Even before social distancing became a thing, consumers were trending toward transacting with the service lane on their mobile phones.
According to a joint 2019 survey by Dealerware and J.D. Power, 56 percent of service customers preferred being kept up to date about service visits on their phone, with 70 percent of that group favoring text communications. That was before COVID-19.
"After COVID, anything within 6 feet — even exchanging a device or a driver's license — is something we wanted to solve our way out of," says Russell Lemmer, president of fleet management software provider Dealerware.
In April, the company began work on Contactless Contracting, which allows loaner contracts to be securely reviewed and signed on multiple devices simultaneously.
The feature launched on June 24 as a no-cost addition because of the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic. Dealerware charges clients by individual vehicles within a loaner fleet, Lemmer says. Most dealerships pay an average of about $30 per car per month with Contactless Contracting included.
By July 14, more than 10,000 contactless contracts had been generated. While some dealers adopted it for the immediate crisis, others have found it helpful with other issues.
"Contactless Contracting is helpful not only because of COVID but also because of our location," says Jon Yetter, service manager at Audi Mechanicsburg in Pennsylvania. With no other Audi dealers within 50 miles, "some days we're as much as 75 percent valet."
Loaners to valet customers previously were handled with paper contracts sent with the driver to the customer. But the pandemic made customers reluctant to get close to the drivers or touch the paperwork. That led to staff "doing something they shouldn't — avoiding signatures," Yetter says.
Loaners would be delivered and contracts would come back not signed or signed "COVID," Yetter says. The addition of Contactless Contracting was a relief for everyone, he says.
"Now customers can review and sign in their home," he says.
The setup is used on the now socially distanced service lane, too. Yetter has noticed that while customers might not pay full attention to a verbal presentation of their loaner agreement, they'll carefully review it on a phone.
"Convenience and safety are very important," Yetter says, "But so is liability protection."