For service managers, it can be a major source of delay, even frustration: Playing phone tag with customers who are getting their cars repaired.
Two veteran automotive technology specialists are selling a solution: text messaging, a technology wildly popular with the younger generation.
David Leventhal, 62, and Ken Luna, 58, are the principals behind TeleText Solutions. In August, the Charlotte, N.C., company began offering two text-messaging products for dealers -- one for sales and one for service.
The first dealership to try TeleText for its service department was Mercedes-Benz of South Charlotte, N.C. Wendell Allen, the dealership's director of fixed-operations, says TeleText has reduced phone tag.
"There are a lot of times when they can't answer a phone call about the status of their vehicle but they can get the text messages," Allen says. "The extremely busy executive is the type that tends to opt in."
Allen says texting also has proved useful to service technicians at the Mercedes-Benz store. Service advisers notify technicians with a text when the advisers receive a work authorization.
Allen says he's disappointed that more customers haven't chosen to receive the service. About a month after the first e-mails went out, only about 600 customers had signed up.
"I've got about 8,000 names in my customer database, and I was hoping about 50 percent would sign up," he says. "But it's early yet."
For the service department, the texting product costs about $300 a month, plus 10 cents per text message.
To receive text messages, customers have to choose to participate. They can do so verbally or by responding to an e-mail from the dealership generated by TeleText. Once a customer is enrolled, dealership personnel can go online to send messages and read responses.
The system links with the dealership management system software to find service appointments and send out reminders by text. Records of the text exchanges also can go straight into a dealer's customer relationship management system.
Leventhal says he was inspired to explore text messaging after reading reports on its growing popularity. Last December, Nielsen Co. said mobile subscribers send and receive more text messages than phone calls.
Leventhal says more than half of all calls to dealers are made from cell phones.
Luna says that although teens are the most frequent texters, professionals ages 25 to 49 are starting to adopt the practice. Those in that age group also tend to be frequent car buyers.
TeleText principal Luna says he uses his own five grown children as a focus group. "They're my minidemographic on this," he says. "If I want to communicate with them, I'd better use text messaging, or they're not going to talk to me."