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Customers Buy Trust, Not Parts: Why Your SA Matters

Personality, empathy, patience; these are a few of the most important qualities for a service advisor (SA) according to digital shop owners Frank Scandura and Russ Crosby. Everything else can be taught.

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It Starts With The Interview

Searching for those qualities starts right away during the interview process for Frank, owner of Frank’s European Service in Las Vegas and Russ, owner of Russ’s Wrench in Clinton, N.J. They both have found unique ways to test how a potential SA would fit at their shop.

For Frank, he purposely has a lengthy interview process, and part of that includes determining how the potential SA behaves in public. He recently took a candidate out to lunch, and when a server had a glass tip over on her tray, the candidate immediately went over and helped. Frank hired her.


It is those intangibles, the want to help without being told, that Frank and Russ believe make a good SA.

“That’s the heart that people need,” Frank said in a recent episode of The Digital Shop Talk Radio. “You need somebody who can relate; it’s all about relationships. Train, train, train, learn, learn, learn, and that’s for me, been our secret to success.”

Russ has his own way of testing potential SA candidates, and the vetting process starts with his wife.

“Women are 70 or 80% of the buyers in the country,” Russ said, “so I want to see how they react with my wife.”

His wife asks standardized questions that aren’t specific to the automotive industry. Instead, they focus more on who the candidate is as a person and their goals in life. From that information, Russ can see if their character would fit with the team.

Experience in Automotive: Not a Prerequisite

“It all starts with the personality,” said Russ.

He has two service advisors, Alex and Becky, who bring great energy to the garage and love to talk and work with customers. Interestingly, neither of them had ever worked in the automotive industry before.

“Keep your options open,” Russ said when discussing how he hires a successful SA. “Don’t just limit [your search] to the automotive industry. There’s a lot of industries out there where you can grab some great people and train them up. We can train the automotive industry; can’t train them to be good people.” 

Frank couldn’t agree more.

“People who have that servant heart that want to serve, want to help – honestly, the less they know about cars, the more successful they can be,” he said.

One reason for their success without prior auto experience is because they can relate to the customer.

 Russ&Uwe“People that don’t really have automotive knowledge sometimes make the best service advisors because they can interpret,” Russ added. “If they can’t understand what the technicians are saying, then how are they going to sell it to the customer.”

At Frank’s shop, they coined a phrase for this specific scenario, “translating technician to human.”

All joking aside, Frank is adamant shop owners or shop managers who are terrified to hire someone without an automotive background need to rethink things.

“People don’t buy parts and pieces anymore,” Frank said. “They don’t buy brake pads and routers. They buy trust. You have to establish that trust; you have to build rapport; you have to understand what they need … The more you know in automotive is not necessarily the answer to the front counter. I want people who can relate to humans.”

Training The Service Team

Once Russ and Frank have found an SA with the characteristics that will work for their shop, next comes training.

Russ focuses on specific training and sales techniques for the SA’s. He also stresses the importance of understanding who the buyer is.

“We want to train our writers to understand what the purpose is of this vehicle,” he said. “Is this a vehicle that they use to commute every day, back and forth to work? Is this a car that they take out on the weekends that they just love to rip on? Is this something that they’re putting their whole family in to go cross-country for a vacation?”

Knowing what motorists are looking to get out of their vehicle is key. Once the SA understands that, then their natural instinct to help others kicks in.

“They’re there to listen to what the needs are and then execute what we need to do to get that vehicle on the road and in the condition that they need it to be in,” Russ said.

The crew at Russ’s Wrench also uses AutoVitals' Business Control Panel (BCP) to help train not only new SA’s but also the entire garage. Looking at the graphs created on the BCP allows his team to see exactly where there are dips and valleys.

bcp1 (1)

The AutoVitals Business Control Panel (BCP) is our powerful, easy-to-use tool to track the metrics that directly impact your ARO, helping take away the guesswork of process change and decision-making, and allowing shops to make educated, data-driven decisions.

Explore the Profitablility of Data

“We can use those graphs and those numbers to coach them and see where they need to improve or how we can help empower them to do a better job,” Russ said. “If you have the right person, they’re naturally going to want to do a better job. That’s the big part right there, them wanting to self-improve, which is huge.”


Digital Vehicle Inspections (DVI) have also proved helpful, not only for SA’s but for bridging the gap between the technician and the motorist. Visual aids like edited photos and videos make it easy for vehicle owners to see - and sometimes hear - what is going on with their car.

“If you have a technician that can break down what’s going on there and they’re writing it in those pictures with arrows, the story tells itself,” Russ said. “Most of the time, people can see, ‘Hey, this is broken. What’s going to happen if I don’t fix it?’"

With DVI.X, Russ and his crew can hone in on the inspections and share specifics with their customers.

“When we can put a picture and an arrow to what we’re talking about, it really takes a lot of the questions out of the customer’s mind,” he said.

For Frank, the use of DVI can be summed up simply.

“We’re educating the customer on their level now,” he said.

This hasn’t always been the case. Frank remembers the days of calling up customers and asking them to come down to the shop to look at something. Those days are long gone.

“Now, we send them the digital inspection with the educational information, with the educational videos, with the details about their car, and measure it,” Frank said. “That’s amazing. It just takes a lot of the anxiety for the motorist out of the situation.”

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Supporting Your Service Advisor

Both Russ and Frank hired their first SA as their shops got bigger. As a result, they had to spend some time transitioning their customers from working directly with them (the owner) to working with someone new (the SA). Something Frank dealt with a lot early on was customers insisting they speak to him.

“People would demand to talk to me,” Frank said. "They would tell the SA only I could help them, and request that I pick up the phone." When he would answer, he would find ways to transition the customer back to the SA.

For example, they would ask him “Hey, can I bring my car in for an oil change?” and Frank would respond, “I don’t know, let me get the advisor for you.”

Taking the time to guide customers through the transition is essential, Frank said. “You have to give your team the power, the education, the training, the resources they need to succeed.”

More recently, Russ went through a very similar transition, and he agrees with Frank.

“Every time you jump in there and you stop [the SA] from doing their job, you’re hurting them,” Russ said. “You’re taking the credibility away from your writer and now the customer is going to come back looking to talk to you every single time, and that is a very hard habit to break. We all know that.”

Russ and Frank also agree supporting your SA doesn’t require micromanaging. In fact, Frank encourages shop owners to let SA’s do their job without stepping in.

“I need to trust you to do the job I’ve hired you to do. Period,” Frank said.

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Defining Success With Data

big 3 metrics

The final step in ensuring your SA is on the path to success is to check performance. Frank looks at three metrics to gauge his team's success: 

  1. Inspection rate
  2. Inspection sent rate
  3. Motorist Research Time (MRT) 

“Because, without those three, there is no sale,” he said.

It took some time for Frank’s European Service to get to where he wanted. Now, they are consistently averaging more than 96% inspection sent rate according to data collected by AutoVitals.

“Every car gets an inspection,” Frank said. “Every discovery gets estimated. Every estimate gets presented to the motorist. If you don’t do that, you’re opening yourself up to problems and disappointments. Those are the things we measure consistently.”

Russ also watches those things closely with the BCP at a weekly meeting with his team. However, instead of solely directing his team on what to do, he makes sure his writers are setting goals for themselves as well.

“Let them tell you what their goals are because sometimes you might surprise yourself,” he said. “There may be something that needs to get tweaked here or there, and then all of a sudden, they’re exceeding what your expectations were.”

During those weekly meetings, Russ also has honest conversations about what the data shows.

“I say, okay, well, we slipped here a little bit, but we did really good here, what changed last week?” Russ shared.

By doing this data monitoring each week, Russ said it is much harder to lose track of your goals or lose focus.

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Want to hear more from Frank?
  • Frank is the master of the shop meeting. Learn why weekly shop meetings are essential in Episode 52 of The Digital Shop Talk Radio
  • Learn how to market to your current clients in Episode 33
  • Curious about the people behind The Digital Shop? Frank joined a panel of others to discuss during Episode 22 
  • Overcome staff objections and earning buy-in was the topic of conversation for Episode 18
  • Frank joins a panel of experts to discuss changing motorist behaviors and the future of automotive repair in Episode 11
  • Episode 6 has five do’s and don’ts when it comes to training your staff
How to reach Frank and Frank's European Service: 
Want to hear more from Russ?
  • During COVID, keeping your (and your customers’) needs and motivations at the forefront has been especially important, hear how Russ has been doing just that in Episode 61
  • Get a tech’s perspective on going digital in Episode 56
  • Want to learn how to network using the digital shop? Check out Russ in Episode 44
  • Russ chats with Tom and a few others in the Digital Shop Conference 2020 Preview
  • Learn how to break down goals into manageable steps in Episode 16
How to contact Russ and Russ’s Wrench:

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