While surveys consistently show customers are satisfied with dealership service centers, new vehicle dealerships are losing as much as $266 billion annually in service revenue because they’re failing to keep customers, according to a 2019 Cox Automotive study. Especially as cars age, owners tend to turn to independent repair shops when issues arise and for routine maintenance.
Recapturing that business should be a priority for any service center, and doing that requires great customer service, finesse and loyalty-building, which these days often means communicating with customers where they live — on their mobile devices. Particularly during a pandemic, when every business is focused on minimizing contact, the importance of keeping vehicle owners well-informed and feeling good about their service, while maintaining social distance, is paramount. And dealerships that can do so can reap rewards in repeat business and higher AROs.
One thing is clear: the old way of a service advisor greeting the customer, then taking their vehicle into “the black hole” (from the owner’s perspective) and emerging hours or a day later with a printed litany of suggested repairs totaling several hundred dollars or even four figures, no longer cuts it in an era where customers are used to tracking every Amazon order, every food delivery, every medical result and every rideshare request to the minute on their smart phones.
By communicating digitally, and pulling back the curtain on specific wear or maintenance issues, dealers have a great opportunity to not just sell to the vehicle owner, but to educate them. You can tell them they have a dirty air filter or you can text them a photo of an air filter that is black and clogged. And as they become educated, customers become more comfortable as they have more agency in their vehicle’s maintenance. And comfort with the process is essential to relationship-building.
Once you’ve established a good relationship, you, the savvy dealer, can use that to apprise customers of longer-term, “yellow” concerns that don’t need to be addressed immediately. By the time the issue worsens or becomes a legitimate safety concern, a history has been established that will inspire trust in the customer. Even if they don’t fully understand what they’re seeing, they’ll be more likely to authorize the work.
You might be thinking, “paper inspections work fine, so why should I change things up by going all-digital?” The simple answer is, you’re already half-way there anyway! Your advisor takes the hand-scribbled notes from the technician, then spends valuable time transcribing them into the computer, only to spit out the same notes. He or she might include a few diagnostics like tire health, alignment and battery health, maybe with green/yellow/red icons, then hand the paperwork over without further explanation.
You’ve already involved the computer, so take the next step! Instead of printing and copying paperwork, harness the power of digital inspections. Buying decisions are mostly made based on what we see. Education is most effective when it relies on visuals. So, when you give vehicle owners multimedia that they can assess at their leisure, whether at home, in the office or even as they ply themselves with free coffee in your waiting area, they’ll be better informed and more likely to consent to your suggestions.
Not only does a digital inspection sent to a mobile device conform to how customers increasingly like to get information — especially Millennials and Gen Z — it further minimizes contact, adding to their peace of mind. Together with standardized, professionally written notes and canned job estimates from your own database, you can achieve significant time savings while all but eliminating misunderstandings.
It works both ways, too. With just one in five dealership service visits scheduled online, according to Cox, you can differentiate your service center by offering — and touting — this convenience. Highlight your online scheduling option (if you offer it, and you should) in your digital inspections, and include a link. More than a third of customers who don’t make their own appointments online said they didn’t know that was an option. And giving them the ability to monitor their repair history, get recall information and view service reminders on the dealership website and via their phone, can go a long way to inspiring repeat business, well into their ownership of the vehicle.
When you can show your customer exactly what’s going on and why, when you can make them comfortable that the brake work you’re recommending is a necessity based on observations over time, and when you’re able to show them rather than just tell them, you’ve elevated communication to much more than a sales pitch. You are educating them. By doing so, it becomes easy to recoup some of those repair dollars being lost to the indy shops.