Call center keeps the service bays packed

Advisers resist giving up scheduling, but stores' revenue rises

Staffers at the call center for Metro Honda and Metro Acura handle all inbound service calls.
Dialing up revenue
Metro Honda and Metro Acura launched a service call center in mid-2012 to schedule appointments. The dealerships posted these combined gains after 1 year.
• Total service appointments: +10%
• Annual service revenue: +5%

Published in Automotive News Aug. 4, 2014

Dealer Jeff Proctor endured a year of anger from service advisers after he gave their job of scheduling service work to a newly created call center.

Suffering their wrath proved worthwhile, Proctor says, because now his service bays are largely booked and his service revenue keeps rising.

"We were able to regain control of scheduling appointments in the service drive, and that's important because we're only open a certain amount of hours, so we want to load our shop," says Proctor, managing partner of Metro Honda and Metro Acura in Montclair, Calif. "The service advisers didn't see it that way."

Proctor launched the service call center in mid-2012. He added three staffers to handle all inbound service appointment calls and some outbound calls. The center operates 7 a.m.-7 p.m. six days a week.

By creating the call center, Proctor took service scheduling away from service advisers. They are often reluctant to book small jobs, such as oil changes and tire rotations, because they earn smaller commissions on those jobs compared with, say, a three-hour brake repair, he says.

In the center's first 12 months, total service appointments grew 10 percent and revenue increased 5 percent for Metro Honda and Metro Acura combined.

"We felt we could produce a return, and it turns out in the first 12 months, it definitely paid for itself," Proctor says.

Metro Honda and Metro Acura together sell about 3,600 new and used vehicles a year. On average, the dealerships service about 90 vehicles a day, 65 of which are customer-pay repair orders, Proctor says.

Proctor's inspiration for the call center came about 21/2 years ago. He was listening to recordings of randomly selected inbound dealership calls, and one especially disturbed him.

"A customer wanted a warranty-repair appointment, and our associate said no appointments were available for three weeks," Proctor says.

The customer wanted it done sooner. Proctor listened in shock as the service adviser gave the customer a competitor's phone number to do the work, he says.

"That's when I knew we had to regain control of the appointments," Proctor says, his voice straining with emotion. "Giving out our competitor's phone number!

"My mind could not fathom that until I actually heard it. We had plenty of service availability that day to accommodate that customer."

That service adviser was fired, but Proctor realized that the service advisers' pay plan was partly to blame.

"It's not in their best interest to take, say, an oil change that only pays them two-tenths of an hour," Proctor says. "So they push them off for three weeks to make room to take a bigger paying job."

But often, those bigger jobs never surface, that time slot goes unfilled, and the dealerships lose money, Proctor says. Meanwhile, he says, he has lost customers to his competitors.

So Proctor established the call center, formally dubbed the Client Care Center, and hired three employees to staff it. They call new-car owners to set up appointments for their initial maintenance service, and they take all inbound calls, setting service appointments.

"We do have room to accommodate walk-in traffic. On a Saturday, we'll take about 60 appointments ... but we know we'll have walk-in traffic," Proctor says. So the call center's software is programmed to schedule the shops to just 70 to 80 percent capacity on Saturdays, leaving room for the walk-ins.

A typical walk-in customer usually wants an oil change, but if the vehicle requires more diagnostic work, Proctor gives the customer a loaner car and reschedules the vehicle for the diagnostic work later.

When Proctor told his eight service advisers about his plan for a call center, he initially experienced stiff resistance, he says.

"I had to really put my selling shoes on and sell them on the fact that this would benefit them long term because they'll be able to spend more time with the customer and upsell them with the services they need instead of having to deal with the interruptions of answering the phone," Proctor says.

But some of them felt Proctor was "taking money out of their pocket and taking away their livelihood."

"One said, 'I've been a service adviser for the past 20 years, and I make my livelihood by answering incoming phone calls,'" Proctor recalls.

But six months into having the call center, his service department started experiencing a rise in customer-pay repair work and more service volume, Proctor says. That's when the service advisers got on board, he says.

Proctor did not adjust their pay plans, but they are earning more from commissions because of overall higher revenue now, he says.

"The initial change was a shock to them. But no one quit," Proctor says. "We were able to push through with a lot of hand-holding throughout the first year. Now, it's part of who we are. It's the way that we do business."

Dialing up revenue
Metro Honda and Metro Acura launched a service call center in mid-2012 to schedule appointments. The dealerships posted these combined gains after 1 year.
• Total service appointments: +10%
• Annual service revenue: +5%
You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com -- Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jlareauan

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