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Selling the value in added service relies on trust

Jeff Hemmel, Contributing Writer
February 13, 2012
Filed under Features

Using OEM guidance, service tech insight provides best outcome

A PWC dealership’s service department can be it’s biggest moneymaker, but also one of the most controversial aspects of the business. Why? Often it comes down to routinely scheduled maintenance. A customer sees only a manufacturer’s checklist, while a service tech sees a boat with real-world usage that doesn’t always reflect a tidy schedule. Adding to the problem is that an increasing number of dealers, whether they sell PWC or cars, frequently tack on their own more in-depth service schedules.

It’s a situation that often leaves consumers wondering if they’re truly getting the work that’s required, or simply padding a dealer’s bottom line.

Judgment call
“We go strictly by what the manufacturer says unless we know there’s a problem,” said Noel Hughes, owner of Cycle Springs Powersports in Clearwater, Fla. “We don’t try to vary off what the manufacturers suggest. That way you just don’t have that conflict — ‘Well the manufacturer says this, why are you trying to do this, this, and this?’

“Unless we have some good reasoning for it, some evidence to back it up, we don’t try to tell customers to do other things. Then it just seems like an up-sell.”

Not every situation, however, is black and white. Frequently the answer comes down to understanding how the customer uses the craft. Some are weekend enthusiasts at best, racking up as little as 20 hours a year. Others are far more hardcore, tallying an impressive number of hours in a season. It’s precisely those differences that can lead to many judgment calls on the part of the service department.

Mike G, service manager at Island Powersports in Massapequa, N.Y., offers an example of a new customer who comes in for his initial 10-hour service in July. By November he’s back for winterization, with just 22 hours on the engine. Is another oil change necessary at just 22 hours? Certainly not. But given the package price of the winterization, it’s more beneficial for the customer to get the work done in the winter, rather than find himself in the middle of the busy summer season trying to schedule a return visit. More serious work, like Sea-Doo’s suggested supercharger rebuild at 100 hours, also must be considered in terms of the investment in time and peace of mind.

“If a guy is in here for winterization and has 85 hours, I’m going to suggest it to him because I don’t want him coming back to me in the middle of the summer, or in the spring when I’m busy trying to do tune-ups, not a four-hour rebuild. For a dealer to suggest it at 50 hours, no I don’t agree with that. But if you’re within 15-20 hours, absolutely. You’re protecting the customer’s investment. If that supercharger fails, the potential damages could be catastrophic. If the debris goes into that engine, now instead of a supercharger rebuild, you’re looking at a full engine rebuild.

“We generally do go by the book 75 percent of the time, but there are other times we use our better judgment to make sure the customer is taken care of properly, that they’re not being charged for something that they don’t need … but also that they’re not being shortsighted.”

Earning trust
Obviously a dealer’s advice carries more weight if the dealership has already earned the customer’s trust. Too often a sales pitch focuses on the price of the sale, and neglects to bring up the cost of ownership. It’s that gap that often causes fractured relationships down the road. With more upfront knowledge on the table, it’s easier to suggest additional service work a tech deems necessary.

“It is important for consumers to follow their OEM recommended maintenance, and it is also important for them to understand that it is the tech’s job to look over everything to ensure all systems are 100 percent,” Sea-Doo spokesman Tim McKercher said. “PWC operate in the harshest environment of any recreational product, and unexpected things can suffer from it, but it is in the best interest of the customer, the dealership and the OEM they represent to conduct work on only the things needed, and make recommendations on any preventative measures.

“Let the customer make the choice, but be sure to outline the pros and cons of proceeding with any above-normal maintenance issues.”

Cycle Springs’ Hughes uses this knowledge to demonstrate the value in OEM extended service contracts.

“We’re up front from the beginning,” he explained. “We’re telling them right up front what their cost will be for the next five years on the boat. Customers like that. We build value in extended service contracts.”

That consumer trust is also why Hughes likes to use extended warranties from the OEM. “Going with the OEM, we both have something in common. We want to make sure the customer is happy and out riding their product. They’re in business to make money off the warranty, but they’re also in the business to sell recreational product,” he said.

Long-term sale
In the end, it’s the long-term relationship with a loyal customer that clearly outweighs the short-term advantage of additional service work that may not be required.

“The service end of the recreational products business is for most dealerships their strongest profit generator and is also the difference in the success of that dealership,” McKercher said.

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