Watch the interaction of your service advisors with your customers. Check how many times the advisors smile.

A simple smile can be a tremendous tool in disarming customers. Yet I'm surprised at how many service advisors can light up a room by leaving it. And these people interact with your customers.

When I ask service managers why such types still are employed, a usual response is: “He's been here a long time and has tons of customers.” Or: “Do you know how much gross she writes per month?”

So that overrides their poor customer handling skills and pitiful attitude?

One of my clients had an advisor who worked in the store for more than 10 years and displayed the worst attitude I've ever seen.

He was poor at customer handling, but great at pushing additional services that were not needed.

The manager was afraid of offending him. The manager thought if he lost this advisor, the store would lose business.

When the dealership finally fired him, the entire operation became customer focused. The other advisors stepped up their game. Customer satisfaction rose. Business increased. The pressure previously placed on the customers disappeared. They became repeat customers.

The future of our business depends on two things: 1) Healthy relationships with the service customer; and 2) Selling the perception of convenience.

Does your current staff deliver these two things? If not, think about hiring inexperienced people who have never written a repair order.

That notion may give service managers heart palpitations, but having advisors who are comfortable and enjoy dealing with people should be a first consideration. This remains a people business.

Most classified ads for this position go like this: “Wanted — Experienced service advisor, must have ABC computer experience and high CSI.”

Try a different twist. Write an ad for a “customer service representative.” Require outstanding customer-handling skills as the main point.

In considering candidates, look for prospects with personalities that impress you. If you're not impressed, your customers won't be either.

Look for candidates who are comfortable during the interview and smile. Consider administering a personality-assessment test. Some firms have on-line versions.

So you hire a rookie. Now what?

Service advisor training is available everywhere. We do it. So do auto makers. Dealership-management system vendors also offer classes.

So plenty of training resources are available. But they will not be a substitute for on-the-job training. The service manager must have a process that will train the new hires correctly.

One of the best I have seen is a program where the new hire must accomplish a series of objectives for each phase of training before they write a repair order.

For example, a test is written by the parts manager that includes some practical testing points.

The next stop is in the body shop, where the new hire must answer written questions and, in some cases, do actual body repairs.

Next is the mechanical service department with objectives and practical testing points developed by the manager.

Last are the new- and used-car departments, again with objectives and practical testing points developed by the appropriate manager.

An additional benefit of the no-experience-necessary approach is the expense. You should be able to lower costs. New hires with no experience should start out being paid as such.

Don't give them top rate pay, but allow them to make a good living.

Your service advisors project 5,000 to 6,000 images of your dealership each year to your customers. Remember that next time you hire someone for that job.

Lee Harkins, president of ATcon in Birmingham, AL, is a dealership management consultant and industry speaker. He is at 800-692-2719 and LHarkins@ATconSSE.com