When customers roll into the service lane at Mercedes-Benz of Birmingham in Alabama, there is a good chance the service technician will greet them by name and know what service their vehicle requires.
They drive away in a loaner car and receive texts with service work updates. When they return, the dealership knows exactly where on the lot the car is and has it ready. All this is possible because customers agreed to have a radio frequency identification pad installed in their cars.
“Customer experience is the real advantage” of RFID technology, says Randy Powell, general manager and partner at the dealership.
The service lane is becoming more and more important as dealerships battle for customer loyalty.
Existing technologies are being used in new ways to make for a personalized and efficient service visit that can boost loyalty. It can also help sell more cars in the long run.
“It creates a great environment for retention and loyalty (and), when the time is right for them to upgrade to the next vehicle, you are top of mind,” says George Cresto, founder and CEO of My Dealer Lot, the company that invented Service Drive Concierge, the RFID service Powell uses.
Powell was one of the early adaptors. SDC and other RFID products like it work like this:
A customer has a small pad installed on the back of the car’s rear-view mirror. The dealership installs antennae and screens in the service drive and other points in the dealership, depending on how many services it subscribes to. The dealership can now track a car’s movements while it is on site.
The core benefits are savings for the service write-up and up to a 50% reduction in vehicle delivery time when the customer returns, says Cresto.
That kind of start-to-finish service boosts business and keeps customers, says Brett Coker of Coker Automotive Consultants in Georgia.
“Two things (are important),” he tells WardsAuto. “First impressions and last impressions. We do a poor job in this industry in that regard.”
A dealership stands out in a customer’s mind if it offers a personalized service experience that goes beyond being greeted by name. An example is when the dealership has customers’ vehicles ready and waiting for them when they arrive after getting one of those notification texts, says Coker.
“Anything we can do to separate ourselves is good,” says Coker. “Customer retention is so important these days for resale rates, (and) the resale rates go up substantially if a customer has a good service-lane experience.”
Greeting a customer quickly is the start to a good service-lane experience, according to J.D. Power. In its 2016 U.S. Customer Service Index study, the firm found CSI scores rose 44% if a service-lane customer was greeted within two minutes of arrival.
Texting a customer with repair progress information also boosted CSI scores, especially with younger customers. In the J.D. Power study, 37% of Gen X and 38% of Gen Y customers preferred to receive information via text or email. But, few dealerships provide service information that way, says J.D. Power.
Service Drive Concierge integrates with the dealership-management and customer-relationship-management systems.
With that integration, the service-lane adviser will know, for example, if a customer has only three months left on a loan payment and therefore is ripe for a new-car purchase.
Service Drive Concierge is used in more than 200 dealerships, says Cresto. Dallas is an especially good market.
The initial cost, including installing the antennae and screens, ranges from $13,000 to $23,000, depending on the configuration. Monthly subscriptions start at $1,000 for the ability to recognize a customer when he or she pulls in the service lane.
Other companies, such as Reynolds & Reynolds and DealerSocket, also sell RFID products.
In addition to the Mercedes store, Powell also is general manager and partner at Infiniti of Birmingham. Both his stores are part of Dream Motor Group.
He sees active delivery, which Mercedes already offers, as the next revolution in the back end. Under active delivery, customers deal with one person through the entire service experience, from the original consultation to paying the bill.
It can be a seamless experience, says Powell. “This is where this technology and application is going.”