Auto news: 40 Under 40 Retail Honoree Amanda Mendenhall. Harry Robinson Buick GMC, Fort Smith Arkansas

Automotive News 40 Under 40

Amanda Mendenhall

AGE: 37
POSITION: Service manager, Harry Robinson Buick-GMC, Fort Smith, Ark.
ACHIEVEMENT: In the last year, more than tripled service department profit by more than doubling labor hours per ticket and by performing inspections intended to show customers worn parts on their vehicles

Amanda Mendenhall’s recipe for a successful service department sounds easy: Focus on speed, quality and building relationships with customers. But there also must be flexibility.

“People come to the dealership service department because they want quality,” says Mendenhall. “They are not going to the Jiffy Lube because of quality. They go there because it’s cheap and quick.

“They come here for quality, and that’s what you need to give them, along with a really great experience.”

Part of Mendenhall’s quality experience is being the eyes and ears of customers by letting them know when something needs attention before it breaks and causes another trip to the store. Her advisers check the condition of windshield wiper blades and tire treads and point out when the blades need replacing or that the vehicle needs an alignment. She says sales of tires, cabin air filters and engine air filters have soared since last year and the store has quadrupled volume in the quick service area and more than tripled profits.

But some customers also require special handling — and that’s where flexibility factors in.

Price-conscious customers won’t return if they feel they can get a better deal elsewhere, Mendenhall says. She uses a special tactic to retain those customers: She takes them aside and negotiates on price.

“A lot of people are going to shop you and try to negotiate,” she says. “You have to be willing to negotiate with people. Sometimes, you have to take your customer into the office and negotiate on the side to keep their business. You have to say, ‘Let me see what I can do to help you.’ ”

Mendenhall never planned to work at her family’s Buick-GMC store, she says. She spent four years working at a doctor’s office before taking a job as a receptionist at the store in 2003. Then she transferred to the service department as a consultant and found her groove.

“I fell in love with the fast pace of the service department, the rapport you build with your customers and having that one-on-one with a customer and being able to flip a very negative experience into a positive experience.

“No one is happy when their car breaks. They’re mad. They’re mad at you, at their car, at General Motors. To be able to flip that and make it a good experience takes focus.”

One way Mendenhall calms angry customers is by letting them vent.

“It’s just understanding that they’re mad and letting them blow up and yell,” she said. “Then it’s going the extra mile to be sure that they know they are dealing with a family-owned business, that you are part of that family and that you want to take care of them. You don’t want to lose their business.”

The store averages between 800 and 1,200 service tickets a month, based on the time of the year. Each member of Mendenhall’s team of 21 is expected to handle several tasks simultaneously. The difficult part of her job is telling employees they don’t have the right skills for her shop, she says.

“Every job has its highs and lows, but as long as you go to work and love what you do and love the people that you work with, that’s what makes the difference.”

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