Change your thinking to step up your service

By Bob Clements

Years ago, I was fortunate to read a book titled “The Power of Positive Thinking,” written by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. In his book, Peale stated that before you can change who you are, you have to change how you think about who you are.

At the time I read the book, I was a young man who had just started a career as a salesperson for a large office machine company. As competition began to enter my market, my sales dropped and I started searching for any ideas on how to get back in the game. This book, along with two others, helped me understand that regardless of how hard you work to improve your circumstances, no long-term change will occur until you first radically change how you think about your situation.

During the past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of dealers across the country, as well as personally spend time with multiple dealerships, teaching them our service processes and giving managers and employees the tools they need to dramatically change their dealership and take-home profits. While attending these meetings and working at these dealerships with their owners, managers and employees, my biggest challenge hasn’t been implementing my processes in the service department — it’s been getting everyone to change their thinking about the service department and understand how important it is to the dealership’s overall health and enormous profit potential.

The 4-minute mile

Years ago, it was believed that no man could run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Dozens of great athletes came close, but it just never happened. That is, until one man — Roger Bannister — did run the mile in less than 4 minutes. (I guess someone forgot to tell him it wasn’t possible.) Since then, breaking the 4-minute mile has become a common occurrence. There is no question that Bannister was a great runner, but then so were all the others that came so close but couldn’t break the barrier. What was the difference? Bannister didn’t believe it couldn’t be done.

What’s the 4-minute mile have to do with your shop? Everything! Have you ever heard or said, “I can’t find good help,” “I can’t get my techs to work faster,” “I can’t charge more,” “I can’t afford to pay more,” “I can’t this,” “I can’t that,” “I can’t,” “I can’t,” “I can’t?” Whether you realize it or not, every time you say, “I can’t,” you set up a “4-minute mile” barrier in your mind about your service department and what it can accomplish.

Should you tune up your shop or your thinking?

As Steve Noe, editor of OPE magazine, and I were discussing this article, our original thinking was to do it on the importance of “tuning up” the service department for improved turnaround and profitability. It all sounded great, and then I got to thinking about how many articles that I have written over the last several years about service departments, our processes and how to make more money. I thought to myself, rather than write an article on improving your service department, why not just encourage readers to go to OPE’s website at and read my past articles on service? It would save me time and you boredom. If you open up your mind to a new way of thinking and then re-read my service-related articles on OPE’s website, you will read them from a new frame of reference. You will read them knowing that the 4-minute mile has already been broken.

Change your thinking about what is possible

The top complaint I hear from dealers and service managers is that it’s hard to find good employees, which simply isn’t true. Now I know some of you are already reverting to your old ways of thinking: “he doesn’t have a clue,” “my area is different,” “there aren’t any good techs around.”

And to that, I would argue that it’s not that they are not around, it’s just that you can’t afford them. There is not one person reading this article who couldn’t find a good tech if the pay and benefits were right. So it’s not that they don’t exist; you can’t find them because you believe that you can’t afford them. That is a totally different argument.

I tell mangers that if you want to find the best, you have to be attractive to them. Great techs are not going to work for $10 per hour in a nasty, dirty pit if they can avoid it. There is absolutely no reason at any OPE dealership that good service techs shouldn’t be able to make $45,000 to $50,000 per year and work in a clean environment where they are respected for their gifts and talents and not treated like some mutt dog in the back yard.

Again, it starts with what you think, not what you do. If you believe that your techs can’t be 100-percent efficient, then you are going to settle for something less than 100 percent. I know for a fact that it is easy to get techs to 100-percent efficiency and not a terrible stretch to get them to 125 percent. When I talk to new dealers about how simple it is to take their service department to a new level, I know they desperately want to believe me, yet because of their old thought processes, that old mental programming, they immediately say to themselves, “Well, it might be possible for some, but my situation is different.” They just can’t see the 4-minute mile being broken. For me, I am in a great situation because they have spent their hard-earned money for me to come in and show them how it’s done. And sure enough, within a week, their shop is smoking, their techs are turning out more work every day than they ever had, parts are flowing seamlessly into the process, the quality of the work has improved, and customers are enjoying a better experience. What’s the difference between what I do and the dealer? I know it can be done because I have done it time and time again in service departments all across North America. I broke the “4-minute mile” several years ago. Now, my excitement comes from seeing just how far we can push it until we reach the point of diminishing returns.

Scratch your record

Most of you remember what music was like before iPods, MP3s, CDs, cassette tapes and 8 tracks — we had good old vinyl records. Unlike today’s music, you had to be careful with how you handled record albums to keep them from getting any scratches, which would cause them to skip. We knew that once a record was scratched, it would never play the same way again.

You have one of those records in your mind that plays “The Service Department Blues.” The moment you walk in your dealership, it begins to play. The instant someone talks to you about your service department at a dealer meeting, the record starts and the same old tune that you have grown accustomed to hearing but hate, plays over and over again. You know the words (We are three weeks behind); you know the rhythm (Billy’s in a bad mood today); and you know exactly how long it plays (We have to work overtime to catch up). You don’t necessarily like the tune, but it is something you have grown comfortable with and are willing to tolerate. Why?

What if you put a scratch on that record? What if the next time you walk into your shop, you say, “I am done accepting that our shop can’t improve. I am no longer going to tolerate being three weeks behind, and if Billy’s attitude doesn’t change, his butt is out the door?” Maybe it’s time for you to begin recording a new record that acknowledges your service department can and should be your dealership’s crown jewel and highest gross-profit producer.

Your thoughts produce actions, and your actions produce results. If you don’t like your results, you have to change what you are doing and willing to accept. That will only happen when you change how you think. Make this the year that you break that service barrier and enjoy the thrill of a winning shop.

 Bob Clements is the president of Bob Clements International, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in the development of high-performance dealerships. His organization works hands on with dealerships throughout North America, helping them attain the personal freedom and financial wealth all owners strive to achieve. For more information, contact Bob Clements at (800) 480-0737 or or visit his website at

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