Boost Sales & Loyalty through the Dealership Service Department

Boost Sales & Loyalty through the Dealership Service Department

Boost Sales & Loyalty through the Dealership Service Department

In today’s rapidly evolving automotive industry, dealership managers face the ongoing challenge of driving sales and fostering customer loyalty. The ’90s are making a comeback, at least according to new survey data that points to the importance of a critical step in the road to a sale. Longtime car guys and gals will remember when the service tour — or service walk — was all the rage among top industry training outfits. That was about the mid-’90s, and the OEMs caught on in a big way, recognizing the significance of the dealership service department in driving sales.

There was Chrysler with its Five Star initiative around 1997, which required a customer tour of the service department and an introduction to service personnel. Toyota followed suit at some point, but with the added requirement that dealers in its network conclude the tour by scheduling the customer’s first oil change. Even today, Subaru asks customers in its CSI survey whether their buying experience included the service walk, while the service tour is a requirement at Hyundai stores. The question is, are those mandates benefiting the showroom or the service lane? Or is this simply a loyalty play?

Sales veterans swear by the service tour’s ability to get customers to commit to a car by extending the emotional high experienced during the demo drive, allowing them to assume ownership by seeing how they’ll take advantage of your service department’s stocked waiting room with free Wi-Fi, 24-hour key drop, or shuttle service. That commitment sets the stage for a less painful negotiation experience.


The Value of a Strong Dealership Service Department

New data from Urban Science shows that 97% of dealers agree a good dealership service department is key to driving new-car sales, and nearly half of the auto buyers The Harris Poll surveyed on behalf of the firm “agree a service department plays a significant role in their buying decision.”

Now, when Chevrolet began requiring the service walk around 2010, the need for that step in the road to the sale started to evolve. In response to car-buyer-journey studies that shined a light on the time it took for buyers to get into the F&I office, F&I pros said the service walk was all they needed to reset a waiting customer’s internal clock.

A backed-up F&I manager simply signals the salesperson when a service walk is needed. The F&I show would be ready to commence once the customer toured the facilities, met their advisor, and may be scheduled that first service appointment. That may be why the service walk became an as-needed sales step at some dealerships — the assumption being that new-car buyers were automatic service customers once they drove off the lot.


Challenges and Opportunities: Bridging the Gap between Sales and Service

A 2015 report in WardsAuto says otherwise, noting that only 30% of sales customers bring their vehicle in for service within the first year of ownership — a percentage that drops to 13% after three years and 2% at five. So, buyers becoming service customers is not a given. Now imagine augmenting or standardizing your sales-to-service handoff with the following text that goes out automatically six months after customers take delivery of their new car:

“Hi, Mr. Customer. It’s ABC Motors at [dealership’s phone number], notifying you that it may be time for your first manufacturer-recommended service.”

Their response, whether by text or phone call, could then be routed to the service advisor the customer met during their service tour. Even better, what if you could automate the following message one year (or less) later:

“Hi, Mr. Customers. It’s [Advisor’s Name] at ABC Motors (555-0100), notifying you that it may be time for your next manufacturer-recommended service.”

Customers who don’t respond or for whom you don’t have a text op-in would undoubtedly make for an excellent call list for your service BDC. Consider this: According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average dealership spent $718 on advertising per new unit sold in 2022. As we know, attracting a conquest service customer costs twice as much.


Automating and Optimizing the Sales-to-Service Handoff with TEXT2DRIVE

If your dealership is considering a texting tool, realize there’s more to these platforms than responding to inquiries from customers and internal staff. Solutions like TEXT2DRIVE, for instance, double as data mining-like tools that use automated communications to feed the service drive and drive retention without your service teams having to lift a finger.

Most of all, these automated communications can help standardize a step in the sales process that Urban Science says sets up service lanes to “not only deliver high-margin engagements on the back end, they drive meaningful interactions that build long-term loyalty that leads to future sales as well.” By the way, the texting experience you get from TEXT2DRIVE mirrors how messaging apps work on Apple and Android phones. That means no logging into the CRM or DMS to simply respond to a customer.

Coincidentally, Urban Science made its new survey data available about the same time it launched a new OEM reporting tool designed to measure how effectively their dealerships convert service-loyal customers to new-vehicle sales. It also reports on customers lost to competitive brands.

Yeah, for OEMs, the service tour is in vogue once again. Give us a call. We can help.