Squaring the circle – How to upsell in aftersales AND give great customer service

British Airways: what does it stand for? Putting aside the IT failures and lost luggage, BA is (or has been) associated with customer service. It’s not a budget airline, so cabin crew are there to serve the passengers and not sell them raffle tickets.

At least that used to be the case. In an increasingly competitive world, with the likes of Ryanair and easyJet in the wings (pardon the pun), BA took the decision to replace free meals with paid for M&S sandwiches on short haul flights. So, the crews now have to include food sales in their otherwise service-centred role.

Now let’s look at aftersales in automotive retail.

Your customers have spent a lot of money on a new car. Why on earth would they want to fork out even more on a service plan? Or they’ve had a service and funded some repairs, why would they want to then get the aircon re-gassed or pay for tyres with 1,000 miles’ worth of tread left on them?.

The answer? Only the customer knows the answer and to find out, you have to ask.

There’s a world of difference between the rather incongruous question that’s asked of every customer at a WHSmith’s till “Do you want water or chocolates with that?” to offering something that may be – dare we go so far as say is likely to be – of interest to the customer.

This isn’t basic upselling. This is looking at your customers’ needs and suggesting extras that may be of genuine interest. It is, in fact, just another way of offering good customer service.

And, if asked in the right way, with confidence, then you are more likely to get a “yes please” than a “no thank you”. Many customers complain they aren’t made aware of additional services and products at the point of vehicle drop off. Service advisors are pre-judging the decision based on their own perception of cost or value.

Car retailers are noticeably trying to get more sales-focussed staff into aftersales, but they aren’t always going about this in the best way. Invariably, sales-focussed means young and inexperienced. What customers want is to be served by trusted, experienced staff who they can return to – after all, they have just spent many thousands of pounds on their new car!

So, is there a way to square the circle? To encourage your aftersales teams to factor in upselling without compromising the excellent service they offer and – let’s be frank – irritating the customer.

RTS Group’s five steps to successful aftersales:

  1. Be brave. There is no harm in asking a customer if they would like additional services.  But …
  2. Be timely. If someone is howling at the cost of their service bill, they aren’t likely to take kindly to your suggestion of additional spend. You need to empathise with the customer, be on their wavelength. This is emotional intelligence at its best.
  3. Understand their specific needs, get to know them and make a judgement about whether what you can offer would be of genuine use. If a customer has told you she is driving 1,000 miles a week, she’s likely to be open to an early tyre change.
  4. It’s all about communication. Find out how your customers prefer to be communicated with – email, phone, even post? – so you get in front of them in the best way for them.
  5. Don’t forget the easy wins. Sending service and MOT reminders is useful for customers. They’ll appreciate the nudge and will come back to you.

With a little creativity, empathy and self-confidence, your aftersales teams could meet the two challenges of sales targets and customer service, and find they aren’t as diametrically opposed as they first appear.

After all, after a long tiring day and you climb back onto a BA flight, what would you prefer: an M&S brie and grape sandwich on wholegrain bread or free, plastic and tepid airline food? I know what I’d choose – it’s worth every penny.


Stuart is account director for RTS Group, working primarily with our clients Honda and Hyundai to deliver them a high level of learning and development support for their dealership teams.

Before joining RTS, Stuart spent several years in learning and development, initially in technical training and latterly management training, working with brands including Jaguar Land Rover and Peugeot Citroen. His career started in motor mechanics, but Stuart – who describes himself as “curious” - had a lightbulb moment when sent on a training course and decided to switch his career to L&D.

Married with two daughters, Stuart is a football enthusiast, both watching and playing, and coaches a local under 16s girls’ team, for which one of his daughters plays, while the other is a qualified referee.