Allan Brace, operations product manager from Ally Financial, discusses the impact of electric vehicles (EVs) on dealership service departments. Tips for exceptional customer experience are highlighted, along with challenges like changing technology and supply chain issues. Training needs for service teams are covered, emphasizing skills in electrical diagnosis, computer programming, and more.
Ally All Ears Podcast : EVs & the service department of the future
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Emma Hancock: Hi everyone and welcome back to the All Ears podcast. I'm Emma Hancock, host and strategist at Automotive News. This podcast is sponsored by Ally Financial and produced by the Automotive News Content Studio. In each episode, we explore topics that are important to leaders in automotive retailing. Our guests include experts in their field from Ally, plus dealers from around the country, and we cover tips and explore insights that can help dealerships successfully navigate the transformational changes taking place in our industry. Today, we catch up with Allan Brace, fixed operations product manager at Ally Financial, to discuss EVs and the impact EVs will have on dealerships. More EVs on the road mean more will need service and maintenance from dealerships. The service department of the future will change many factors of how service and parts operate, and with this change comes new challenges and new opportunities. Hi Allan. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Allan Brace: Hey Emma. I appreciate the introduction and thank you for the opportunity to join your podcast.
Emma Hancock: It’s great to have you here. So, Allan, are there any tips or special considerations for approaching and managing EV customers compared to non-EV customers? Allan Brace: Absolutely. So, whether a customer is driving an EV or a non-EV, there are some basic things, some general things that service departments can do when approaching and managing customers. I'll share with you a study I read recently that showed that vehicle owners or customers cared more about how a service department treated them than what that service department did to actually repair their vehicle. Customers cared more about their experience. It really comes down to two things: customer experience and taking care of that customer. I'll share some tips to help dealerships deliver exceptional customer experience and really address those customer needs. The first is really building rapport with your customer, getting to know them. What are some things that you can do to build rapport? Well, it's just finding common ground. Some things like maybe you like the same sports team or just getting to know your customer a little bit more. Build trust with them. Let them feel that they're valued. And let them know you appreciate their business. Another thing about taking care of the customer is communication. Communication is key to maintaining that trust. Whether you're calling a customer, texting or emailing, do what you say you're going to do. If you tell a customer, I'll contact you by 2:00 and you don't call them by 2pm, what happens by 230, 3:00? They're likely reaching out to you. What happens? Potentially you end up losing some trust with that customer. There are some small gestures that dealerships can do that really go a long way with that customer experience. And it's simple things like just acknowledging a customer. If they're on the service drive and you're busy, you're tied up. Just let them know that you see them, that you'll be right with them. Greet them by name. Even some small things like common courtesy, holding the door for a customer. All those have a positive impact on that customer experience. For EV customers specifically, they may not be as well informed about the new technology that surrounds their vehicle. And I can tell you, I see it all the time. People coming into service departments and they're just not familiar with the technology that's in their car. Dealers, they need to educate not only themselves about the various types of systems, but also some of the things that they can educate the customer on. And it could be things like what if it's charging time of an EV? Extreme heat, extreme cold temperatures affected. What's the longevity of the battery life? How long can a customer drive on a single charge? Are there any charging station locations near the dealership? And does the dealer offer any kind of charging stations for public use? So those are just some tips that dealerships could use.
Emma Hancock: Those are great tips because there really is a learning curve with EVs and it's almost a new opportunity to have an even better relationship with your customer. I want to ask you about challenges. What are some of the challenges dealers are facing with EVs in the service bay?
Allan Brace: Some of the challenges dealers are facing is really just the ever changing technology. Manufacturers are developing or continuing to develop new technology and features for vehicles every day. Dealership employees really need to be up to date with these changes so they can in turn educate their customers about the different systems that that vehicle has. A challenge that automotive industry dealers have faced for years now, and it's EV and non-EV alike are supply chain issues. Everyone's felt the effects from supply chain issues. The automotive industry has had challenges not only with chip shortages, but parts delays during COVID. And dealers are still feeling those effects today. Service and parts departments, they're doing their best to try and navigate through these unprecedented times, but they continue to face challenges with customers sometimes having to wait months for parts to repair their vehicle. And ultimately that can have a negative effect not only on the customer satisfaction, but also with the dealership experience and product satisfaction. Another challenge and this might be more for EV customer specifically, is not being able to find a charging station close by. Currently with our infrastructure, we don't have charging stations on every corner like we do gas stations. During a business trip I arrived at a hotel in a major city. It's about 6:00 at night and the hotel had one charging station. That charging station was occupied by an EV from the time I arrived that night until the following morning. If I'm in need of a charge at night, I'm going to be looking around for another location to try and charge my vehicle.
Emma Hancock: I have a similar experience Allan, and I think it really is probably one of the biggest challenges for the dealer and the customer experience. And this kind of dovetails nicely into training. What kind of training are dealers implementing to ensure their service and parts teams are able to repair and manage EVs?
Allan Brace: Each manufacturer is going to have a minimum standard of training for dealership employees, and it's going to include things like diagnosing the vehicle. Not only that but repairing and then any safety training around that. There's going to be specific protocols for technicians to follow, especially when they're working on things like the high voltage system inverter, the regenerative braking motors, service advisors, technicians, parts personnel. They're going to need training on what are just normal operations of the various functions of an EV system. And then what are the maintenance requirements of an EV so that they can in turn educate their customers? Some of the other training that I was thinking about, research not only dealerships are going to want to do, but also customers should be aware of them and have an understanding of the various charging systems available and how long does it take to even charge an EV. There are three different levels out there. There's a level one that provides charging through a common residential 120 volt outlet, but it may take 40 to 50 hours to charge a battery up to 80 percent capacity. And there's level two equipment. That offers higher rate charging through a 240 volt outlet, which is similar to your dryer outlet, and that might take between 4 to 10 hours to charge up to 80 percent. Now, typically you'll see those level two charging stations at maybe grocery stores, theaters, or coffee shops. And then there's DC or direct current fast charging. And so, this equipment's a rapid charge. It may only take 20 minutes up to an hour to charge to that 80 percent capacity. And generally, you'll see those located around those heavy traffic areas. It's having three different levels of charging stations. Each of these may require some type of inspection, repairs and those could be offered by dealership personnel with the proper training.
Emma Hancock: This brings up a good point. Now, you've really almost touched on skill sets, which I wanted to ask you about next. EVs have very specific requirements that come with maintaining and repairing them. What new skill sets are required from the service and parts teams?
Allan Brace: Any of the service technicians that have been in the industry for a number of years now, they're likely familiar with the internal workings, the maintenance, diagnosis and repairs of non-EVs, but now with the increase of EV vehicles in the marketplace, new technicians coming into the industry or technicians that have been around for a while are either being trained or retrained on electrical diagnosis, computer repair procedures. Like you were just saying, there's going to be specific skill sets. Technicians are going to require a better understanding not only of electrical wiring and diagnosis, but also computer programing, software updates, things that are going to fix a customer's concern on those product issues. If you weren't aware, technicians spend more time diagnosing problems such as wiring or charging issues. And so, whether the vehicle’s an EV or internal combustion, electrical issues generally take them longer not only to identify but diagnose and repair. EVs won't require the traditional maintenance of non-EVs like an oil change. But there are some crossover maintenance requirements that skilled technicians will continue to perform. Things like coolant check, coolant replacement. You're going to inspect suspension components, tire rotation, balance and even tire replacement realignments, brake inspection and brake replacement are some of those common skills that they can use.
Emma Hancock: It's really sounding like this service department for EVs requires different skill sets than are currently being practiced in dealerships. It's almost a whole new service department, and I know that dealers are seeing firsthand the changing product mix, as are we. How quickly should they be building out their service and parts departments to accommodate EVs?
Allan Brace: Franchise dealers likely have already begun to build out and equip their service and parts departments to handle the mix of EVs and non-EVs, including adding charging stations and diagnostic equipment that's going to be required for EVs. Independent service centers may not have begun the process of building out and training their service centers, likely because they don't want to invest the money today and the necessary tools and training until it becomes more cost effective. So also, there's diagnostic equipment that are manufacturer specific, and so those independent or non-franchised dealers may not have access to that type of equipment or diagnostic equipment. Customers are going to be required to return to that franchise service center for repairs and servicing of their EVs.
Emma Hancock: Well Allan, you've given us some great information. Thank you so much. That is it for this episode of the All Ears podcast. I hope everyone found this helpful. I certainly did. On behalf of Ally Financial and the Automotive News Content Studio, thanks for listening and bye for now.
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