16 Apr 2024

Personal services

In the first of a two-part visit, we find out more about 2023 Top Service Advisor winner James Wheatley


James Wheatley is Service Manager at Uckfield Motor Services, a long-standing family-run business in the eponymous East Sussex town. He was also the winner of the Top Service Advisor award within Top Garage 2023. Aftermarket visited James recently to find out more about him, and his experiences of competing and winning in Top Garage.

James started by explaining how he ended up at the top of the tree, by rolling back to where he began: “I started in the trade in 2016 as valeter, and then went into sales. However, I didn’t like that my only relationship with the customer was trying to sell them something. Within six months I had moved over to the service department. I got on with this really well, as I preferred the whole dynamic and the relationship I had with customers. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

In September 2022 James moved over to Uckfield Motor Services, a move which ultimately lead to his win as Top Service Advisor.

On what he feels makes a good service advisor, James observed: “The key is to care about your customers. We do a lot of work here, getting through a lot of cars. We sometimes do as many as 50 to 60 a day, but we always try to offer that personal experience. We’ve got a really good relationship with a our customers. I think it’s about tailoring your approach to individual customers.”

James is not a one-man-band, with back-up coming in the form of Service Advisor Bradley: “He’s absolutely brilliant. He is really chatty and friendly. I think that is the secret; Just being as nice as you can.”

Bradley has quite a different background compared with James: “I started as an apprentice here. I did my Level Two but wasn’t keen on the workshop. I wanted to do something different in the motor trade. I was put in the office as a Service Advisor and I’m getting along really well. Working alongside James is great; Learning from the winner!”
On how having a technical grounding is helping Bradley, James observed: “It really does benefit him, having that kind of mechanical background, which I haven’t got. I’ve never done any kind of mechanical work.” Bradley added: “If they need me in the workshop to do a tyre, I can jump back in, or even if they need me on Saturdays explaining things to customers.”

James continued: We’ve got our parts guy Jay as well. He’s on the phone as customer interface. Not much face-to-face, but customer interface. I am hoping to get another service advisor on board as well.”

Wide mix
As is often the case, the garage gets a wide mix of customers and vehicles, and for James, the key is to set the gauge accordingly: “We’ve got the real high-end stuff coming in, and we get the cheaper stuff as well. I think, again, the secret is tailoring the experience, taking each car as it comes. So, if there’s a car that got loads of miles, and is not worth much, they’re probably not going to be interested in doing absolutely everything to make sure that car is spic-and-span. Then, you’ve got the real high-end stuff. We had an Aston Martin in the other day. That customer is very interested in making sure that car is pristine and absolutely 100%. “We do a lot of sponsorship in the local area. For example, we sponsor the local business awards, so we get custom through that.”

Uckfield is a growing town, with thousands of houses in the process of being built on its periphery. This is being factored into the thinking, as James noted: “A lot of what we’re trying to do is leave a good impression with the current residents. Then, if their friends are moving to the area or they write us a nice review or they mention us on the local Facebook page, we will get the word out there.”

Top Service Advisor
On how he came to enter Top service Advisor, James said: “They are very on top of this sort of thing here. I found out I had been entered into Top Service Advisor when they told me they had put me up for it!” Luckily, James was familiar with the wider Top Technician and Top Garage competitions through reading Aftermarket: “We used to get Aftermarket at my whole job as well, so I’ve been reading the magazine, for six years.” On the experience of taking part, James said: “Even just chatting in the waiting area at the final when we got there on the Saturday morning was educational. It’s good networking too. Then in the evening I was doing the same thing at the Awards.

“It’s insightful, because I’ve always wondered what my next logical step from here would be. It was also nice having the chance to talk to the other contestants and the judges on how they ended up where they are.

“Before attending the Top Technician and Top Garage Awards Evening, I’d never been to anything like that. I’d absolutely recommend even just going to get your foot in the door and network with people. You will meet like-minded individuals, get some ideas out of people, and see how everyone else does what they do. There is always something you can learn from another garage.”

On whether he would be defending his title next year, James observed: “I hope so. I’ve just had a baby, our first, so I’ve had quite a year. I only just got back from paternity leave. I am certainly aiming to be in the running for Top Service Advisor 2024.”