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   The rules of selling service have taken a shift as consumer confidence continues to resemble that of a skinny, pimple-faced, teenager giving an oral report. Many dealers are relying on service income to help get their stores back on track. Here are five tips to help make the most of this important profit center while the sun is shining this boating season.

1. Create Value:

   Customers are more aware of the value of a dollar these days. Some dealerships are interpreting this as a demand for deep discounts on the service side of the business. Taking this approach, however is often not sustainable and also likely to harm the bottom line of the business.

   Smart dealers are finding ways to deliver value to their customers by using methods that ultimately create 'customers for life' rather than 'coupon customers.' These methods may include customer VIP programs or special service packages. "We've created a Preferred Maintenance Program to link our four stores together. It cuts down time for us and keeps the customer on the water,"  said Sheri Kellogg of Goodbys Creek Marine Center. " The program is free for customers to join and focuses on being convenient and offering off-season discounts."

    For some shops, adding value can be as simple as creating  the perception in the customer's mind. Some dealers indicate a 'no charge' (N/C) item on every work order. These N/C items are often small but also tasks that the service department should be completing as part of the service, like putting air in the trailer tires. Adding this N/C item on the work order can help the service department build trust in the customer's mind and also help them to see the value in the service they are getting for their boat.

2. Take advantage of face-to-face time.

   Taking advantage of the face-to-face time during the write up of the service order is very important. Many skilled service advisors understand that the best time to try and sell more to customers is when they are actually standing at the service desk.

   When interacting with the customer, be sure to pull the boat's history to see what recommendations were noted the last time they were in your store. This can also help improve the efficiency of your service department by saving the technicians valuable diagnostic time during this current visit.

   Do a walk-around of the boat with the customer to ensure you capture all of the customer's concerns and also note any additional items of interest. While completing the walk-around, it is extremely helpful to mark the area of concern with a piece of blue masking tape so that you, the customer, and the tech are clear on the specific areas that require attention. Some shops have taken this further by marking the tape with a check mark for 'check and advise' if the job is not sold to ensure the tech does not go too far.

3. Create a Good, Better, Best Menu.

   Creating a Good, Better, Best menu pricing for both maintenance and repair work has allowed many shops to be sensitive to customers' financial situations while still recommending all of the work needed. The customers can then prioritize and choose what they can afford now and what they would like to defer to a later date. 

4. Stay in contact with your customers.

   If you keep your customers informed, they are more likely to approve the work and the bill. For example, if you charge a customer $1,200 for a repair and you stay in touch with him throughout the process, he is probably pretty happy when he gets his boat back. The bill does not surprise him and the entire transaction is extremely smooth. However, if you have the same repair situation and do not communicate with the customer, you can even end up discounting the final bill- and the customer can still walk away angry and frustrated.

5. Don't assume everyone is in a financial pinch.

   The truth is that, even though many are struggling financially, there are some who are not. Even if they are stressed about the economy, many customers value their time on the water above dollars. Make sure you are optimizing your service sales so that your customers need fewer trips to the shop this summer. By doing so, you have the ability to increase your labor hours per repair order- a key component of maximized efficiency and increased service absorption.

" Whenever someone comes in talking gloom and doom about the economy, the government, or whatever, we try to turn it around into something positive right away. ' Isn't it great that we can get out on the water and get away from it all?' is a perfect response," said Marlene Pollock of Snow Shead Marine. "We try to keep our dealership free of any negativity."

   The challenges we face today create, and sometimes force, change in the way we do business. " The most exciting thing I'm seeing in dealerships right now is that principals are recognizing the importance of service. They see that service can carry the dealership along until sales pick up again. I am also seeing service personnel take the opportunity to bring customers into the sales area," said Donnie Able, marine dealership consultant.

   It's unfortunate that it takes a difficult economy to get these results, but that ability to make lemonade out of lemons is a big part of what makes the American spirit great. Keep up the great work, service professionals! We are counting on you.

The Shifting Rules of Selling Service