DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. has rolled out an online tool for dealership service departments.
The tool, called Virtual Service Advisor, lets online customers schedule service appointments, look up recall information and ask questions. And, unlike many dealership and automaker Web tools, the software lets consumers check the status of their vehicle in real time when it's at a dealership for service.
Ford says the tool, which is available to Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealerships, should reduce the time dealership service employees spend on the phone answering questions.
To increase maintenance revenue, Virtual Service Advisor e-mails maintenance reminders to customers. During testing, customers responded to reminders 37 percent of the time, said Ken McCaffrey, Ford's e-business service process manager.
Dealerships must have high-speed Internet access and a firewall to access the tool on their Web sites. They also must pay a monthly maintenance fee to Ford, which ranges from $199 to $289 depending on dealership size. Consumers do not pay to use the service.
Dealership technology providers Reynolds and Reynolds Co. and ADP Dealer Services worked with Ford to make the system compatible with dealership computer systems.