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Ten (sort of serious) questions every service writer should ask

by | Dec 7, 2023

At its core, writing service is information synthesis—collect, sort, simplify, regurgitate, repeat. Obtaining the raw information from techs and customers alike relies on prompts, usually in the form of a question.

The correct question asked at the correct time pays off in spades. In no particular order, here are some questions I think writers should be asking, serious and humorous alike.

Question 1

“And this number is where I can reach you, right?”

The number of folks who would supply their home phone number and go to work after walking out of my showroom or give me a cell phone number when they had no access to it was unnaturally high. Result: I have a car on my lot with an estimate and no approval. (And the customer usually calls in the afternoon wondering what’s up with the car.)

Make sure the phone number is the right one, because some customers are answering that query on autopilot.

Question 2

“Will you need a ride home, or is someone coming to get you?”

As a writer, I asked this when I needed a customer to leave a car with me because waiting for four struts and an alignment is going to cause some discomfort.

If I allowed that customer to wait, the customer is forced into drinking a gallon of my coffee. I was forced into making all that coffee. I was also forced into behaving well all day since I would also have an audience in the showroom.

Asking about the ride as though the customer already knows the vehicle needs to be dropped off gets that conversation halfway over before it begins.

Offering a lift home with an hourly employee or a rental is a good follow-up if the news is received poorly.

Question 3

“Where is your wheel lock/spare tire hoist tools/paperwork the tech needs for your inspection stickers?”

Writers: ask the customer up front. Do not ask the tech if he checked the glove box, center console, or spare tire area.

I think I safely speak for all mechanics when I say, “We already looked in those three spots. It ain’t there; that’s why I am standing in front of you. Someone needs to talk to the customer. Spoiler alert: it’s you. Hurry up; I get paid flat rate, remember?”

Question 4

“Oh, a flat, that’s horrible! Which tire did you say it was?”

Techs are good with wrenches, not crystal balls. Sure, if it’s actually flat in the lot, a tech can see a busted shoe. But a slow leak? It’s maddening for a wrench to have to check every tire with the soapy water. Make the mistake often enough, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise when a tech finally hands you the spray bottle, Mr. Forgetful Service Writer.

If you get in the habit of making that the immediate response, your techs will thank you. Please remember to put it on the R/O, too!

Question 5

“Whites in or out?”

Similar to the question above, if you just sold a set of RWL, OWL, or NWS tires, you need to ask your customer this question. As a tire guy, only two things are more annoying than having to ask the writer how to install the tires: needlessly scrubbing blue goo and remounting tires.

Question 6

“Is it a manual transmission?”

I feel all techs should know how to drive a stick. That said, I also know that the manual trans is going extinct quickly, so not everyone in a shop can drive one. If you have a lot of techs who can’t grab gears, this is a worthwhile question to ask.

Question 7

“Can you pull into one of those open spots, please, while I start writing up your order?”

People tend to park in front of bay doors. It’s not malicious; they just have a habit of acting like they’re at home. But your tech is now stuck because he doesn’t want to interrupt while you gather information from the customer…but he also really needs to get this car out.

Question 8

“And can I have your keys, please?”

It’s the second thing that must go to the tech with the RO, but I have seen them forgotten many times. It’s getting worse since many cars start with fobs or NFC from a cell phone. The only acceptable alternative to no keys is if a tech sees “KIV” circled in big letters on that R/O.

Question 9

“Can I just get your John Hancock on this R/O real quick?”

If you want to get paid for your work and retain the right to place a lien on a vehicle and have a leg to stand on for any legal matter and have insurance covering the vehicles in the bays, you want a signed work order. I have learned this the hard way. Make a little X or have a highlighter so you can just hand over a pen and presto, people sign automatically.

Question 10

“Can you get this job done by the end of the day?”

This is not posed to a customer, but your tech. Especially if you’ve been burying your wrenches in work or you know Jimmy is taking the missus out to a concert tonight, find out if you are making a promise someone else has to keep. It sucks to tell a customer no. It sucks more to replace a good mechanic. Even asking lets your techs know that you remember they are people, not just silly car-fixing machines.

Most of you who have been doing this for a bit probably do all or most of these and had a chuckle or two, and some will pick up a tip or three. If you fall in the former camp, do us all a favor and please add to the list here; it’s by no means complete!

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