Do you enjoy going to the dentist twice a year? I mean, other than possibly the nitrous, do you enjoy the probing, poking, scraping, stabbing, etc., with a very sharp and pointy set of tools befitting a sadistic individual from a horror film? And yet we do it over and over and over again, twice a year like little programmable robots. 

I don’t know about your dentist’s office, but in mine, as I’m making my escape, clutching my goody bag with a free toothbrush and little flossy things which will never see the inside of my mouth, I have to go through the gatekeeper, who is a little, old, big-haired lady who asks me THE QUESTION: “Mr. Coker, on Tuesday, November 7th (six months from now) which time works best for you, 9 or 10 a.m.?”
And I say, like most of you other lemmings, “10 a.m. is fine, just please let me go and I promise I will be back at that time!” Whereby she fills out the day, date and time on a business card with a peel-off smiley tooth that I dutifully carry with me back to the office and dutifully enter the time and date in my dutiful Outlook Calendar. Twice a year, every year, like clockwork. 

I just don’t get it. 

If a dentist’s operation can do this, why can’t we?  

Oh, I know, we put the little sticker in the corner of the windshield or door panel hoping that the customer will automatically see it at the proper mileage/date interval even though he or she has been ignoring it for the last six months. And, of course, we do send them an e-mail reminder through some outside vendor when their next service is due (and pay money to have this done). 

Or, better yet, we rely on the MMS (maintenance minder system), SII, MRS, GMOLS, or whatever goofy acronym your respective manufacturer comes up with to alert the customer that their next service is coming due. 

The problem with that system is twofold: In the race for the bottom — or the sprint to have the least operating costs–the manufacturers are increasing the intervals for oil changes substantially and, in my humble opinion, irresponsibly.  

Of course, by the time the warranty expires the manufacturer is off the hook for engines that are essentially dark, milk-chocolate sludge. I would bet that the same engineers who have proven that under perfect, laboratory conditions their Humpmobile can indeed go 12,000 between oil changes are the same engineers who are changing their oil every 7,500 miles.

The answer to why we don’t set the next appointment is one of the following, so please choose the one or ones that fit you the best:

1)  We’re too lazy.

2) Our Advisors don’t have the time. 

3) We don’t have a system to do that.

4) Our customers won’t do that.

5) We’re afraid of rejection.

6) (my favorite) We don’t like to do oil changes because we don’t make any money on them and my Advisors are paid on flat rate hours per RO, and that hurts their earnings so they don’t want oil change customers anyway. 

If you chose any one or any combination of the above answers, you must go to service management jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, do not even play this game anymore. Sorry to be so blunt, but it is what it is.

So, now that the spanking is over, here’s what we’ve got to do and why: many if not most customers need someone to hold their hand and tell them what to do. So tell them. Just like the dentist does. 

At the time of each service delivery, either the cashier or the Advisor sets the next appointment. Whether it’s in a big, old-fashioned date book, or your DMS, set the next appointment. 

Don’t ask, “Um, Mr. Customer, do you want to go ahead and set your next appointment?” Tell them! “Mr. Smith, your next appointment is March 15th, does 9am or 10am work better for you?”

You know the customer’s driving habits and how many miles they average, or, if not, ask them and set the appointment accordingly. Don’t wait for some indicator to go off (which means, whoops, you’re at the end of your oil’s useful life and probably a couple of thousand miles past that so you better get your butt in like yesterday!). 

Don’t hope and assume they will then automatically come back to you because they certainly are going to be bombarded with other suitors by email, TV, direct mail, radio, newspaper, Facebook, Twitter, word-of-mouth, Valuepak, airplane-towed signs, or any other assorted marketing methods asking your customers to give them a shot because they are cheaper, better, and much more handsome and caring.

Get the appointment and your customer has made a commitment to you, and all the other competitors wanting to steal that customer can go pound sand. 

Follow up with them the week before their scheduled appointment via email or self-addressed postcard, and call them the day before to confirm just like those sadistic but market-savvy dentists. 

And as for the excuse (probably unsaid but also probably true) that your Advisors are afraid of rejection, first off, if that’s the case then you might have the wrong person in the wrong job. Secondly, if the customer is not interested in setting the next appointment, don’t you want to know that right here and right now while they are still in the shop so that you can find out what the heck we did wrong for them not wanting to go on the next date with us instead of finding out the reason why via the crappy Google review or damning manufacturer survey? 

So which of the above six excuses is your service operation currently employing? I just don’t get it.

 Brett Coker
 Coker Automotive Consultants
 Phone: (205) 337-2542

Coker Automotive Consultants is a proud fixed-ops content and in-dealership training partner of The Mar-Kee Group. To learn more, visit