Are You Having the Right Customer Conversation?

Feb. 7, 2024
Forge the essential link between the technician and customer and translate the work that needs to be done.

There is a lot more trust in quick lube shops today than in the past. Part of this trust can be attributed to better lines of communication, as well as a better relationship fostered between the shop's employees and the customer. 

The Great Service of a Service Writer 

Not all customers are likely to have a full understanding of the service that is being performed on their cars. This is where a service writer can help bridge the discussion between the technician and the customer.  

This is the professional who is tasked with understanding the diagnostics performed by the mechanics, listing the issues that need to be addressed, prioritizing the work that needs to be done, and offering a timeline based on urgency. The service writer should be able to then communicate all these attributes to the customer in a way they can understand and appreciate. 

"The biggest thing that a service writer has to do is inform the customer of work that needs to be done," explains Jeffrey Cox, president of the Motorist Assurance Program with the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association. "A technician does the inspection, the service writer, they are the ones that call and discuss with the customer. It's a really important role." 

While the service writer role is essential in this respect, it can be part of a larger position. 

At Midas West Palm Beach in Florida—which also has locations in Coco Bay and Cutler Bay—managers cover the role of service writers. At all three locations, the manager greets the customer, puts their information in the system and prints a tail order. The service technician then does a brief inspection of the car's condition before taking it in to the shop for a full inspection and service. 

Once service is complete, it is up to the service writer to go over the work that was done, as well as the findings from the inspection. This can be done in person if the customer remains at the site, or over the phone. Many shops will have the service writer bring the customer to the vehicle to actually show them what work is required. 

Photos on a tablet or smartphone also help demonstrate the need for upcoming service. Very often photos will be sent to the customer's text or email so they can retain a record and keep the service schedule in mind for future visits. 

The service writer will "go over the entire car with them with everything in the inspection," says Ron Katz, owner of Midas of West Palm Beach. "We will go over every part of the car with the customer, good and bad." 

The service writer is also the face of the shop in many cases and directs the tone of the relationship. 

"We have a great relationship with our customers because they see we are trying to help them and not trying to sell them something," Katz tells NOLN. 

Sometimes customers need visuals. "We are willing to show them what brake pads look like new, and what theirs looks like," explains Katz. 

Technology Helps Drive the Conversation 

Service software such as a digital video inspection program (DVI) helps shops keep track of customers and their cars, and tracks progress through each step of a visit. The technician will have a service order to know exactly what needs to be done with the vehicle and can input the results of the inspection. The service writer can use this report to communicate the service that was done, service that needs to be done, and how immediate the service is. 

Software programs can help bridge a gap in communication between a part that needs to be fixed and the customer understanding. 

"We take every part on a car, and we document every reason why that part could fail," explains Cox. Reason codes are assigned to each part that could come up in a service check. "If you're going to require a vehicle to have this work done, there are three categories the work falls into: The parts no longer perform an intended purpose, the part does not meet design specifications, or the part is missing." 

Other situations where a part or system requires service include when a part reaches the end of its service life or has a chance of failure due to condition. 

These reason codes will come up once a technician completes an inspection. The reason codes can help illustrate the severity of a problem. Software might also provide a picture for the customer, with a new part versus the customer's part. 

Service Plan 

The service writer is the point of contact for a customer at many shops. The professional is there to walk a customer through the service needs of the vehicle and translate any technical terms into language that can be understood. While it's not always a "service writer," every shop has a person or team that fills the responsibility. 

"There are shops of all shapes and sizes," says Cox. "I think even the smallest shop recognizes that it is a different skill set when they are communicating to customers what work they need to have done. If it is the technician communicating with customers, then they need to give them the training." 

A technician can perform the role if he understands the difference between shop talk and advising a customer. In many cases it's better to have that professional who can perform that role. 

"That's why I don't have the technician talk to the customer," says Katz. "The technician will talk strictly about technical stuff. The manager can translate it. The customer won't know what a caliper is." 

It also helps to show a customer what the problem is. As noted, technology can aid in this process and it can be done with photos, and also with the car itself. 

At Midas West Palm Beach managers take each customer to their car and go over the points of inspection, and outline what needs to be done. Managers also highlight what works and is in good condition on the vehicle, to offer reassurance and build trust. 

"I think it's important for service writers to not only share the issues, but what the tech saw that was good on the car: the tires, fluids, etc.," explains Katz. "That's a much easier conversation to have with that customer. When all they hear is the negative, they start to feel doubts." 

Some of these skills come naturally, while other skills will come from training. 

"We don't want to just float someone in without training," Katz tells NOLN. "I give managers tools to succeed. If I don't show them how to use it, they will not succeed." 

About the Author

Enid Burns

Enid Burns is a writer and editor living in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and is a freelance contributor to NOLN. She has covered a wide range of topics from video games and consumer electronics to online advertising and business. When living in Manhattan for 20 years she did not own a car, and is often mistaken for that woman who brings her car to the shop and knows nothing. She has learned a great deal from writing for NOLN, but also learns from those shop owners who try to educate her on their services. Enid is a news junkie who spends evenings streaming TV shows and time off on long walks, bike rides, and fiber arts.