service. It is the manager’s responsibility to teach the difference between service and upsells. The best way to explain the difference is from the customer’s viewpoint. The only way to train from a customer’s viewpoint is to see and hear the way a customer does when they come into your shop. In my opinion, the manager is best suited for this role of representing the customer.

Have you watched the video clip from Jeff Lewis about the customer’s perspective when they come into our shops? If not, go to to see a good reminder of the customer’s perspective of the oil change. This is a funny video that, unfortunately, accurately portrays how our customers view our shops. Often, when customers come into our shops, they come in with their guards up, preconditioned to say no to everything, because their past experience has taught them the oil change experience is going to be a constant upselling presentation. A good manager will recognize this and go over and beyond to ensure presentations are made in a brief and professional manner, but most importantly, from a service viewpoint and not from an upsell viewpoint.

I am aware of operations that purposely cash out their customers before presenting any additional recommended services. Not only do these shops have staggering car counts, but they have also maintained healthy ticket averages. What is interesting about these “service before upsell shops” is how their customers ask for additional services when they come in, mostly because customers were told of maintenance needs after they were cashed out during the prior service. The customer realized the reason recommendations are being made is because the vehicle really does need the service. After all, they have been cashed out; why else would a technician make a recommendation?

 The other interesting trend with these operations is their customers return more frequently to the shops for additional service items. The best evidence that this is a good way to operate is the fact that repeat customers are in the mid-nineties percent range. As you can imagine, in the markets these companies operate in, they are the dominant 900-pound gorillas. When I come across shops that operate using this philosophy, I ask the manager why they choose to operate like this. After all, it seems very risky. The answer is always the same: they operate using a service before upsell mentality, because that is what the customer wants. What a clever idea. Who would have ever thought giving a customer what they want would increase business?

As the saying goes, “Perception is reality.”

What is the perception your customers have of your shop? If you don’t know, I think it is the manager’s responsibility to be the eyes and ears for the customer. Maybe management needs to spend some time this month looking at the shop the way a customer would.  


RAGAN HOLT is the quick lube advisor for National Oil & Lube News. He is available for consulting and training in the quick oil and lube industry. He can be contacted at:


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