There is no denying recalls create challenges for dealerships. They can throw off your service department scheduling and create friction with customers. The reality, though, is that recalls will continue to happen.
Around 30 million vehicles in the U.S. were affected by recalls last year, according to the NHTSA. The number has grown so high that some fixed operations managers now consider recalls a fourth segment of business — in addition to customer paid work, warranty work and used car reconditioning.
In the face of this frequent occurrence, dealerships need to find a way to integrate recalls into their service department plan — not just for revenue, but to turn them into a marketing and customer service opportunity. With proper training, technology and perspective, dealerships can greet recalls with a natural smile, rather than a grimace.
The Source of Recall Frustrations
Let’s take out the tiny violin for a moment. Recalls aren’t fun for dealers or their customers. Customers rely on dealerships to be the solution, and sometimes the sounding board for their complaints, even when it’s not the dealership’s fault. They want the dealership to just fix the problem. In the case of recalls, car owners also often feel an added sense of urgency because of vehicle safety concerns.
Customers don’t realize the dealership may not have all the information available about the recall, parts or timing. The dealership may not have been contacted by the OEMs with details about replacement procedures and required parts, while consumers are hearing about the recall in the media and wanting their cars fixed pronto.
Turning the Negative into a Positive
Dealers have to find a way to diffuse this potentially tense customer interaction. Anytime a customer comes into the dealership, there’s an opportunity to make a positive impact — or a negative one, of course. Our data shows the average dealership has 84 recall appointments each month, providing plenty of opportunities to make a positive impression. A customer who hasn’t been in for service before can learn how your dealership values customers. They can get a better understanding of your service philosophy, thoroughness and expertise. It’s an opportunity to wow the customer, who thinks they’re just coming in for a one-time fix.
Think of the recall as your opportunity to show how well your dealership and its staff work with the customers. The one-time interaction, which may start off as an emotionally fraught one for the customer, can build trust in the dealership and set the stage for a long-term relationship.
How? Meet and exceed their expectations. Get them an appointment in a timely manner and don’t keep them waiting for hours when they bring in their car. Keep them updated with information about the current repair, whether they’re in the waiting room as repairs are being done or waiting on parts so they can schedule an appointment.
Help the customer understand their car better after the work is done with a thorough inspection by your mechanics. Show and tell, using photos or videos and explanations in plain language. Customers don’t want a hard upsell but explaining more about the car’s total health can result in additional work either at the time of the recall repair or on a return appointment.
Use Technology for a Proactive Experience
Technology also should be used to improve the situation and response. Customers may hear about a recall in the news or through a manufacturer letter, but people are busy and may put it on their to-do list.
Proactive marketing targeted by approved OEM lists of vehicles impacted in a dealer’s area of responsibility can help dealers connect with affected car owners. Ideally, messages should include a link to the dealership’s online scheduling tool — a method convenient for both the customer and dealership. It eliminates dealership staff time and lowers frustration levels for the consumer, who can access the tool even when the dealership is closed.
Some system providers are able to integrate their online scheduling tools with OEM parts supply systems, confirming that parts will be available when the customer is trying to schedule the appointment. This type of system can automatically order a part when the repair is scheduled. More comprehensive solutions like these are needed in the industry to help dealerships better serve customers during a recall.
Get that Customer Smiling
Finally, try to make the visit as enjoyable as possible. Let’s face it, whether for a recall or vehicle maintenance, most customers would prefer to be somewhere other than a service department waiting room. You and your staff can give them a better experience than they expect. Key elements of a great customer experience include:
• Greet the customer by name
• Present OEM data / insights about maintenance recommendations and recalls
• Educate about total vehicle health with inspection reports, including pictures and/or video
• Update the customer with texts (invite them to opt-in)
• Review the total value when delivering the repaired vehicle, including car wash, factory-trained techs, genuine parts, etc.
• Invite the customer to make a return appointment
Recalls may begin with frustration and angst, but dealers can take many steps to end with a better connection to their customers. The benefits extend beyond return service appointments: research shows that almost three-quarters of customers who received service from a dealership in the past 12 months are likely to purchase their next vehicle from that dealership, according to Cox Automotive 2018 Service Industry Study.
With a proactive and considered approach, a recall event can promote your dealership as a viable option for future service and sales. It can be a chance to surprise customers with a service experience that makes them want to come back.