In 2018, I wrote an article about how your dealership's service department is moving to your customer's home, and that message could not be more applicable today. Because of the pandemic, touchless automotive service is the name of the game. This has been a consumer preference for some time. Case in point: Apple stores have been offering no-contact service since 2001.
Dealers have long been incredible survivors. As Winston Churchill is famous for saying, "Never let a good crisis go to waste." What can you do to come out of this swinging and be even more efficient? How can your dealership further improve the customer experience with touchless service in your service department?
You can choose to be the Usain Bolt of the service world and use the right training regimen and processes to trounce your competition, or you can be stuck in the past. My advice is to study what other successful businesses have done.
Apple has been the leader in retail sales per square foot — more than $5,500 reported in 2017 — for a good reason. The process is focused on flexibility and the consumer experience and is completely touchless. The customer can schedule visits on the Apple app, and the stores simplify checkout by bringing a touchless credit card reader to the customer.
Think about how you can make your employees more nimble, offering the ultimate in convenience and transparency in servicing customer vehicles. Take Tesla, for example. If owners want their vehicles picked up for valet service, they can simply text their spare key to the service adviser.
To win, consider the following:
1. Ease of scheduling. Test your online scheduler. Most appointments are made on a mobile device. Does the mobile version work well, or is it masked by a bunch of pop-ups? How many clicks does it take to make an appointment? It is important to not burden guests with complicated service menus and shop-loading constraints. While I know everyone, including automakers, likes shop loading, website scheduling should be simple and totally integrated with your communications.
2. No-contact pickup and delivery service. This will need to continue for some time. Do you have the right processes in place for this to be successful now and in the future?
3. Video. Do you conduct an initial video walk-around when the loaner leaves the dealership or when you hand it over to the customer at check-in? Do you use a multi-point inspection video tool to better explain to customers repairs needed for their vehicles? This builds trust and transparency. Customers are more likely to approve work when they can see it. Data insights that myKaarma aggregated across select dealers show the average customer-pay acceptance rate more than doubles when they can see it in a transparent and understandable way, such as pictures and videos.
4. Payments. Do you offer online payments? How about allowing service advisers to take customer payments to eliminate lines at the cashier's desk and avoid unnecessary contact? This also builds a better relationship between the customer and their adviser by being the single point of contact. You may find more customers are suffering financial hardship because of the pandemic, so consider offering service financing as well. There are some great companies out there that do this.
5. Business development center for service. Are you conducting outbound calls and texting to solicit service business? How about declined-service follow-ups? Many dealerships leave a lot of money on the table by not following up. Consider building your own service business development center, training its staff and including texting for declined service.
If you think I am simply blowing smoke, consider this story from Steve Simmons, service manager at Mercedes-Benz of Long Beach in California. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, his service department business declined by more than 70 percent. The number of cars serviced per day dropped from more than 100 to a low of 17. To combat this, the dealership started making phone calls to solicit business, offering its White Glove no-contact vehicle pickup and delivery service and offered online payment functions. The average appointment count quickly grew to just more than 40 a day, and it rose to more than 50 cars per day in the service drive, allowing the dealership to keep its doors open and the majority of its staff working.
Many dealerships were not prepared for the pandemic. You can be prepared with the right tools that allow your service department to win. Be convenient to do business with and emphasize transparency in every interaction.