BMW of North America wants to boost its dealers' service income by making better use of an onboard vehicle diagnostic system.
The system, called TeleService, automatically diagnoses problems and beams a request for service to the automaker. BMW forwards the request via e-mail to the vehicle owner's dealership, where employees can contact the customer to set up an appointment.
For the customer getting the phone call or e-mail, "it is a 'Wow' experience, and the dollars per repair order are increased," said Tom Black, aftersales systems manager for BMW of North America.
But some stores don't follow up for a variety of reasons, BMW managers said.
The automaker will roll out several programs this year to improve dealership responses to TeleService, Black said. He declined to say what percentage of TeleService calls lead to service appointments.
"We see an opportunity for improvement, he said. "BMW has refocused energy on customer orientation, and we want our dealers to do the same."
It is potentially a big business. BMW has more than 800,000 vehicles on the road with TeleService, Black said. He said BMW handled 938,000 automatic service calls from vehicles last year.
To boost TeleService response, BMW will:
-- Launch a program this spring to help dealers who could make more service appointments with the feature. Details are being worked out.
-- Send BMW field personnel to dealerships, starting with underperforming stores.
-- Modify the dealer management and communications system to make it easier for dealers to book appointments. The changes likely will be made in the fourth quarter.
-- Market the service starting in the summer to customers directly and improve information on the service via bmwusa.com.
BMW began offering TeleService in 2004 on the 5 series and added it to other models as they were redesigned. Since January 2011, TeleService has come with every new vehicle as part of a package that's free for four years and includes emergency roadside assistance, remote door unlocking and stolen vehicle tracking.
TeleService uses sensors to monitor brakes, spark plugs, oil levels, filters and other systems. "It is based on the driving habits of the owner and the wear and tear of a particular item," Black said.
The recommended BMW interval between oil changes could be 15,000 miles, but TeleService may sense service is needed earlier "if you are an aggressive driver," Black said.
A new feature of TeleService called battery guard was launched on the X6 hybrid crossover in 2009. It monitors the condition of the battery, Black said. Battery guard will be used on future hybrids and BMW's new i electric cars that debut next year. BMW began rolling the feature out on non-hybrid vehicles with the redesigned X3 crossover last year.
TeleService can be activated on certified pre-owned and used BMWs if they are under 4 years old. After four years, the annual cost is $199. Dealers need to sell the service on used vehicles to increase their service customer base, BMW managers said.
Steve Rudkin, general manager of two California dealerships, Irvine BMW in Irvine and Shelly BMW in Buena Park, said about 10 percent of his 80 to 100 daily repair orders are driven by TeleService.
And as to about one-third of the customers who come in because of TeleService, "we upsell them into more work that the vehicle needs," Rudkin said. Average repair orders are $300, but they can go up to $600 and $700 when other services are recommended, he said.
Before TeleService, BMW had service lights on the instrument panel that went from green to amber to red notifying an owner when to have the vehicle serviced, Rudkin said. "This communication is more effective for us because we know when the car needs service, which is more effective than them knowing."