Many customers of Mossy Toyota, a San Diego dealership near the beach, are millennials, generally ages 18 to early 30s. In an increasingly digital, on-the-go world, Dale Snow's challenge was to devise the most effective way to update them on car repairs.
The answer? A text message.
"They appreciate the instant notification. It's certainly a very powerful trend right now," said Snow, fixed operations director at the dealership.
Texting service customers -- no matter their age -- pays off, studies say.
An October Morpace Omnibus survey concluded that 46 percent of respondents who text regularly would be interested or somewhat interested in texting to communicate with a dealership.
The 2014 Customer Service Index study by J.D. Power and Associates also found that one of the keys to a satisfying service experience is communication from the service manager.
Service departments are getting the message.
Mossy Toyota books about 5,000 service appointments per month. After service advisers started texting customers, 80 percent of customers who made appointments and received text messages showed up for those appointments, a 15- to 20-point increase, Snow said. The dealership had a 4 percent increase in service appointments in 2014.
Chris Ice, vice president of product marketing for Xtime, which sells texting service to dealerships, agreed that the most significant change texting brings is show percentage. He said the average is 81 percent across several thousand dealers.
Show percentages for the top 15 text-usage dealers average 88 percent, with at least half of them running show percentages in the low to mid-90s, Ice said.
Dealerships that work with vendors, such as Xtime or AdVantageTec, can ask service clients to "opt in" to receive status updates about their repairs via text message. All 6,500 dealers enrolled in Xtime's products have the ability to text customers, but just 1,500 are actively using the tool. Another 1,500 may use it occasionally, Ice said.
If customers approve, service managers can text them when the vehicle is ready, ask for permission to perform additional repairs and remind them of upcoming appointments.
Drew Francis, service adviser at Mossy Toyota, is 25. He seems a perfect candidate to like texting customers, but he says he usually prefers not to do so. He may use texting for a vehicle-ready update but not for additional service, unless the customer specifically requests it.
"I feel that a text can be misinterpreted as far as tone goes," Francis said. "You really don't know. [Is the customer] comfortable with this decision" to do extra repair work?
And, asking through a text makes it easier for customers to say no, rather than if advisers ask them face to face, Francis said.
Texting "leaves a lot of open questions," he said. Advisers can tell customers that they need a valve replaced, but it's difficult to explain why via text message, he said. "I like to be one on one with the customers," Francis said.
But customers say they want text messages, and those who receive them show up more frequently for appointments. And they convey more satisfaction with service.
Jose Hurtado, service director at Irvine BMW, Irvine Mini and Rolls-Royce Orange County in Irvine, Calif., said that after the service department started texting customers about seven months ago, the dealership's customer satisfaction has increased three points on a 100-point index. "That is something huge for us as a dealership," he said.
One especially busy service adviser had low customer satisfaction because he didn't have time to communicate with customers thoroughly enough. With the texting tool, his satisfaction score has gone up one point, Hurtado said.
About 90 percent of service customers want text messages from the service department, said Chuck Rhodes, general manager at Reynolds Buick-GMC in West Covina, Calif. When customers get a text update while they're waiting in the lounge, "they're just surprised and happy. It just speeds up the service process," he said.
Most service advisers like texting customers. It improves shop flow and customer response times, said Steven Pratt, service adviser at Reynolds Buick-GMC. Customers have the option to stick with phone calls, but Pratt estimated that just over half prefer texting.
"It's a good tool," Pratt said. "It's a faster way to communicate in such a busy age, with everybody on the go."