Your frontline is critical to customer retention


Top Metrics to Watch

Your customers may interact with your front-line parts and service people five to 10 times more often than they do with sales staff or management. Yet it is the sales and management team that often gets chosen to attend training sessions.

Although it’s important for sales staff to have exceptional communication skills, it’s also critical for your front-line staff to have great communication, listening, and negotiation skills.

According to the Ag Equipment Intelligence 2020 Brand Loyalty Study*, six of the top 12 reasons customers remain loyal or switch brands revolve around the dealer’s ability to provide parts, service, and product support. Also, a “bad experience with the dealership” had a higher influence on customers switching brands than a “bad experience with the current brand.

Your front-line people need to be aware of the value customers put in their ability to look after them and the impact every interaction can have on their next buying decision.

Example: I recently needed something for my small acreage. I checked online and found a local store that had what I needed and they had it in stock. I drove over only to have the parts person say, “they didn’t have any in stock.” I said their website showed some in inventory. The answer was, “That’s never right, they don’t update it” and walked away.

I kept looking for an alternative and decided to leave. Fortunately, a manager came along and asked if I needed help. I explained the situation. She apologized for the error, quickly found an alternative product that was slightly more expensive but sold it to me for the same price.

I share this story because I was frustrated and walking out, not because of the brand or the product, but because of the indifference the front-line staff displayed in looking after my needs. The manager was able to salvage me as a customer, but only because she happened to walk by. On my way home, I wondered if the manager took that interaction as a training opportunity for that staff member or just let it slide.

In our Parts Counter Sales and Service Counter Sales training programs offered through WEDA’s Dealer Institute, we share how important front-line staff is to customer retention. We examine all the ways things can possibly go off track, whether it’s in person, on the phone or through digital communication. Front-line staff is the face of your brand. What they say and do is critical to how customers form opinions about their next buying decision.

Whether it’s a parts person in your showroom or a technician on a service call, what they say matters. If customers hear “the inventory is always wrong” or “the parts department never has the parts we need,” this can carry huge weight on where they choose to make their next purchase.

What we teach

The ability to listen to your customers is not just a skill, it’s a key to providing an exceptional customer experience. Photo credit: The Balance Careers

We encourage staff to solve the problem immediately, preferably while the customer is there. This requires training on how to handle the most common issues and empowering front-line staff to solve the problem rather than ignoring it or sending it to a manager.  The longer it takes to resolve, the worse the problem gets.

We also teach listening skills by asking basic, open-ended questions. Customers want solutions. Sometimes they may think they know what they need, but if a well-trained parts or service person asks the right questions, they may discover the real problem the customer is trying to overcome and offer different solutions.

Do your front-line people get asked for discounts? How do they respond?

It’s very common for customers to ask for discounts. We counsel managers to ensure their front-line people are prepared to handle those requests professionally. We also encourage them to look for alternatives to discounting, such as offering volume purchases or proactive ordering programs. Many forget they have other options for customers, namely offering remanufactured components or non-OEM alternatives. This allows them to sell the additional value or warranty offerings rather than focusing on price. Most customers appreciate being given a choice.

Self-evaluations pay off

When work areas are cluttered, customers may get the impression you’re not organized to handle their business. Photo credit: Business NH Magazine

Doing a self-evaluation of your front-line staff can be a great start. Few people are good at everything so it’s good to identify strengths and weaknesses and work on improving the gaps. Don’t forget technicians, especially field techs, who may have lots of customer interaction and influence. Here’s a checklist.

  • Personal professionalism
  • Clean, organized work area
  • Person-to-person communication skills
  • Verbal efficiency
  • Telephone skills and etiquette
  • Digital communication, text, email, and voicemail etiquette
  • Proactive listening
  • Problem resolution
  • Organized and consistent follow-up
  • Providing solutions vs. filling the order

“bad experience with the dealership” had a higher influence on customers switching brands, than a “bad experience with the current brand.”

* The 2020 Brand Loyalty Study is available at

Editor’s note: WEDA’s Dealer Institute will be offering one-day Parts Counter Sales and Service Counter Sales training programs in class or virtual formats. Please check out for upcoming programs. The DI also creates specific customized onsite or virtual training programs for multi-store groups.

Article Written By Kelly Mathison

KELLY MATHISON is a former dealer and current trainer and management consultant for the Western Equipment Dealers Association’s Dealer Institute. Mathison specializes in parts, service, and aftermarket training. Please send questions and/or comments to


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