Why Your Service Department Needs a Communications Plan

Are poor phone skills sabotaging your service retention?

A communications plan based on accountability and solid training is sure to be effective.

Let’s face it: we live in a smartphone nation. Almost two-thirds of American adults have one, according to the Pew Research Center, and we use them obsessively to the point that most people are connected virtually 24 hours a day.

We talk, we text, we surf the internet, and we arrange our lives through a variety of sites and apps—all of which are available instantly, assuming a good Wi-Fi or data connection.

Where once the internet was the most disruptive technology ever, we now know that smartphones may well be far more impactful on how we think about—and manage—customer interaction.

The new normal

The freedom gained from putting a small device in people’s hands—untethering them from the limitations of the physical world—has forced significant changes in every aspect of life.

That change is still happening: Pew found that since 2011, smartphone ownership jumped 29%.

And what about millennials, who are just now crowding dealerships, looking to buy and service cars? Fully 85% of this emerging generation live and breathe with a mobile phone in hand.

For dealership service and sales departments, these statistics should be a loud and shrill alarm clock, ringing out as a warning to pick up the phone—and to have a plan for doing so correctly.

Smartphone usage is transforming the way people go about getting their cars serviced because people are using their phones to call.

It’s that simple. That powerful. And that critical.

Shifting sands for sales and service

Smartphones give consumers the power of the internet with the convenience of person-to-person communication.

In fact, according to a recent survey by CallSource, 49% of dealerships reported sales call increases of 15% or more, with 39% reporting an increase of between 5% and 10%.

Of those dealers surveyed, however, 60% were not confident that they manage incoming calls effectively, and nearly 30% believed that they lost one in five calls to a competitor.

That’s a significant change in a major business pattern—and a surprisingly low level of confidence in handling the change competently. It’s a huge factor in terms of customer retention and satisfaction—one especially critical on the service side of the business.

According to NADA, the average dealership generates almost $6 million in parts and service sales per year, at a gross profit margin of 46%. It’s not only a healthy part of any dealership revenue stream, it’s a source of business that can be more consistent than the hot and cold cycles of sales.

Service keeps customers coming into the dealership over the lifetime of their vehicle. The trouble is, poor phone skills sabotage it.

CallSource analysis found that phone call handling in the service department was universally poor; nearly 7% of service calls were missed or badly handled.

Dealership case study

A recent case study conducted with Jenkins & Wynne Ford, Honda & Lincoln in Tennessee, underlines the importance of dealerships focusing on all calls coming into the service department.

According to Casey Jenkins, a managing partner in the dealership, the ratio of phone calls to emails jumped to four to one.

“We discovered pretty quickly that service customers were taking advantage of the efficiency of click-to-call,” said Jenkins. “That increase made us rethink how we communicate with customers.

“Are we creating the most relevant conversations possible? Are we engaging the way customers want to engage? How can we efficiently have conversations that help us understand the customer’s service needs?”

After applying a program of hands-on training and call management, the dealership reaped an almost immediate 21% increase (from 27% to 48%) in service department call-to-appointment conversions in the first month alone.

Since then, call-to-appointment ratios remained steady at more than 50% (compared to an industry average of 32%).

The dealership applied the following process mandates to its service calls to help improve call-to-appointment ratios:

  1. Answer every inbound call to prevent frustrated hang-ups. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many calls are not answered.
  2. Conduct high-intensity call-handling training, with in-person coaching and online training tools.
  3. Offer specialty training for service advisors and operators.
  4. Establish accountability on inbound calls.
  5. Follow up, and be sure to confirm appointments.

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In a way, the program that Jenkins & Wynne initiated to deal with the change in how customers reached out to the dealership is grounded in common-sense business practices.

A communications plan that’s based on accountability and solid training—and one centered on the volume of opportunity created by the technology of the times—is sure to be effective.

Ultimately, whether it’s a rotary phone, a smartphone, or whatever call technology comes next, the point is to make communication and service easier and more convenient.

David Greene is executive vice president of sales for CallSource Automotive, a company focused on helping dealers make each and every inbound call matter. Greene’s early experience with Autoweb.com, one of the first online car-buying companies, and eBay Motors, gave him extensive experience into positive disruption in the automotive sales process.

David Greene


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