A good friend used to say, “I’m for everything but change.” It always made me laugh; but he was on to something. Change is hard for everyone. Yet, it’s inevitable. Especially when it comes to your dealership and service department. In today’s retail environment, customers expect fast, efficient, and personalized service. That requires adopting new technology – and that is not always a seamless process.
In my experience, implementing new technology and making it stick requires overcoming four major struggles: lack of trust, fear, what’s in it for me (WIIFM), and infrastructure. Until you confront and overcome these challenges your team will have a hard time and the technology may even fail – which is a waste of time and money.
You can set your service team up for success by tackling these struggles head-on. As digital voice assistants (DVAs) powered by artificial intelligence are getting a lot of attention currently, I’ll use that technology to illustrate each point below. Here’s what I would do:
Lack of Trust
The first thing that commonly happens with new technology is a level of hesitancy and skepticism. Your team wonders: “Will it work?” “Will customers accept it?” “Is it just another widget that sounds good but does it perform?”
I think it’s safe to say that those of us in the car business are honest, blunt folks. We could all be from the “Show-Me” state. The best way to earn trust with us is to demonstrate how the technology will enhance or improve performance, how it will help employees do their jobs better, and how it will meet the need for an exceptional customer experience. If you can prove all that, your team will be more open to adoption.
In the case of considering a DVA to handle overflow, after-hours, and simple appointment calls, I’d start by tackling the misconception that customers don’t want to talk to a machine. The fact is, the majority of us talk to a virtual assistant already. How many of us order products through Google Home or Alexa? There’s a high level of trust if we are willing to use a DVA that is tied to a checking account to make shopping easier.
Next, I’d give my entire service team an opportunity to try out the technology. Have employees dial-in and make an appointment. We’ve found a DVA can schedule an appointment in about four minutes, compared to up to six minutes with a human. This is the “Show-Me” component. When employees experience an expediated and pleasant experience first-hand, they are more likely to support the technology.
People often fear change because they may feel like they’re losing control. The larger the change, the more they are going to feel like the change is being done to them. No one likes feeling powerless. Especially if they worry the new technology will replace them or eliminate their position altogether.
During change, information is power. The more information you can share as early as possible is helpful. You can also include your team in planning and ask for their input to help them feel ownership of the change. It’s also helpful to block out time with each employee individually to identify concerns and opportunities where you can work together to smooth the transition.
Phasing in a DVA to handle inbound calls may inspire fear in BDC employees and service staff if they think the technology will eliminate their jobs. You have to reassure them that is not the objective. Instead, talk about reallocating them to focus on outbound, revenue-producing calls. Think about lists you have that go unmonetized because your employees are busy making simple oil-change appointments. When you flip the easy inbound calls to a DVA, employees can truly mine those databases, increase retention rates, and earn more in bonus compensation.
What’s In It For Me?
Assume every employee is asking this question when you introduce new technology. Your staff needs to know how it will help them, your service department, and your customers. Your answer should outline the benefits and explain how the technology will solve a problem and/or satisfy a need. It’s smart to focus on benefits over features. Transform features into advantages by illustrating the value and results each user will gain.
For example, if you implement a DVA, then your BDC and service employees will have more time to focus on outbound call campaigns and belly-to-belly customers. If retention is truly important, and service is a feeder to sales, the more employees can engage with customers over the phone and in the lane, the greater the retention and the greater your sales funnel.
At the department level, if you implement a DVA, then you eliminate hold times for customers. This leads to a better overall customer experience, greater customer retention, and likely higher CSI scores.
At the customer level, if you implement a DVA, then you know 100 percent of calls will be answered. It’s estimated that up to 30 percent of calls into service departments ring unanswered. Those customers don’t call back. They move on to the next shop. A DVA ensures every customer on the phone gets an efficient, personalized experience so they want to give you their business.
Not implementing the right systems, procedures, and training can doom new technology. Most technology fails because we don’t slow down to think from an internal perspective: “What’s the infrastructure that needs to be in place to support this software so we get our ROI?”
Buying the new technology is not enough. Your existing systems and procedures need to be adjusted to incorporate it in a way that limits disruption. It’s helpful to create a checklist of every existing system and process the new technology will touch so you can systematically work out kinks and conflicts.
In the case of a DVA, integrations between your CRM and DMS are crucial. These integrations allow the DVA to greet returning customers, pull vehicle information, and make informed service suggestions.
Another important integration is with your online scheduling tool. Although these tools were originally built for customers to self-schedule an appointment on your website, the majority of customers still prefer to call your service department. In fact, between 2019 and 2021, incoming phone calls to Service Departments steadily increased by 16.3% — from an average of 9,904 calls per month to 11,534 calls.
A DVA relies on the information in your scheduling tool to make appointments. If the scheduler is wrong, your DVA will be wrong. For example, I spoke with a dealer who didn’t realize his tool was configured to show the shop closed on Tuesdays, when it was very much open. Online customers could not book that day, and the DVA could not book phone customers. A simple tweak solved the problem, but the situation illustrates the importance of checking and double-checking integrations with new technology.
Today’s customers expect your service department to deliver a fast, efficient, and personalized experience. That often requires adopting new technology, which can be a struggle for employees. Expect there to be some resistance and ups-and-downs and put strategies in place to smooth implementation and ongoing use. Change is hard for everyone, but it’s well worth fighting for if it leads to a healthy, thriving service department.
This article was featured in Fixed Ops Magazine.
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.