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Rocks’ Rants: Blind Estimates

by Ken Rock, Customer Care Manager

Recently I was in a dealership and heard a service advisor answer the phone. A customer called and asked about a problem with their vehicle. “What kind of noise…grinding?” the advisor asked. “Hmm, it sounds like it could be your CV joint…oh I’d say around $400 to $500, in that range. Why don’t you bring it in and we’ll take a look?”

I’ve heard variations of this conversation hundreds, if not thousands of times, and every single time it sends me over the edge.

Let’s be clear. It’s impossible to diagnose a repair over the phone, when all you’ve got to go on is the customer telling you what they think it is…or even worse, making sounds over the phone.

What’s “grinding” to a customer may actually be “whining” to a professional. The problem could be a dozen different things; anything from a pebble lodged between a brake pad and rotor, to a cracked belt or a failing alternator.

The cost of the repair could range anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or more.

I understand why customers want service repair quotes over the phone. Some people like shopping around for the best deal. If they’re calling to get a quote for a very specific type of service, you might think that’s OK but I still discourage giving any service quotes out over the phone.

More often than not, the customer doesn’t know what’s wrong with their vehicle. The problem with diagnosing problems and giving blind estimates over the phone is that when the customer brings in the vehicle, they expect the RO estimate to be what was quoted to them. Then lo and behold, you discover the real problem and the quote doubles or triples in price. Now you’ve got an unhappy customer.

Here’s how the conversation should go:

Customer: “Hello. I drive a 2010 Ford Edge and it’s making a squealing sound when I press the brakes. I think the brake pads may need to be replaced. Can I get a quote?”

Service advisor: “Thanks for calling, yes absolutely. First, can I get your name and phone number in case we get disconnected? OK thanks, and do you happen to have the VIN number on you? OK, thanks. Well, to be honest a sound like that could be a couple different things and I’d hate to give you an estimate that’s too high. I can’t give you an estimate over the phone but we’re be more than happy to take a look at it, can you bring it in?” Then, suggest a time.

Sometimes a customer knows the problem and asks for a quote to get it repaired. Again, start by getting the customer’s information and VIN number. As we know, giving an estimate isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds.

Customer. “I need the front brakes replaced on my 2017 VW Jetta. How much will that be?”

Service advisor: “Well, it depends. Do you need the pads and rotors replaced? Do you need the calipers replaced and do you need a brake flush?”

If you have to, you can say something like “Without seeing your vehicle, an estimate on this job would be this amount. But I have to give the disclaimer that without seeing the vehicle, it could be substantially more or substantially less than what I’ve just quoted.”

Finally, if you do quote a service repair estimate, document the quote along with all the details, and store it in the customer’s record in your DMS. If you don’t have a customer record, create one because you never, ever quote an estimate without getting the person’s name and phone number.

Documenting the estimate is very important so the conversation and price quote can be easily recalled by any other employee that’s deals with the customer. You don’t want a customer bringing in their vehicle and another service advisor quote them substantially less or more for the same service, than what they were quoted over the phone!

It’s simple, common sense guys and gals. Don’t give blind service repair estimates over the phone. If you feel you have to, make sure you include a big disclaimer and explain why. And always, always get the customer’s name and contact information so you can follow up the next day.

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