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Automotive Careers: How to be a Dealer Service Advisor

Automotive Careers: How to be a Dealer Service Advisor image

Vince Pornelos / John Barney Biscocho | October 05, 2018 13:29

Want to work in the service department?

If you're reading this, chances are you're looking for a job. Every year, thousands upon thousands of students graduate from college or technical schools, looking for a place to work and, more importantly, build a career.

Without a doubt, the automotive industry is a great place to get started. And, if you're a car enthusiast or a professionally-trained gearhead, the service departments of dealerships (or casas) would be perfect for you. 

Our automotive industry -from factories, to importers, to distributors, to dealers and the like- is much larger than it was 10 years ago. Total vehicle sales last year are nearly 4 times as much as it was in 2007, a testament to the growth of the economy and, quite frankly, the fear of the then-upcoming tax scheme.

With all those sales, comes a massive requirement for servicing. New cars, particularly those under warranty, need officially-sanctioned care at the dealership level. And that's where the Service Advisor comes in.

If you've walked into a dealership, you'll know what their job is. They're over by the service area, sitting behind their desks, talking to clients about maintaining and/or repairing their vehicles. Much like doctors, they take down all your notes, inspect the vehicles, and recommend a course of action for the technicians to do. While salespeople (AKA Marketing Professional, Sales Executives, ahentes) deal with customers to get them to happily buy a new car, Service Advisors are responsible for making sure that they stay happy for years to come. 

But what is it like to work in the service department as a Service Advisor? What can you expect if you sign up for this critical job in the automotive industry. 

Automotive Careers: How to be a Dealer Service Advisor

To get answers, we spoke to a veteran of the automotive service community: Darwin Maming, the Service Manager of Isuzu Pasig.

Darwin is as experienced as they come. He actually started out as an on-the-job trainee (OJT) technician with Toyota Shaw in 1997 while he was finishing up his Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Don Bosco Technical College.

Back then, Darwin said it was actually necessary to to have an ME degree for the service advisor position. Personally, I had no idea that he started out as an OJT because when I first met Darwin 13 years ago, he was already the Service Advisor for Toyota Shaw-Ortigas (now known as Toyota Pasig). 

“During my time 1998, the basic requirement was that you should be a Mechanical Engineering graduate,” said Darwin on becoming a Service Advisor. “But nowadays even technicians are considered to handle the position.”

When I met Darwin in 2005, I was just a rookie Marketing Professional. Much in the same way that being a sales agent typically prepares you for higher positions such as sales manager or even general manager, he says being a Service Technician (ST) would also be a good training ground to become a service advisor or, in Darwin's case, service manager.

Automotive Careers: How to be a Dealer Service Advisor

“It's an advantage,” continued Isuzu Pasig's service manager. “For my case, I started my on the job training as a Service Technician in Toyota. Which made me more interested to be a Service Advisor as my first job.”

But being a Service Advisor is not just about knowing the mechanicals; Darwin says that he looks for some other qualities in candidates.

“I usually look for car enthusiasts as a prospective SA. That way, I can tell at an early stage that he/she will handle all vehicles left for servicing with the outmost of care... the same way they want their own vehicles handled.”

Automotive Careers: How to be a Dealer Service Advisor

That makes sense; Darwin's car back then was a Toyota Corolla, and it always looked pristine on the dealer's parking lot. Still, the job of Service Advisor is a tough one, especially given how sales have grown in the past decade. All those vehicles that the sales department releases will need servicing, and the volume is growing. To keep things manageable, Darwin says that there's a maximum number of clients per day that needs to be followed.

“The industry standard is 8 customers per day. This would ensure that the SA will have time to handle all of his customers properly and with equal treatment towards Customer Satisfaction. 

Like with any job, it's all about inter-personal relationships. And being a Service Advisor means it's very important to build good relationships within the dealer's pool of Service Technicians. An SA has to be able to give them a list of tasks, and they have to carry them out to get the car back to the owner's hands. A big part of that job involves keeping morale up, but in Darwin's case, that doesn't seem to be a problem. He says he enjoys their company.

Automotive Careers: How to be a Dealer Service Advisor

“I find it fun to lead and to be with Technicians. They are the most simple and happy people in the dealership,” said SM Maming. “They could easily make fun of each other without hurting each other’s feelings. Their skills are the bread and butter of the Service Department.”

You could say that a Service Advisor deals in relationships. And one key relationship an SA has to maintain is with his superiors, typically the General Manager (GM). 

“There should always be an open communication line between the two,” said Darwin Maning on the relationship between SA and GM. “Meaning, an SA must be comfortable in approaching his superiors especially in the event that there will problem that would arise in the dealership.”

Some would argue that salespersons as the front liners of dealerships, but I beg to disagree: the service advisors are the real front liners. Think about it this way: a good sales agent will move heaven and earth for you up until the sale takes place, after which their attention will go on to the next prospective client. A service advisor can't do that; they have to ensure that every customer, every car, and every problem is properly taken care of. That's a relationship that lasts a lot longer.

Automotive Careers: How to be a Dealer Service Advisor

But being in the after sales business isn't easy. Even if you and your team does the job right, there are still going to be complaints; some are minor, some are big, some are trivial. Regardless of the nature, they have to be addressed quickly to prevent the issue from getting out of control. 

“A typical day is like ensuring that we don’t have any customer complaints that would arise. I usually describe it to my associates as preventing a fire is better than hosing one down.” 

What makes the job more difficult is the fact that a Service Advisor has deal with the problems and frustrations of customers. Darwin has some advice for dealing with difficult clients.

“I listen to them. These clients are being tough or demanding for a reason,” says the veteran Service Manager. “In order to know how to deal and comfort them is to listen to them. Then I empathize, so they would feel that I’m willing to help them. The customers are the best people to evaluate what kind of service a dealer is providing. I always take their criticism constructively.”

Automotive Careers: How to be a Dealer Service Advisor

There is the perception, especially locally, that getting your cars service at official dealerships is an expensive way to go. That's understandable; fees are going to be more because dealerships will have the best equipment, the most qualified technicians, and warehouses of parts for storage. These things cost money; that's why they're more expensive. But Isuzu Pasig's SM has some interesting insight about it, especially since its about service.

“Studies showed that customers doesn’t mind paying extra as long as they receive good service,” commented Maming. “We've always known that casas or 5 star dealerships are charging more than the 3-star shops do. That’s why we always ensure that we handle our customers 'extra-ordinarily' well.”

We just about consumed quite a bit of Darwin's time, and he definitely has a lot on his plate at Isuzu Pasig. But still, he had some valuable advice for those who wish to build a career in the auto service industry as an SA. 

Automotive Careers: How to be a Dealer Service Advisor

“You should love what you are doing. The word 'service' should always have a deeper meaning for you. It must always be instilled not only to your mind but to your heart as well."

“Working in an automotive dealership's service department won’t be easy, but it will definitely be a challenge worth doing," said Darwin Maming, Isuzu Pasig's Service Manager.