The First Service Appointment: What Matters Most

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By Stephen Coambes

As a dealer, you can no longer rely on new and pre-owned vehicle sales to supply a steady stream of customers to the service department. There’s simply too much competition out there, from other dealerships to independent repair shops.

The ability to acquire and retain service customers has never been more important for car dealers, so the first service appointment is critical. From the customer’s perspective, the first service appointment will determine whether or not they return to your dealership for more service, and eventually, to buy a car. So what matters most during the first service appointment? The entire experience. If one part fails, it all fails.

It starts when your customer purchases a vehicle from your dealership. How is that first service appointment handled?  Does the salesperson schedule the appointment during delivery? Or, do they walk the customer into the service department and introduce them to the service advisor, who then schedules the appointment?

If the customer is open to the idea, the latter scenario is preferable. When the customer meets and greets the service advisor, and can put a face to the name, it creates an instant connection that can easily be re-established when the service advisor reaches out to that customer three or four months later.

If a customer has never been to your store, the first service experience starts with either a phone call or interaction with your website. How easy is it to schedule an appointment?

I believe that many dealers aren’t aware of how big this problem is. Studies show that nearly one in three people calling into dealership service departments never get connected with anyone.

If your service advisors are too busy to properly handle phone calls (and hopefully they are too busy), look into having a BDC answer service calls and schedule appointments. If you’re worried about spending money, don’t be. BDC agents will be able to field more phone calls, schedule more service appointments and will absolutely deliver ROI.

For customers that prefer to transact online, ensure that your website is easy to navigate and that your online scheduling platform is easy to find. A customer shouldn’t have to fill out half a dozen fields to schedule an appointment. The service page on your website should also promote your amenities and value proposition.

When the customer does arrive in your service lane, it all comes down to what type of interaction they have with your employees. Remember that technology is designed to make the experience better for the customer, not to rush the customer through the process. When it comes to experience, the human touch is always more important than the digital touch.

Make sure your customers are greeted quickly. If a customer stands in your service drive more than two minutes without an acknowledgment, that’s a fail. If your service advisors are too busy to greet customers properly, hire a part-time greeter.

A greeter is a great addition to a service department during busy times. The greeter acknowledges every person, chats with them, updates contact information, verifies the VIN and checks for damage on the vehicle. A greeter who does their job well is worth every penny—trust me, if you are ignoring your customers or rushing them through the process and not getting all the information you need, you are leaving more money on the table than it would ever cost to fix that.

Once the service advisor is connected with the customer, it’s critical they take the time to ask the customer questions. The customer may have mentioned the reason they brought their car in, but is that the only reason? Never assume you know what’s best for the customer. Engage them, ask them some general questions about their vehicle’s performance and then listen to what the customer says. They may mention something that could result in a two or three line-item RO, instead of just a one-liner.

Always make sure the MPI is performed. When things get busy it’s tempting for technicians to skip it, but saving a minute could create a problem that takes two hours to fix. Even more important, your customers don’t like problems. If they have a problem during their first service appointment, it’s a pretty sure bet that appointment will also be their last. Your process and manager must hold technicians accountable for MPIs.

You may be surprised to learn that when it comes to a first service appointment, pricing is not always the most important thing. Pricing does matter, obviously, but if you’re taking great care of the customer, if you’re honest with them up front about suspecting a problem, and the repair is justifiable, more than likely the customer will pay it. Customers get upset about pricing when they feel like they were blindsided with an expensive quote. That’s why honesty is always the best policy, even if it means telling the customer something that they don’t want to hear.

It’s also important to keep the customer updated and notified about their vehicle. When a customer has to call you to check if their car will be ready at 5 p.m., that’s a fail. It’s the service advisor’s job to do this, so again, if your service advisors are overwhelmed then remove some of their burden with BDC agents and/or a greeter.

The first service appointment doesn’t end when the customer drives away. If you don’t follow up, they will think you don’t care. It’s as simple as that. Within three days, send them a text or email with a simple “thank you for your business” message.

Then, continue follow ups with service maintenance reminders, declined service reminders, your company newsletter if they have opted in, relevant coupons and holiday greetings.

This will greatly increase the chance that your first-time service appointments will turn into second and third appointments, and that eventually you’ll have a loyal customer.

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