During the current automotive shortages, it’s one thing for car dealerships to tell shoppers that the vehicle they want will take a month to come in.
It’s another thing to tell consumers that their vehicle, in for service, will take a month to fix.
That can be a tricky conversation. Service managers are getting good at how to handle it, lest an irked customer walk.
Dealers are “fighting to keep their customer bases coming back,” says consultant Lee Harkins, head of M5 Management Services.
“Customers want their cars back from service in a reasonable amount of time,” he says during a fixed-operations webinar put on by Automotive News. “Dealers need to manage that expectation.”
Many people assume service departments will return their repaired vehicles within one to two days, says webinar participant Dan Beakley, service manager at 24 Ford of Easton (MA). But nowadays, it can be weeks.
“We had that situation with an engine replacement taking a month,” he says. “It doesn’t mean you can’t call customers” to periodically update them.
Semiconductor microchips head the worldwide list of parts that are in short supply going on two years now. But the list doesn’t stop there. Also becoming hard to get are wiring harnesses, sensors, plastics, oil filters and even glass and carpeting.
The $300 billion auto-parts and repair industry is grappling with the problem. At the same time, auto shops are besieged with high workloads as more car owners keep their current vehicles longer because of the inventory shortage and accompanying high prices. U.S. vehicle days’ supply was a low 29 last month, according to Wards Intelligence.
“Right now, a lot of stores are slammed with a lot of work,” Harkins says. That’s expected to increase: “We’ll get hit by a freight train in the face next year because of the lower car sales,” he says.
Compounding that vehicle shortage is the parts shortage. “Getting parts is a challenge,” says Alan Freeman, fixed-operations director for the metro Atlanta-based Jim Ellis Automotive Group.
Fellow webinar participant Dave Foy, a former auto technician and current vice president-operations at the fixed-ops consulting firm Quantum 5, adds: “There are long wait times for everything.”
Dealing with such delays while not alienating impatient customers requires strong communication skills, Foy says. “Understand the various customers. What are their needs? Is it family safety? Do they need their car back fast?”
A person with one of their three vehicles in for service may not need it back as quickly as someone else who relies on their one vehicle.
How do repair facilities handle the latter?
“First, find out how they want you to communicate with them, and how often,” Beakley says. “They may not want to hear from you every day with a status report.
“Second, let them know the steps you are going through to get the job done quicker.”
When it comes time for them to fill out a satisfaction survey, “it’s about how you treat them, not about the parts shortage,” he adds.
Satisfaction surveys represent the voice of the customer, says Freeman. “If you stumble, it is about how and how quickly you recover. We gauge (customer satisfaction surveys) on how often someone comes back for their next car and service work.”