It’s not news that new car sales dipped because of the original chip shortage. And those ongoing shortages are probably having a really positive effect on your service department. Customers who would have traded-in by now are holding on to their vehicles longer, which means they need more service on that higher mileage ride. In fact, Automotive News reports that between 2019 and 2021, calls to service departments increased 16.3%. That’s great for your service department, right?
It definitely can be a win if the service bays stay full and the customers are happy. So keeping an eye on customer satisfaction right now is key. It might be tough to think about solutions and new options for service when there’s not an empty appointment slot in sight, but happy customers now mean loyal customers later.
Fewer New Car Sales Means Fewer New Service Customers
Ward’s Auto recently reported that a DealerRater survey for Fixed Ops Journal found 75% of new car buyers want the dealership to service their new baby. But used car buyers are a different animal, especially when they buy their used BMW from, say, an Audi dealership. Off-brand car buyers feel no need to bring their out-of-warranty Chevy to your Volkswagen service bay.
The chip shortages make it unlikely we’ll be swimming in new cars any time soon. That means you’ll be selling more used cars, which means your newest customers are not necessarily loyal to your service department and are probably pretty fickle. They’ll drop your service department if they don’t love it. The good news is that there’s plenty you can do now to maintain high service scores and keep those repeat customers rolling into your bays.
Tips to Boost High Service Scores and Traffic
So how do you shore up your practices now to keep service scores and traffic high? Some are going back to the basics of building a service department and making sure they have the people and resources to keep customers happy. Others are thinking outside the box. Now is the time to put your processes under a microscope and invest in keeping traffic and service scores sky high. Here are some ideas:
Offer service deals based on the CARFAX Vehicle History Report. Your customer may snap up that used vehicle even if it has a minor problem or two, like a rust spot or a broken bed cover. If you bring along your CARFAX Vehicle History Report (VHR) you can not only help make the sale, you can also encourage a trip through your service department. Go through the VHR and offer discounted rates for service on those imperfections. That keeps everyone happy and if your service department is doing its job, should keep customers coming back.
Consider a service valet. Make it easier for customers to pick up and drop off. It can yield big dividends. Offering a complimentary valet service can provide a level of service that sets you apart from all those garages your off-brand used car buyer might be considering. Your customers won’t want to give it up. A valet service (free Uber ride) can help smooth out any scheduling kinks in a busy service department. When delays happen (you and I both know they always will) your valets minimize the impact on customers. As long as your customer thinks everything is running smoothly, well, it is.
Offer complimentary Prepaid Maintenance (PPM) Policies. Invest in a few free oil changes or tire rotations. A little incentive can keep customers returning for service for years into the future. That investment pays off every time your customer drives by the other guy’s garage but stays loyal to you. When they need additional services, you get the business.
Improve phone handling. Most service customers want to speak with a human on the phone when scheduling service. But 38% of customers who call dealership service departments today are not being connected to the right service representatives. Dropping the ball like that may be the quickest route to low satisfaction survey scores. Now is a good time to invest in your staff, analyze your call-handling processes, and make sure that everyone who picks up a phone knows how to direct every call. It’s also a good time to look at your incoming calls technology. When the right person isn’t around, you should give your customer the option to leave a message, forward a call, or redirect to someone else. There are plenty of multi-ring systems, phone bridges, and other tech solutions that can help ensure that customers aren’t left hanging and frustrated.
Follow up with customers. Your service advisors probably already have an outbound calling effort. But the number of monthly outgoing service department calls dropped by 11.3% between 2019 and 2020, and remain lower today. Help salvage declined service requests, make sure appointments are kept or rebooked, proactively schedule new customers, and keep customers informed by checking in with them. Dealer service departments that have CARFAX for Life can automatically keep customers informed about upcoming service, and even recalls. Providing customers with routine updates with your dealer name can help them keep their cars in great condition, and keep your service department top of mind.
Get competitive. The goal is to offer fast, efficient service — just like customers believe they receive at the many oil change, tire, and brake shops they see around town. Without the loyalty that comes with a new car and warranty, you need to up your game against all those other options. Identify issues and ways to improve the customer experience. Some dealers are streamlining services that might otherwise go to a competitor, like oil change services. Instead of letting that service slip away, you could market a dedicated oil change lane — you keep the customers you already serve while bringing in new ones as well.
Now is the Time to Invest in Loyalty. Loyal dealer service customers are 2.5x more likely to purchase their next vehicle from the same dealer. If you’re providing great service, those customers can become the bedrock of your business. But remember, customers are doing more online research before they make spending decisions. That means you’ll need to be constantly working on your online image. How? Tools like CARFAX For Life are designed to get happy customers to share their experiences online, boosting positive ratings and reviews.
Many of us have been permanently changed by the last couple of years. That includes your customers. Maybe you’ve adjusted to meet higher demand for used vehicles and for more service department volume. But now is not the time to sit back and assume that service business will stay red hot forever. Instead, take steps to make sure that at the end of the day every one of your service customers is happy — and keeps coming back.
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