Published in Automotive

Before “Watson” Visits the Dealer Service Center, Changes Will Have to Occur!

What does “Watson” and elevator repair have in common with dealership “predictive” maintenance? The following 30 second spot will tell you more. But the final explanation is that the process of “predictive maintenance” will both keep people from getting stuck in between floors and drivers from being stranded in poorly lit parking lots.

Predictive Analytics Coming to the Dealership

In my previous post, I spoke in broad terms about the forthcoming ability of the dealership service center to leverage the “connected car” in order to predict vehicle breakdowns before they occur. That post also referenced an Automotive News article published 2 years ago that described what the process of “predictive alerts” will look like even before the check engine light appears on the customer’s dash. But based on my past experience as Customer Experience Manager for a very large GM dealer, I also pointed out that the “predictive” revolution will force dramatic changes in the structure, processes and behaviors of dealer service centers. And finally, I spoke of the lack of dealer input in conversations about how this predictive data will be delivered to service customers in the real world, the service lane. Those changes will dramatically disrupt the current processes used in service. The major challenge will not be with the maturity of the technology involved. Instead, it will be about changes needed in the present service structure to deliver data driven recommendations by the service team. Think about this. It will require service centers to change their mindset from reactive to proactive. In fact, that’s the term used by GM to describe their predictive product, proactive alerts.

I also pointed how ill-prepared the current group of dealer service centers are to deliver on the promise of those proactive alerts, that “promise” as described in the quote below from that same Automotive News article.

“Imagine a customer arriving at a dealership’s service drive with the diagnostic work completed, the faulty part identified, and the warranty repair approved before a service writer even greets the driver.”

Challenges in the “Breakdown” Process

Currently, the vehicle “breakdown” (reactive) process looks like this. First, the breakdown either occurs when the vehicle shuts down in a potentially dangerous location or that scary “check engine” light appears in bright orange on the dash. You are then either towed in or maybe lucky enough to make it to the service center ahead of the breakdown. Next you have to wait for the technician to diagnose the problem (sometimes with a charge)—It might even be the next day before they find out the issue. You might get a loan vehicle or not. Either way, the wait time to either get the vehicle back or get home is unpredictable. Then the actual process of today’s “repair” scenario begins (is the part “in stock” and if not, how long to receive?). Finally,  is it under warranty or does the after-market service contract you bought cover it. But the list doesn’t stop there. It  goes on and on. I can tell you for a fact that I’ve left out the number of challenges that occur in a breakdown scenario that are unpredictable.

Having been in a position to closely monitor all of the processes in dealer service centers for the last five years, I’ve listed below some of the major changes today’s service centers will have to undergo before “predictive maintenance” becomes a reality for the consumer. And most every touch point in service will be affected, from the customers arrival to drive out.

The Trust Factor

Challenge: In my opinion, this is the greatest obstacle to the success of “proactive alerts”. It’s no secret that the majority of consumers tend to be skeptical of many of the preventative “maintenance” recommendations, other than regular oil changes, delivered at the service center.  The industry has become famous, or should I say infamous, for pushing vehicle replacement items in order to “sell something today”. Truth is, today’s “preventative” recommendations are perceived by many customers to be unnecessary or exaggerated. Remember, service advisors are still paid on commission, just like the majority of showroom sales personnel. The pressure inherent with the commission model creates skepticism in the customers minds as to whether the “predictive repair” is really needed. So, what will happen when “data” predicts that vehicle failure is imminent? Are customers going to automatically “trust” the pre-breakdown recommendations just because it is pulled from connected car data? The industry’s questionable practices of the past will have to be countered by a much more “personal” and “believable” experience model.

Solution: In order to convince the customer to take action BEFORE the impending breakdown, dealer service centers will have to evolve to a much more “personal” experience. That’s a dramatic change from today’s “transactional” service model. It can only be done by a provable explanation of the data coming from the vehicle. And it will force the present “service” Business Development Center (BDC)  to transform itself from an appointment setting group into a “customer care unit”—CARE being the key word. It will also prompt the BDC staff to possess a much higher skill level of relationship centered counseling.

The Technician Comes “Out of the Back”

Challenge: Convincing a service customer to take action ahead of a highly probable breakdown is going to take a lot more effort than just the word of the service advisor. To be truly believable, it’s going to also take the additional credible explanation and recommendation by a factory-trained technician. That additional effort can be delivered either in person, or by a video. Today, the highly skilled technician actually working on the vehicle is, for the most part, completely invisible to the customer. The advisor is the primary contact throughout the maintenance and repair process. But with predictive maintenance, the process of helping the customer visualize the disruptive nature of an imminent breakdown will take a friction-less process that’s far from far from being realized in today. And beyond simply training, it’s going to require some behavioral modification of the “service team”, the “customer care” (BDC) unit, advisor, and technician.

Solution: Cultivate a team mentality between the advisor and the technician in explaining to the customer how “predictive maintenance” will not only save the customer time and money, but even more importantly, the unpredictability and even potential danger of an unexpected breakdown. But it’s going to take a lot more use of Subtleties and nuances used by the service team. And it’s going to take a lot more “team” continuity between the customer car unit, service advisor, and technician.

Parts “Just in Time” Takes on a New Meaning

Challenge: The major responsibility of the parts manager is to balance the need for quick parts access with a “just in time” strategy that keeps parts inventory cost low. But in many cases, the parts and service managers work in separate silos. Parts wants to keep inventory costs low, but service is under extreme pressure to get the completed vehicle out the door. Those 2 different priorities can create a fragmented process for the customer.

Solution: Once again, the teams of both service and parts will have to work more together than most have in the past. In many centers, that’s going to take behavioral change on the part of those two managers in order to tighten up the process of a “just in time” parts availability for a quicker turn change.

Is all this change worth it? There really won’t be any choice. It’s all part of the future world of “predictive data”, that will produce a more memorable experience for the service customer. Customer retention will become much more of a reality than it is today. And dealer principals will realize that an old saying will take on a new reality–“that sales sell the first vehicle and service sells the rest”.