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Roles of the Dealership Service Staff -- Who Does What?

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Gee, something feels different," after getting your vehicle back from a service center? Often it begins as a vague suspicion once you drive away. Or it may be more obvious, such as the radio being tuned to a different station, a sticky steering wheel or a spot of grease on your carpet. All this begs the question, "Who are these people who I trusted with my vehicle?"

From the time you drop off your vehicle until you pick it up, eight or more people may have played a part in servicing your car or truck. All of these individuals play an integral role while your vehicle is in the service department.

The dealer service department. What's inside the box?

The dealer service department. What's inside the box?

Service greeters are most often employed at larger high-volume dealerships. Greeters function as "traffic police" to help guide the high flow of customers into the appropriate area. Typical job duties for a greeter include setting service appointments, verifying appointments, providing follow-up calls and informing the appropriate service advisor of your arrival. Often it is the greeter who will provide a friendly face and a beverage upon your arrival.

Service Advisor
At most dealerships (other than the high-volume ones mentioned above), the service advisor will be your first and primary contact at the dealership. The service advisor is responsible for understanding what needs to be done to your vehicle — normal maintenance or addressing a specific concern. This is a critical step in the process because the service advisor must interpret and note these concerns on the paperwork in terms the service technician will understand. Most service advisors will repeat all problems and services requested in a concise form in order to ensure that no miscommunication has occurred. Upon your sign-off of the estimate for service, the paperwork is distributed to the dispatcher (see below) for routing.

It is the service advisor's responsibility to contact you if there are any additional services or costs that arise during service. Within the industry, these calls from the service advisor are commonly referred to as "up-sell" opportunities, because they inevitably raise your costs. The service advisor then monitors your vehicle's progress to ensure that the correct repairs are done and that the vehicle is finished on time.

If your final bill looks like hieroglyphics, your service advisor will typically be the one to explain what work was performed. This is especially true if the vehicle is under warranty, since this type of repair (which is done at no cost to the customer) does not involve owner authorization and may have been done without your knowledge.

Service dispatchers are akin to air traffic controllers: Both are responsible for the flow of vehicles into and out of a facility. Service dispatchers understand the time and labor commitments required for each service and route your vehicle to the appropriate technicians on staff who can perform these repairs. Seasoned dispatchers are capable of keeping an even flow of work throughout the day at a dealership.

Some dealerships have opted not to have a dispatcher. In these instances, two scenarios might exist. In one scenario, the service advisor is part of a team of technicians and any work taken in will be performed by one of the team members. The other scenario simply has the service advisor select from a pool of on-staff technicians (often without a true sense of the technicians' workload).

Service technicians (otherwise known as mechanics) are considered the lifeblood of the service department. These individuals often have advanced training in a particular area of automotive repair or on a certain make of vehicle. Training for service technicians is an ongoing process as new vehicles go into production every year. With these new vehicles come the latest technologies that must be learned, in addition to advancements in repair procedures for the older models. Technicians advise service advisors when problems exist that may require additional parts or services. In short, they're the ones who fix your vehicle.

Parts Counter Personnel
The parts counter personnel have the know-how to determine quickly what parts are available for your vehicle. Dealerships usually maintain large inventories of the most popular items, but will need to order parts from the automobile manufacturer's local warehouse if a less common part is required. A well run parts department will usually have the parts required to complete the repairs to your vehicle in stock and at the technician's disposal when your car is dispatched.

Lot Porter
When the term "lot porter" is used, many people may envision the Ferrari's epic leap on a Chicago thoroughfare in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The lot porter's real purpose — counter to the Flying Ferrari syndrome — is the movement of your vehicle from the service drive into a parking spot to await a technician. These individuals are also in charge of washing your vehicle (including the cleanup of any grease stains or oil-smudged fingerprints) and the delivery of your vehicle to the service drive. On occasion, the lot porter will put fuel in the vehicle at the local gas station.

The booker can be thought of as a bookkeeper in a traditional business. The booker is responsible for the matching of all components of service while your vehicle was at the service center. This includes any labor or parts charged by the technicians or the parts counter personnel. All of these receipts will be summed, any notes from the technician will be added to the paperwork and all information will be provided as an itemized statement. If a discount applies, the booker will provide the discount and make the appropriate changes to the statement prior to submitting the paperwork to the cashier.

The cashier collects money due for service and directs the lot porter to bring your vehicle to the service drive. The cashier is privy only to the information on the paperwork and is not authorized to make changes. If the moment of truth arrives and it appears that your bill is higher than expected, expressing concerns about the bill to the cashier may be wasting your breath. Instead, it's the service advisor who should explain the charges and correct any errors. If the repair work is still incomplete (as happens occasionally), the service advisor can also send the car back for further work or make a new appointment.

Now that you know who does what, you can probably tell who's responsible for that spot on your carpet — and whom you have to see to make sure it gets cleaned. To make sure you're not taken to the cleaners as well, see our accompanying story, "How Not to get Ripped Off at the Mechanic's."

Thanks to the service department and Jeff Novick at Miller Honda in Culver City, Calif., for letting us photograph their facility.

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