In the service department at Sonju Two Harbors, a multibrand dealership near Duluth, Minn., Jodie plays a central role in converting sales leads to customer appointments. She's a model employee: always comes to work on time and is unfailingly polite yet persistent when following up with customers by email. Jodie also happens to be a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence.
At the other end of the spectrum is Scott Clark Toyota in suburban Charlotte, N.C. There, 22 human employees in a dedicated call center make tens of thousands of phone calls each month to woo service customers. Service advisers promote customers' immediate approval of recommended work by sending them text messages that include photos of worn or broken parts.
Two dealerships, two different scales of service operations: 12 bays, nine technicians, three advisers and about 720 vehicles serviced each month at Sonju, compared with 72 bays, 70 techs, 25 advisers and 6,000 cars and trucks serviced monthly at Scott Clark. But the goal of both stores is identical: Get current, former and new customers to say yes to service work.
That's vital as vehicle sales slump, especially because service departments typically generate 40 to 45 percent of dealerships' gross profits, industry studies show. Many dealerships could do better at converting service leads, if a survey commissioned by the software provider Conversica is any indication.