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Improving Customer Service In A Booming Market

With a focus on service advisor training, Edmark Toyota has improved service numbers as well as customer trust and satisfaction.

Tumultuous times are nothing new to Miles Edmark, the general manager of Edmark Toyota in Nampa, ID. His first day on the job of the former Chevy dealership was the day in June 2009 that General Motors filed for bankruptcy. 

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“It was a super-great time to be working for a Chevy dealership,” Edmark recalls with a laugh, “but, we rode through it, and you learn a lot in challenging times.”

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The family business was started in 1927 as Edmark Dodge by Edmark’s great-grandfather. The company acquired a Lincoln Mercury franchise in the 1950s, and throughout the years, it acquired General Motors franchises until the company sold its five franchises to another auto group in early 2017. That was when it purchased the Toyota store. “We just had our fourth anniversary here at the Toyota store, and it’s been a great transition,” Edmark says.  

The company has seen many business and market fluctuations over 94 years — from the aforementioned bankruptcy to recessions and now to the current marketplace situation. “I thought cash for clunkers was wild,” Edmark remarks. “It’s nothing like we’re seeing right now.” And this recent growth in the market is what brought Edmark Toyota and DealerPRO Training together — so Edmark could focus on delivering exceptional customer service and keep up with customer demand in their fixed operations. 

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The dealership is located about 15 minutes outside of Boise, and Edmark says that, due to the increase in companies allowing people to work from home or work remotely, the entire area is booming. “People are moving to Idaho and in massive numbers, which is great.” He says many people are coming from California and that people from California tend to love Toyotas. “We say, ‘Keep ’em coming!’ We’ll be here to sell and service them when they show up. We have seen massive growth in our market, especially on the service side.”

Like so many other service departments throughout the country, Edmark Toyota has struggled to find quality staff, notably support staff such as porters and cashiers as well as BDC staff. “Hiring has been very tough,” Edmark laments. “There’s a lot of wage pressure right now. We’ve got a little over 110 employees. We met on this last week; we anticipate we’re short about 15 employees. So, we need almost 10% more people just to help with the increased business, but every business in our market’s going through the same challenges with help-wanted signs and ‘apply today, start tomorrow.’ Everybody’s looking for workers. 

“People do understand that with the times we have right now, chip shortages, consumer goods shortages, there’s high demand for a lot of things. We’ve told our teams that, even though people have to wait to get in for an oil change, we need to make sure that when they show up, they have a great experience, and then they’ll typically come back.”

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Edmark says over the past few years, the management team has concentrated on the sales side of the business and admits that the fixed operations side often gets neglected. “We were probably regressing a little bit, and hours per RO (repair order) were going down,” he notes. And training the teams to provide the best service and increase sales per RO is easier said than done. “We noticed that the busier we got, we didn’t perform quite as well on the ROs.” 

So, the team has recently focused its attention on getting service dialed in. “We spend a lot of effort training salespeople but really no energy training service advisors,” Edmark says. “Let’s get a company in here to train our service advisors.”

To help with this effort, the company looked for a partner that would build a training program for its fixed ops team that would drive a higher level of customer service while maximizing fixed ops profitability in service and parts. Edmark Toyata found that in DealerPRO Training, based in Columbus, OH. 

“We chose DealerPRO because it was a great model … and we’ve seen tremendous growth,” Edmark explains. In five months, they’ve seen an increase in hours per RO of .3% and a 43% increase in service and gross profits.

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DealerPRO staff not only trained Edmark’s service advisors, but they also worked with the whole team to dive into the company’s shop loading, dispatch, scheduling and more — often items that aren’t on a dealer’s radar. 

“You start flipping all these switches and you’d think, ‘Oh, this makes so much sense. How were we not doing this from the beginning?’ That’s really what they helped with. Being in thousands of dealerships, they knew where we needed to change,” Edmark says.

One unexpected change recommended by DealerPRO Training was for Edmark Toyota’s service department to scale back on its service schedule. “We’ve actually had to throttle our schedule down to make sure that when the customers show up, it’s not like a madhouse. Now, we make sure the advisors actually have time to sit down with the customer and do the right process. When they get too busy, the process seems to get pushed aside. So, we came up with a reasonable number of ROs they can touch per day, and we’re going to set our schedule for that. And with that, our effective labor rate (ELR) is up almost $17 or $18 just over last year. Hours per RO is up a decent number also,” Edmark explains. “So give (service advisors) the time, and they’re going to do a much better job with the customer and offering services, going through menus.” 

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Since partnering with DealerPRO, Edmark says the team has implemented new processes, “such as when the customer is leaving, you not only check them out and make sure they had great service this time but also schedule the next visit.” This is when the service advisor can remind the customer of items they’d talked about needing serviced but could wait until the next visit. “There’s a lot of soft selling involved that people seem to appreciate,” Edmark says. “Nobody likes surprises when you get a big repair bill. This sets the tone, so it’s not the first time they’ve heard it.” 

This process has not only helped service advisors present ways to work around objections, but it has helped with customer trust. “We’re never going to sell something somebody doesn’t need, and this process is upfront and honest. The whole thing is about the customer trusting you, and that’s what DealerPRO emphasizes. Customers have to trust us. We tell them the good news about their car as well as the bad news,” Edmark adds. 

Since working with DealerPRO Training, Edmark Toyota’s service numbers have been steadily improving, customers are coming back and the dealership has ranked third in the metro for the Portland region for Toyota.

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“We just want to make sure that we’re doing it right and make sure that people are receptive and enjoy the experience — and that’s happening,” Edmark says. “I often say, it just comes down to taking care of that customer — call them back when you say you’re going to call them, and do what you say you’re going to do — if you do that, life is pretty easy.

“It’s a great time to be in the car biz,” Edmark concludes, “and there’s going to be a time when we look back and go, ‘Man, remember those days? It was a crazy run!”

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For more information, visit dealerprotraining.com.

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