4 Expert Strategies for Winning the Service Wars

Service Department, Customer Perception, DVA

Dealership service departments across the country are ill-equipped and ill-prepared to keep pace with surging repair demands. Tremendous growth opportunities are there for the taking. But, only if your service department can ratchet up productivity and deliver great customer service. 

There’s a confluence of factors contributing to the problem and no single solution. First, why is demand surging? People are holding onto older cars longer due to new inventory shortages, so they may need repair more often. In addition, The number of service bays has been reduced by 50 percent over the past 20 years (with a record number of closings in 2020 due to COVID-19), even as the car and light truck population has increased.  

Second, why are independent mechanics and mobile repair businesses winning over customers?  Only one-third of buying customers return to the selling dealership for service because they are not receiving prompt service and competitive pricing. If they were, they wouldn’t be defecting. 

We can increase productivity, change the customers’ perception of our service departments and win back business from third-party service stations. Here’s how. 

Audit Your Scheduling Tool

If you can’t add bays or techs, you increase business by growing capacity and working more efficiently. This starts with your scheduling tool. Most GMs don’t know drive capacity so they don’t know growth capacity, and even worse, employees may be limiting capacity through the scheduling tool. If I’m your GM, the first thing I’m going to do is huddle up with my service manager and audit the scheduling tool. 

I can’t tell you how many tools we’ve audited where the hours between noon and 1 are blocked off because employees want to go to lunch. Or where appointments aren’t made after 6 (even though the shop is open until 7) because employees don’t want to work late. Or where “waiters” are restricted to only four people. There is no downside to having more waiters as long as you are transparent with how long it may take. With more people working from home than ever before, many may be perfectly happy working from your comfortable waiting room as long as you set time expectations up front. 

An audit may also reveal unintentional tool configurations that are negatively impacting appointment settings. For example, I’ve seen tools configured to display a shop closed on Wednesdays (when it was very much open). It pays to go online and be your own customer to experience first-hand what’s really going on.

Finally, make sure your tool displays accurate and complete pricing for services and parts. Jiffy Lube and other quick service shops don’t hide prices. You shouldn’t be either. That only encourages the misconception that dealership service centers are more expensive and out to fleece customers. 

Set Customer Expectations

When you begin a conversation with how long a repair will likely take, you naturally have fewer waiters and happier customers overall. So, why aren’t we having these conversations? I’d guess it’s because we’re uncomfortable telling customers it will take longer than they desire. But setting expectations upfront and being honest helps gain trust and respect.

When you don’t set expectations, the mindset of the customer is that you’re working on their vehicle as soon as they drop it off, when in fact, you’ve only processed the vehicle and may not get to it until after lunch. You’re setting up the customer to be disappointed and frustrated. 

Instead, be clear about where the customer’s vehicle is in your line-up when they’re checking in. It’s like checking into a hotel but your room won’t be ready for another three hours. You leave your luggage with the front desk, explore for a few hours, and come back for your room key. You’re not mad because you know what to expect. Do the same for your service customers. 

Work Proactively NOT Reactively

Nationally, the average wait time for a repair today is about five days. If you have a 12-day waiting period, you’re working in a reactionary environment and not offering a great experience. Shift to a proactive environment where your service advisors and BDC are actively reaching out to customers at least three weeks before a needed service. By taking control of your business and managing expectations you’ll surprise and please your customers. 

Enlist a DVA to Handle Inbound Calls

As a whole, we don’t do a good job handling fresh, inbound service calls. The average shop has upwards of a 30 percent call failure rate with calls being lost, dropped, or abandoned. The mindset years ago was that it’s no big deal because people will call back. But now, up to 68 percent of people won’t even bother, they’ll just call the next shop. Personally, I’m not going to call multiple times to schedule an oil change. I’ll call Jiffy Lube and get scheduled in an hour and out in 40 minutes. 

The answer is to enlist a Digital Voice Assistant (DVA) to answer 100 percent of inbound calls. We know that up to 75 percent of people call to make an appointment or to ask an easy question (your location, hours, etc.). You don’t need staff to handle these calls. A DVA integrated with your scheduling tool can easily and quickly make appointments and answer questions. More complicated calls get transferred back to service. With a DVA, you’re delivering a better customer experience and creating bandwidth and capacity for your advisors and BDC to handle belly-to-belly customers and make revenue-producing outbound calls that are typically put on the back burner. 


If your shop can increase capacity and deliver a great customer experience, you’ll reap the rewards of surging repair demands. Leverage these four tactics to improve your operations; the payoff will be more loyal customers and more revenue.  


This article was featured on CBT News

Lawson Owen is the founder and CEO at Proactive Dealer Solutions, the largest independent business development consulting firm in North America. Lawson is a thought leader in lead and process management and has been inspiring management teams for over 20 years. He is a regular speaker at conferences and industry meetings for dealers, dealer groups, and manufacturers in the automotive, marine, and power sports industries.

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