One of the biggest obstacles many dealership service departments encounter is contacting and communicating with their customers. This is not only a problem with recall customers, but with all service customers in general. And failure to communicate can easily cost your dealership service revenue through declined recommendations.

 

A recent survey by J.D. Power finds that modern service customers prefer digital communications over analog. If they do not recognize your number, today’s consumers just don’t answer their phones. However, relevant text messages are viewed and responded to quickly. Unfortunately, due to strict federal guidelines, dealerships are backing off of texts in favor of simple phone calls.  Still, if the consumer has opted in, your dealership does not have to fear communicating with consumers via text. Let me explain….

 

It’s illegal to send unsolicited commercial email messages to wireless devices, including cell phones and pagers, unless you get the consumer’s permission first. It’s also illegal to send unsolicited text messages from an auto-dialer — equipment that stores and dials phone numbers using a random or sequential number generator. 

 

However, if your dealership has legitimate business with that consumer (servicing their vehicle), you are allowed to contact the customer via text for acceptance of recommendations, or to update them on their vehicle’s status. When servicing vehicles speed is key. Customers want their vehicles back quickly, so you can’t afford to lose time playing phone tag, waiting to receive authorization to proceed with the necessary repairs. By the time you eventually connect with the customer, the opportunity may be lost. The consumer declines service because they cannot afford to wait any longer for their vehicle. And that means a loss of service revenue for your dealership.

 

34% of service customers – whether customer-pay, warranty or recall customers – prefer contact via text message. When asked, they’ll opt in. But, according to the study, dealerships only use this mode of communication 9% of the time!

 

Today, we all desire the convenience technology provides. According to the J.D. Power study, customers are slowly shifting their preferred method of scheduling service toward the internet and away from scheduling via phone. In 2015, the industry average preference for these two methods was 20% and 64%, respectively. This year, preferences are 28% and 59%, respectively.

 

And when it comes to the in-store experience, consumers also like personalized treatment, where they feel as if the service advisor cares about their individual safety and their vehicle’s needs. Dealerships that inform customers about the work being performed; know the vehicle’s history and keep the customer informed of their vehicle’s status at every step; build trust in their service advisors and the dealership.  It’s still astonishing to me that many dealerships service vehicles without first checking the VIN for open recalls. There is no better way to lose trust with the consumer than to expose them to danger. 

 

Franchise dealers would be wise to take note of the J.D. Power study’s findings that independent repair facilities are outpacing dealerships in customer satisfaction. In 2017, independent repair facilities improved by 22 points, while franchised dealers only improved by 17. Service quality has also experienced a shift towards independents; independents increased 23 points while franchise dealers increased by 17.

Franchised dealerships definitely have the edge when it comes to warranty and recall work. However, routine maintenance is a significant percentage of overall repair orders which lead to additional services --- and additional revenue. As vehicle sales revenue decreases, dealerships are relying more on service revenue that cannot be lost to independents.

 

My advice is to pay attention to technologies that make it easier for consumers to do business with you and also that make it easier for your dealership to effectively communicate with your customers.  Independents aren’t improving faster because they do better work, but because they adopt technologies that make for a better customer experience and facilitate easier transactions.

 

If you monitor and adopt the same technologies, you will see customers that prefer convenience and quality dealership service over independents. Quality will always trump quantity…

 

But convenience may easily trump them both.

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