Alexander Graham Bell, credited with inventing the telephone in 1876, showcased his remarkable invention with the first-ever phone call to Thomas Watson, his assistant, who was in another room. In modest words, Bell spoke into a mouth piece and said: “Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.”
Now, if Bell had texted Watson, it would have looked something like this: “I wn2 C u.” Short and sweet, efficient and visual—with no sound required.
We know new technology streamlines old processes. It improves on what came before. And perhaps nowhere has this been more true or consistent than in the field of communication. Telegraph wires soon ceded ground (and air) to telephone wires.
Today, we’re becoming more and more dependent on wireless mobile phone devices, and that dependency has introduced new expectations for the Service department in your dealership. Chief among those expectations is the belief that service communication, whether it is with your customers or staff, should be immediate, transparent and convenient.
Fixed Ops Delivers
When it comes to investing in new technology for better communication, it seems as if a dealership’s sales and marketing departments get the lion’s share of attention, even though their parts and service departments deliver bigger profits.
Those of you in the Fixed Ops side of your dealership’s business already know the numbers. The vehicle service and maintenance business generates billions of dollars in industry-wide revenue annually. On average, a dealership’s Fixed Ops business can provide more than 60% of a dealership’s net profit.
Even with such impressive ROI figures, dealers may still be leaving easy money on the table and disappointed customers in their wake by not maximizing their service opportunities. The most efficient way to achieve maximum output is through better and faster communication.
The 20th Century Service Department Exits
In the second half of the 20th century, communication between a dealership’s Service department and its customers took place primarily over two channels: by mail carrier or by telephone. Service reminders to customers were sent by snail mail as postcards or letters. Any proposed changes to an RO estimate had to be run by the customer first, of course, who was often hard to reach. As a result, work halted until approval was attained.
In addition, communication between the Parts and Service departments was either by phone or foot. Neither department could easily share customer information. Even within a dealership’s own Service department, the left hand didn’t always know what the right hand was doing. In short, expectations on both sides of the vehicle service equation—externally and internally—assumed performing service would be a slow process, with occasional surprises and missteps. Unfortunately, the bigger the surprise, the lower the CSI, and along with it any chances to upsell the customer.
Mobile Communication Enters
By the late 20th century, technology had helped to bridge those communication gaps. Service advisors could send their customers emails or leave them voice messages. Intra-dealership communication improved as well, with the arrival of DMS and CRM systems.
But delays still hampered the process. People didn’t – and still don’t – check their email with great frequency or, when they do, they fail to respond to it with urgency. Moreover, email systems had to be protected against spam. Relying on landline phones to communicate service issues to customers faced similar handicaps.
Mobile phones proved to be the next game changer. At present, 95% of Americans own a cell phone of some kind, based on a survey by Pew Research Center. If earlier estimates prove true, the US now has more than 200 million smartphone users or nearly 65% of the total population is wirelessly connected.
It’s easy to understand why. Communication via mobile phone is instantaneous and ubiquitous. It can reach customers anytime and anywhere, whether by voice or by text. The latter channel is especially productive. The average time for a text message is less than seven seconds from send to received. The real beauty is that almost every text message is opened and read, unlike emails which have a very low open rate.
The next two articles in this three-part series will present specific examples of best practices for improving communication with your service customers and within your own service department—mobile communication to fit today’s expectations. Modernizing the vehicle service experience in your dealership is closer — and much easier — than you think.
Patrick Southward is co-founder of Singlethread. Patrick’s career began in his family dealership while he was in his early childhood. Always one to pursue a challenge, Patrick climbed the ranks of his family store in Michigan but pursued even greater challenges across the United States in Southern California with the David Wilson Automotive Group. Patrick’s years of dealership experience lend Singlethread a real-world perspective that few can match. EMAIL: Psouthward@singlethread.com.
Author: Patrick Southward
Patrick Southward is co-founder of Singlethread. Patrick’s career began in his family dealership while he was in his early childhood. Always one to pursue a challenge, Patrick climbed the ranks of his family store in Michigan but pursued even greater challenges across the United States in Southern California with the David Wilson Automotive Group. Patrick’s years of dealership experience lend Singlethread a real-world perspective that few can match.