Tracey Van Allen began her 28-year auto-retailing career as a dealership receptionist, a job that kept her in touch with every part of the store, from sales to service.
Back then, dealerships overwhelmingly communicated with customers by phone. (Not smartphones; they were yet to come.)
Now, it’s a multi-communication-channel world. Today’s dealership departments – particularly the back shops – should leverage that to stay in touch with customers, and in particular increase the likelihood of them keeping service appointments, says Van Allen (below, left), a master certified support specialist for dealership software provider Auto/Mate’s customer-care department.
“The more reminders that go out to customers, the more likely they are to keep the appointment. It keeps your schedule full and keeps the shop turning,” Van Allen says during a WardsAuto webinar, “Work Smarter, Not Harder: How to Simplify Your Entire Operation.”
She recommends dealerships rely more on texting and emails than phone calls to remind service customers of upcoming appointments. Here’s why:
“Phone calls are often screened or go to voice mail. But if someone gets a text message, they are more likely to quickly read it and respond to it. People use and keep up with their electronic communications in everyday life. It’s also easier, from a work standpoint, to use texting.”
After her receptionist job while in college, Van Allen worked her way up to become corporate controller for a multi-roof dealer group before joining Auto/Mate (now a unit of DealerSocket) in 2012.
Part of her current job is training dealership people to maximize software efficiency and profitability. She also works on improving both employee and customer satisfaction.
Once the vehicle arrives for servicing, texting and emailing are good ways to keep customers apprised of the progress of the subsequent repair or maintenance work, Van Allen says.
“You can utilize text and email for getting work approved,” she says. “Customers can get updates on progress and give ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses on work-approval requests.”
She notes those messages should include a direct contact phone number if a car owner wants to call to ask questions or discuss matters with the dealership concerning the service work.
Some dealerships assign auto technicians to shoot video walkarounds of vehicles they are servicing. The mechanic then sends the customer a text message that includes a link to the video that shows areas of the vehicle that involve repair or maintenance issues.
“Videos are effective even for routine maintenance,” Van Allen says. “The auto technician can do multi-point inspections. Those video depictions can show things such as tire-tread wear and brake work that might be needed now or up the road.”
Van Allen says it encourages the customer to conclude: “I’m not just taking their word for it; they are backing it up with the videos. They are showing as well as telling in this text message with a video attached.”
She adds that text and email maintenance reminders sent to customers through a dealership’s customer-relationship-management system “keeps them coming in on a routine basis, the way they should be.” It is “part of keeping the shop working at the optimal schedule and maximizing output.”