A quarter of a century ago, before CSI and ROI were part of our mainstream vocabulary, before tablets or laptops or texting or even cell phones existed, dealers frequently had to wear multiple hats to keep up with business. From answering the constantly ringing phones to answering customers’ constant questions, from overseeing inventory to tracking down missing parts to staying ahead of the fluctuating workflow, managers and employees alike often wished they had some type of magical tools that could instantly and automatically handle all the tasks that they couldn’t.
Having spent 25-plus years in the automotive industry, I vividly remember those days of trying to juggle a seemingly insurmountable number of jobs and responsibilities. Fortunately, today’s technology has made just about anything possible, allowing us to perform multiple functions in seconds that used to take hours or days or weeks. Everything is faster, easier, more accurate and more immediate. We have the magical tools now—and with virtually unlimited power and capability at our fingertips, delivering a perfect service experience to every customer every time should be automatic, right?
Instead, studies show that industry retention rates are now below 50%—and more customers than ever are choosing online purchases, when available, over brick-and-mortar stores. Smartphones and the accessibility of instant information allow consumers to stay in continuous search mode, always looking for the best option or perfect deal. And all too often, customers who come in for service have a sub-par experience and vow to choose the competition the next time.
That’s because even though technology has advanced past what anyone could have imagined, simply having the right tools can’t automatically ensure a superior service experience. Ironically, going back to some basic principles—and using technology to help put those principles into practice—is the key to consistently elevating the customer’s service experience and increasing both your CSI and your ROI.
- Putting tactical processes in place—and following them. Even after decades of working in and with dealerships all over the country, I am still amazed at how many stores don’t have a proper process… for anything. I have walked into a dealership or pulled into the drive many times and never received a courtesy “Hello.” Or I hear the advisors telling customers what services are necessary on their vehicle without explaining what the services are, or why they’re needed. Technology can give you unlimited information that you can use right in the lane, but it doesn’t replace old-fashioned human interaction or the necessity of implementing strategic processes.
- Communicating purposefully and listening intentionally. Talking at customers—and not listening to them or giving them a chance to respond—is often our default mode: we rush and assume we already know the problem, or know what customers are going to say, or what they’re thinking. Not only is that patronizing and frustrating for the other party, it also makes us forget to ask for important specifics that can affect the outcome: instead, we end up answering our own questions and possibly missing key details. There are specific ways to communicate that make customers feel valued, that eliminate or at least reduce frustration, and that will help boost CSI—and today’s technology has provided multiple channels to accommodate those messages.
- Using the right resources. Even though technology alone can’t ensure excellence in the service lane—any more than superior tools can ensure outstanding craftsmanship or design—not taking advantage of available solutions can lead to underperformance and a poor service experience as well. Products that organize and optimize your workflow, simplify processes for your customers and enhance the service journey at every point are a godsend, and when utilized as part of an overall plan for your dealership, can take the service experience to the next level.
When I was in sales, I often asked my customers what made them decide to buy a vehicle: while it’s an exciting experience, for the most part, it can also be intimidating, even frightening. The buyer wonders, “Am I getting a good deal, am I getting enough for my trade, am I actually getting what I want…?” They’re about to make possibly one of the largest purchases of their life, next to a house, and that comes with some valid concerns and apprehension.
Taking the vehicle in to the dealership for service often brings some of the same fears. Customers may not understand what the issue is, or they might worry that we’re going to try to sell them a service they don’t need, or wonder if they’re really getting a good deal. Knowing up front that we may encounter some of the same trust issues that we see on the sales side is usually helpful—and here again, having the right process already in place to address those concerns is crucial. Particularly with new customers, we only have a few moments to make a positive impression: failure to do so can result in losing that customer as well as untold future business from possible referrals.
The automotive industry today possesses technology that wasn’t even imagined a few decades ago. Taking the time to discover the best solutions and processes isn’t magic—it’s just good sense. And combining the right tools with strategic principles for every aspect of the service lane can do more than simply help you manage responsibilities: it allows you to create the best possible service experience for every visitor and turn each one into a lifelong customer.
Join me for my session “The Best Service Experience: Back to Basics in a Digital World” at Digital Dealer 23, where you’ll learn how to boost service retention by delivering the best possible customer experience. I’ll walk you through the entire service journey, from scheduling to check-in all the way through delivery. I’ll teach you how to harness technology—without taking shortcuts.
Stephen Coambes is AutoLoop’s Director of Professional Services. Stephen began his 25-year year career in the automotive industry as a porter. Working his way through the ranks, Stephen spent a decade in Variable Ops before eventually migrating to the other side of the business. In Fixed Ops, Stephen discovered his knack for customer service—and achieving high CSI scores.