Published in Automotive

The Dealership (Service) Call Center…Not Ready For Prime Time!

The sale of a product marks the beginning of a business relationship – a relationship that only becomes truly profitable through the service relationship that follows. Ideally, that relationship would last throughout the product and customer lifecycle. Dealer vehicle services, therefore, are not just something that you are obliged to offer customers after you sell them something: It is an essential part of a profitable, long term business model. Predictive maintenance (PdM) – as opposed to routine ex-post or preventive maintenance – offers companies the chance to fundamentally transform their service and business model. For that to happen, they must start seeing PdM not just as a means of collecting data, but as a vital tool for creating additional value in an active partnership with their customers. PdM combines the topics of service and digitization and opens significant new value pockets. But to turn this immense theoretical opportunity into solid reality, dealer service is obliged also to meet certain conditions. Above all, they need to understand that PdM, as a form of “Services 4.0,” is far more than just a question of routine oil change reminders.

Dealer service centers…at the center of the customer loyalty loop

There’s little question that, for the near future, all eyes will be on dealership service departments as the primary source of dealership profit. It’s about time! Service centers have been the primary profit producers for decades. But consistent service customer retention is the unit responsible for bringing those sold customers back for the next showroom sale. Thus the old saying that “sales sells the initial vehicle once, service sells the “all the rest” has never been truer.

The Evolution of the dealer Business Development Center (BDC)

In its day, the launch of the dealership Business Development Center marked a monumental change in the traditional retail auto sales model. Up until then, use of the telephone was left to the discretion of sales agents, who were trained and managed primarily to focus on face to face sales and the “now” transaction. The BDC marked the first formalized effort to improve on the phone skills that sales agents lacked. To be blunt…most dealer sales people are still ineffective on the phone.

When the BDC strategy spread coverage to the service center, that same focus on re-actively answering the phone, in the past was the norm. For far too many service center BDCs, that mindset is still in place today. Retail sales and service leadership speak positively about the importance of retention, but most of their efforts are still stuck in making the appointment for the “now” transaction. While autonomous vehicles and mobility seem to be the hot topic today, those realities are still years, if not decades away from the immediate needs of the day to day retail auto world.

“We are in the midst of seeing more change in the next five years than we’ve seen in the last 50 years.” Mary Barra, General Motors CEO

The connected car and predictive maintenance are the “next big thing”

Autonomous vehicles and mobility are still years off from attaining meaningful scale. Far less coverage is being dedicated to the “connected car”…with the promise of replacing mileage-based maintenance recommendations with predictive certainties. Vehicle telematics have the ability today to alert the owner of a potential breakdown ahead of the occurrence. I spoke to this opportunity in this Cafe post earlier this year. And I followed it up by this post signaling that today’s service center was not near ready to deliver those predictive alert.

So the technology part of predictive data delivery is available, but the delivery of those services at the dealer end is far from being in place. Dealer service BDCs are not equipped, both in the BDC agents’ capabilities and front line culture to deliver the interface to the end user customer.

Service BDC agents, like service center front lines, are still stuck in a reactive, “after” the breakdown culture

It’s hard to change the culture of any department in a dealership! But consider this: if service BDC agents are challenged simply to convince customers to make appointments for preventative, routine maintenance…won’t they be even more challenged to persuade customers to schedule service before a breakdown occurs? There’s a great deal of difference between scheduling inbound appointment calls and that of an outbound call attempting to convince a vehicle owner to schedule a service that will specifically prevent an impending malfunction before a breakdown occurs. Customers are inherently suspicious of dealer service preventative mileage recommendations…convincing them of predictive maintenance will be a new challenge altogether.

A new script and higher skill set for BDC agents

While service customers are familiar with mileage-based oil changes, they don’t always act in a timely manner to take action and bring the vehicle to the service center. Presently, BDC agents use repetitive calling to nudge customers to act. In other words, they focus more on reminder calls and less on persuasion skills to motivate the customer to act now.  But relying on a repetitive call model won’t be effective for the future of “predictive maintenance.” Service centers will have to either train or recruit to a higher agent skill level in the future. Repetitive “reminder calls” won’t convince customers to act on a maintenance service they don’t understand. Agents must be believably persuasive to a level not practiced today.

And scripting will undergo dramatic changes as well. Repetitive “friendly reminder” calls will not be effective for owners who cannot visualize the benefit of a service that will specifically eliminate breakdowns before they occur.  That call messaging will center on the agent’s ability to connecting with the “feelings” of the vehicle owner.

Service BDCs evolve from “cost/expense” to the “revenue/profit”

Most dealers are still using an antiquated P & L strategy, where sales receive all of the credit (and marketing budget) for the first sale, but for repeat sales as well.  However, a high percentage of those repeat sales are the result of the positive customer experience delivered by the service center.  Past customers usually don’t return for the next vehicle purchase if their service experience was unacceptable.

As customer experience manager for a large GM dealer, I was included in the weekly marketing meeting where tens of thousands of dollars were spent every month for attaining new customers.  However, in all of those meetings, I never heard one mention of allocating any of those ad dollars to the service department for “retaining” repeat vehicle purchases.

Hopefully, the successes achieved with predictive maintenance will clarify even more that sales sells the first vehicle…and the positive experience delivered by the service center sells the rest.