Filling Your Service Lanes with Customers

auto mechanic with customer

The service lanes should be a profit center for auto dealerships, but unfortunately between the loss of warranty repairs and the growth of independent and chain repair shops, many dealerships have been falling behind in the service business, especially with younger generations. It doesn’t have to be this way, but if it is going to change, dealers need to convince skeptical consumers to bring their cars to the dealership service lanes for repairs instead of Jiffy Lube, Meineke, or Bob’s Auto Repair.

In order to bring those customers back, dealerships need to embrace technology and customer service on their service lanes the same way they have on the sales floor. It’s not easy, but satisfied customers in the service lanes not only mean more repair dollars, but increased vehicle sales.

Consumer habits are hard to break and, like it or not, many consumers are in the habit of taking their vehicles to the independent shops. So, how do you convince those customers to come back or visit your service lanes for the first time? We wanted to help answer that question, so this month we searched out service and fixed operations experts and asked their advice on how to bring in new customers and turn the service lanes into the profit center they should be.

These experts included Brad Simmons, CEO of ClearMechanic Inc. (, Craig Vore, design and integration lead at Outsell (, Nancy Liberman vice president of marketing at IMN (, and Rich Holland, president of MPi, (

Bringing customers back from the independent repair shops

One of the most vexing problems for dealers is convincing customers to turn to them instead of the independent shops, which they are comfortable with, for their repairs and service. Our expert offered us a few solutions to this problem, but one thing they all emphasized was the importance of creating trust between the customer and your dealership.

Brad Simmons, of ClearMechanic Inc., began by explaining that, “The dealer’s best options are to 1) emphasize its strengths by providing an ultra convenient experience (shuttles, wireless internet, coffee, nice waiting area) and 2) to shore up its one addressable weakness, which is trust.”

“The trust issue can be tackled with better training of service personnel to communicate clearly and respectfully,” he advised, but “equally important, trust can be restored through new technology that lets service advisors prove the validity of repair recommendations by sharing real-time photos and video clips of the customer’s vehicle.”

Rich Holland of MPi warned us that, “to 'convince' is a very high bar, but one that every dealer should be anxiously engaged in pursuing.” In order to do that, he told us, “The first initiative is to provide the owner with a service experience that is positive. Start by creating a strategy to overcome long standing misperceptions: That a dealership is too expensive, too inconvenient, and too insensitive.”

To help build your strategy, Holland advises dealers to “Mystery shop your rivals and price your service menu to be competitive. It is the foundation to building recurring visits from your owners so think carefully about the pricing strategy of those services. Most of the time the independents offer an abbreviated service to the OEM recommendations to enable them price advantage. A good, better, best presentation can be very helpful to add clarity to the pricing of services. Keep the owner informed during the servicing of their vehicle and empower them to make investment decisions by presenting all recommendations. This is your opportunity to build trust in your service department.”

Trust is also key to Craig Vore of Outsell. “[Dealers are]considered service experts on the OEMs they sell. Many are also ‘certified’ by the OEM to service their vehicles. You have the manufacturer's trust, so let your customers know that they should trust you to take care of their investment,” he explained.

In addition to trust, Vore also believes that dealers need to take advantage of the data they already have in their system. “Dealers have valuable sales data,” he reminded us. “Data like purchase date, make, model, and model year allows you to send targeted and timely service messages before the other guys do. For example, look at the purchase date of a past sale and compare it to a standard interval for the first recommended service for that model. Shortly before they're due for the first regular service, send a personalized email or direct mail message reminding them of the recommended service that is approaching. By proactively sending a targeted message before they go elsewhere, you can get in front of the independent shops. First impressions of your service department are key so don't hesitate to entice them with a great offer as well. The more times they visit your service bay, the more connected and loyal they become, but it starts with that first service visit after the sale.”

Bringing in younger customers

If you want your dealership to continue to succeed in the future as it has in the past, you need to bring in younger customers to your service lanes to replace the older ones that may never buy another car. In many ways, this generation is no different than the ones that came before. They have the same skepticism of dealerships as their parents, but what is different is their relationship to technology and the kind of convenience they expect.

Brad Simmons pointed out a hard truth when we asked him about attracting younger customers. “Dealerships fail miserably at attracting under-35 car owners, who I think of as ‘the Facebook generation,’ he cautioned. “There are dozens of easy things dealers could do to steal these customers back from chain shops like Midas and Jiffy Lube. I’ll just mention one:  focus on convenience. Younger customers expect to do everything online and without delay. Convenient online scheduling is a must—and hopefully not a tool that takes two or three minutes to complete! A young customer should be able to book a car repair appointment in less than one minute, just like they would make a restaurant reservation online.”

Craig Vore also feels that technology is important to the upcoming generation of car owners, “Young people are always connected to their gadgets, so don't make your service bay a technological dead zone. You could offer free wi-fi in the waiting area so they can surf the web on a laptop or smartphone while they wait. On the other hand, the customer may want to leave the dealership and come back when their vehicle is ready. In that case, ask the customer if they would like a text message when the vehicle is ready to be picked up. It may seem like a simple gesture, but a young customer will appreciate that you understand their preferred contact method.”

Vore also warned, however, that, “Young car owners may be intimidated about getting repair work done, because they don't want someone to take advantage of their inexperience.” Dealers need to help allay those fears. “Make the service process a straightforward, friendly experience. Explain the details of the service required, so the young customer is clear on what he/she is paying for. Once the service RO is completed, try asking them about their experience via in-person surveys. But don't just throw the survey results into a pile. Sort them by younger and older customers so you can see customer satisfaction patterns between groups. Plus, if you find some good reviews in the "youth" pile, you may be able to use a quote as a testimonial in your marketing materials. After all, young people tend to trust other young people when getting referrals. You could also post your positive reviews on youth-friendly social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. If you don't have a social media presence, then you need to get your brand pages set up.”

Rich Holland also added to the chorus advising dealers to use technology to connect with younger customers, but “It starts when they are excited about their purchase. The first visit should be scheduled at the time of sale and expectations commence to being built,” he reminded us. “The younger customer leads a technology-based life so utilizing tools that are familiar to them will greatly underscore your interest in them. IPad, text links, and the internet is the social infrastructure they understand so use that same technology to link them to your dealership.”

Technology in the service lanes

Technology is definitely a big part of bringing in younger consumers to the service drive, but it’s not only the Millennials that appreciate the convenience of technology. Consumers both young and old have embraced technology. They do everything from order pizza to take university courses online and they want the same convenience at your dealership. The key is to find the technologies they want.

One of the best ways to use technology is to communicate with your customers. One communication channel that virtually all of your customers use is email. Nancy Liberman of IMN feels that one of the best ways to do this is with an email newsletter. “Email newsletters are excellent tools that can deliver relevant content in terms of brand, service, and lifestyle information and have high open and interactivity rates,” she told us. “To maximize your email newsletter program:

Develop seasonal promotions to make offers as timely and as relevant as possible: seasonal tune-ups, coolant flushes and air conditioning maintenance, oil and filter changes, alignments, weekend hours, and Ladies’ Day promotions. Newsletters with helpful tips and lifestyle articles have been proven to be especially useful to influence sales and services revenues during slower volume months, like after the holiday season.

Encourage customers to take advantage of promotions through coupons or other calls to action within your email newsletter to capture attention spur engagement.

Identify consumers who are engaged with service related articles or calls to action, and trigger follow-up messages and offers to drive them into your service bays.

Encourage social sharing and community-building by including links to the dealer’s Facebook page within the newsletter.

Ensure content and offers from the newsletter are consistent across social and mobile channels.”

Craig Vore also believes that email is an important tool. Instead of email newsletters, however, he focused on more targeted marketing. “Marketing automation software platforms take the headache out of executing finely-targeted, relevant marketing campaigns. Most dealers have huge databases full of sales and service records. A good marketing automation platform will tap into your data and automatically send the right service message to the right person at the right time.”

For an example, he explained that, “an email could be sent to a service customer once the system realizes they haven't serviced their specific model for an extended period of time. The content of this email could contain messaging about the benefits of regular dealer maintenance, and how the dealer would like to check up on your vehicle to make sure it reaches the longevity you desire. Again, this would all be done without the dealer lifting a finger, besides an initial brief setup phase. By automatically sending the right message at the right time to the right people, you'll drive more service appointments, and lower your marketing costs.”

Rich Holland agrees on the importance of technology. He focused, however, on how technology can make the service experience more convenient. “A customer take away that summarizes the health assessment of the vehicle, communicates recommendations with estimates, and provides useful information video or pictures, are all available today. No store should handicap itself to limiting their service professionalism to paper and phones,” he said. Some of the technologies he recommends are:

Mobile write-up:

One of the more popular technologies for speeding up and improving the customer write-up process is real-time mobile technology.

Service-only websites:

Consumers use the web today to search for information about any product or service. Draw them to your service department by creating a service-only website and market it using search engine optimization or pay-per-click. This is not to replace a traditional dealer website, but because it is service-focused, lands a service shopper where he or she wants and needs to be—and not trying to find the service tab on a sales website.

Portal house calls:

Dealership portals help advisors set up private web pages for their customers. Advisors post all of the respective customer’s service update information to his or her private page. This page is customer-accessible from anywhere, at any time. Use the portal to push service recommendations and vehicle history reports and more to the customer. In other words, customer portals solidify the consumer’s connection to the dealership.”

Customer satisfaction

At the end of the day, everything our experts have discussed in this article is geared towards the same goal: increasing customer satisfaction. If you have happy customers, they will be repeat customers, they’ll tell their friends about your dealership, and they’ll buy their next car from you.

To satisfy your customers, you have to know what they want and how you performed on their last visit, so Craig Vore suggested that, “After each service visit, you can send a personalized follow-up ‘thank you’ email with a very brief survey asking about their recent experience. This helps the dealership in two ways. First, customers appreciate the fact that you care enough to ask about their experience, even if they don't fill out your survey. Secondly, you receive valuable feedback directly from your customers, so you can reward your high performing employees, and work to fix any customer service problems. Plus, you have a chance to diffuse a negative situation directly with your customer rather than have them post a bad review on a social network or rating site. Let's face it, people are more likely to share negative experiences than positive experiences, so if you quickly ask the customer for their feedback, they may be less likely to vent any frustrations in a public forum.”

Brad Simmons also believes in the importance of reviews, as they can teach you a lot about what your dealership needs to do to improve service. “Scan through the online Yelp reviews of dealership service departments and you will see patterns of complaints. Some of these can be disregarded as uninformed. But when four or five separate customers take the time to create a Yelp account and write a 200 word review—and the complaints are nearly identical—it is time to listen!”

Better communication with service customers is one of the themes that emerged through our interviews. But Rich Holland warned us, “No customer wants to be there [in the service lane]. Even warranty work is an instance for concern about the reliability of the vehicle. Understand their anxiety and overcome it through information. Help them understand what they should expect from your dealership in both communication and thoroughness of your service technicians. Inform them that a health assessment will be conducted and shared with them.”

He also added, “One cannot over-communicate with the owner.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Cody Larson


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