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Quick: What’s simple to do, difficult to master, but critical to your service business?

Maybe it’s expert vehicle service and repair. Or perhaps the friendly professionalism of your experienced service advisors. It could be the efficiency of your parts team, as well.

No. That thing that’s simple to do yet difficult to master — the Holy Grail of your service department — is the art of appointment setting. That’s according to Dealer-FX Vice President of Client Optimization, Greg Dryden, as well as any service expert worth their weight in ROs. And it seems pretty simple, right? After all, getting people to make an appointment is the first and most important step toward service success. And yet finding a shop that does it right is as difficult to locate as that cup sought out by King Arthur and Indiana Jones. Simply put. scheduling impacts every area of your service department. The challenge is that many advisors and appointment setters see the appointment process as something to just get through quickly; many advisors will often brag about how they can make an appointment in 30 seconds or less. Having written service for over 12 years, I do understand the pressure to move quickly — but most would agree that making a good impression and getting accurate information is far more important than getting off the phone in 30 seconds.

It’s that first interaction that makes it so important, whether that’s online or over the phone. In fact, according to the 2019 J.D. Power Customer Service Index Survey, 28% of customers prefer to book online, but about 45% of customers do not know booking online is an option. That makes it pretty clear that while booking online is the preferred approach if you want to do it right — every time — your advisors have to master both options. Here are a few tips to help:  

Tip 1: Enable Online Scheduling. The J.D. Power study found that customers who book online book an average of $50 of factory recommended maintenance, compared to $32 when calling in. Customers who booked online also spend $25 more in the drive when presented the maintenance menu, and had higher CSI scores. Reduce the number of phone calls your advisor has to answer and get customers to book more maintenance online. They’ll spend more, and deliver higher CSI scores.

Tip 2: Introduce Online Scheduling as Part of New Car Delivery. Show the customer your website and walk them through how to make their first appointment online. Give them a reminder card, as well — with the website address listed. Then introduce them to the service advisor you set the online check-in with — just to connect the dots. But what if you’re not online? Phone appointments are just as important — even though they might not be as efficient or profitable. Keep these in mind when your team is on the phone:

Tip 3: Answer the Phone! You’d be amazed at how often a customer calls, yet can’t get through. Or gets put on hold forever. If you don’t have enough staff to answer the phones, fix that first so that every call is answered by the fourth ring.

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Thank the customer for calling your dealership, identify yourself and ask, ”How can I help?” Find out the customer’s name and make sure you know the make, model and mileage for the vehicle to be serviced.

Tip 4: Be Professional. “Service” is not an appropriate way to answer. Thank the customer for calling your dealership, identify yourself and ask, ”How can I help?” Find out the customer’s name and make sure you know the make, model and mileage for the vehicle to be serviced. Before ending the call, verify their contact information and secure text/email opt-ins for communication. Sadly, there are times when a car is in for service and the advisor can’t reach the customer… because no one bothered to verify their phone number and email address.

Tip 5: Understand the Customer’s Concerns.  Are they experiencing a specific issue? Do they have a description? Check the vehicle history, and get background information. Is this is a repeat visit? Are they coming in for maintenance only? Pretend you’re the technician trying to identify the issue and ask questions such as How long has this been happening? Is it all the time or intermittently? and When do you notice it? Take the time to thoroughly document everything the customer says. Your customers and technicians will appreciate the effort.

Tip 6: Advise the Customer on Maintenance. Send them a copy of required maintenance intervals, so they can know what to expect before check-in. A good appointment scheduling system will integrate with OEM data and populate factory required maintenance — priced out and ready to review. Some studies show a 32% increase in factory scheduled maintenance sold on the drive if presented during the appointment call.

Tip 7: Check for Recalls. You should also have the ability (with a VIN) to let your customer know ahead of time if there are any required recalls. Help the customer find their VIN by suggesting that they look at their insurance card or owner’s app. Ask the parts department to supply a daily list of on-hand parts for the top ten most active recalls

Tip 8: Help with Transportation Options. Ask if they will need alternate transportation. If so, share dealership options. Remember that the best approach is to “underpromise” and “overdeliver” the time it takes to properly diagnose and repair a car, so try to make it convenient for customers to leave their car overnight. Today’s appointment technology usually includes a transportation option — and that helps to make sure the rentals, loaners and shuttles are ready to go.

Tip 9: Set Expectations. An AutoMD.com survey done a few years ago found that most people prefer going to the dentist over going to the repair shop. You can help ease their anxiety by being transparent and telling customers what to expect. Walk them through the process, including time with the advisor, so they can plan ahead.

Tip 10: Send a Confirmation Email. Send a reminder email 24 hours prior to check-in time. Explain that this specific time is set aside for them to meet with their advisor, not an appointment with the technician. Be ready with an educated guess for the inevitable follow-up question. “When will my vehicle be seen by a technician?”

Tip 11: Monitor Calls. If your dealership monitors incoming and outgoing phone calls, set aside a few minutes to listen to random calls daily. You’ll be amazed at the coaching opportunities that arise from this simple exercise.

It all seems pretty simple. Yet finding the Holy Grail, like finding the sweet spot between the ideal customer interaction and reality, is difficult. And if you think your service department is the exception, try going on your own quest for the Service Department Holy Grail as a mystery shopper.  

Mystery Shopper Exercise

Want to see how easy it is for a customer to book an appointment at your dealership? Start by going online to see how effective your online solution is. Was it easy to access? Did you see the maintenance as recommended in your owner’s manual? Was there a picture of the advisor you would be working with? Did you get a reminder email? Could you add it to your calendar?

Next, call your dealership and pretend you have never been there before. Did the team build your confidence with their level of professionalism? Do you feel like they gathered the information needed to know and understand your concern? Did they follow up? Was it accurate?

If they did — congratulations! You have no need to journey forth. If you don’t have a good impression, it’s a safe bet your customers won’t either. Let’s treat the appointment-setting process the way it should be – not as an inconvenience to be done as quickly as possible, but as a quest for the Holy Grail!

How Can Dealer-FX Help?

At Dealer-FX, our mission is to help auto brands and dealerships transform the customer experience by providing leading-edge technology solutions that create an exceptional and efficient service experience. How can we help you?

By Ridge McCoy| Regional Performance Manager
Dealer-FX Group, Inc.

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