It's always good to go out on a high note, and that's what Tim Turvey, General Motors' global vice president of customer care and aftersales, did on Sept. 1, when he retired after a 37-year career. GM's parts and accessories division is one of the company's most profitable business units, and all four of GM's brands are ranked at or near the top of J.D. Power's latest customer service survey.
Turvey, 57, spoke in the days leading up to his retirement about what the post-pandemic future might look like for dealership service departments, trends to keep an eye on and a few of the things he got right — and wrong — during his tenure working to help GM dealers boost fixed ops profits and customer retention. Here are edited excerpts.
On the pace of change and evolving customer needs
The industry is changing at a faster rate than at any time in history. There's no question about that. Demands and expectations from customers are at an all-time high. But some things that haven't changed are what customers are really looking for — convenience, the use of their time and the value they get.
On fixed ops directors at high-volume mainstream brands offering pickup and delivery service
It's certainly more costly to have pickup and delivery of vehicles. Someone has to pay for it, whether it's the dealer or the customer. The ability to scale the solution does create some problems, but it is viable. It can be done, and we've shown it can be done in other markets. It's probably going to require new business models and potential pricing adjustments to accommodate pickup and delivery. Likely what we see happening right now is that it is more prevalent with luxury brands like Cadillac. As we get more and more capability, it would be scalable to a brand like Chevrolet. Some Chevrolet dealers are doing it today, and it depends on the consumer's willingness to pay the price or the dealer taking a margin reduction to do it on their own. Pickup and delivery will continue even after the pandemic moderates a bit.
On how certain technologies have transformed fixed ops
One of the things General Motors did a couple years back was offer the ability — through the infotainment system — to schedule a service appointment in the vehicle. That's been a big boon. You can actually do a live service appointment scheduling on the center stack of your vehicle. And that's a major win that will continue to get traction. Job pricing is another area that has changed. Years ago, the ability to quote parts and labor for a specific vehicle took time. The service adviser had to call the parts department to find out the cost of the part. He had to get the labor time. Now, technology allows the service adviser, on a VIN-specific basis, to go in and do a very rapid quote of parts and labor, an all-inclusive job. That's another huge win for service advisers to have that at their fingertips. It builds credibility with the customer.
On the potential for electric vehicles to ease the technician shortage
In the short term, the answer is no, EVs will not help reduce the shortage of technicians. We are not attracting enough younger people at the rate we need to who see that this is a viable career. There's no question electrification is going to reduce the overall need for maintenance and repair, but when you take a look at the number of electric vehicles on the road today and the numbers of units in operation, it is not going to significantly impact the demand for technicians, in my view, for at least the next decade.
On the one thing he'd do differently
If I could rewind back seven years, when I took this position, I would more aggressively go after improvements in dealer profitability in fixed operations. It has such massive potential. We've started in earnest the last couple of years, but I would have liked to have started much earlier than I did.
Some advice to fixed ops directors as they battle independent shops
Focus on the customer at every step. Look at service from the customer's view. Really understand how customers are treated at every step. The dealership sells the vehicle, and so it's their customer to lose. Every effort should be made to retain those owners. There are so many opportunities to improve. There should be no reason why that customer should ever defect from that dealership. There are a lot of tools out there for fixed ops directors to use.
On future plans
I worked at a dealership before coming to General Motors 37 years ago. I am definitely going to stay engaged. I'm exploring what I am going to do right now. You will continue to see me in the industry. No question about it.