© 2023 Auto/Mate, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
by Ken Rock, Customer Care Manager
Electronic appointment (EA) systems have been around for many years. So, when I visit a dealership’s service department and see a paper appointment pad sitting on a service advisor’s desk, I am not shocked.
Unfortunately, the EA system is probably the most underutilized feature in the dealership management system (DMS)’s service module. When I ask service advisors why they don’t use it, reasons vary from “I’ve always done it this way” to “I don’t have time to learn the system” to “We’re not big enough.” But these are just excuses, not reasons. The real reason is they’re afraid of giving up control.
I know what many service advisors are thinking: “If we switch to an electronic system, the system will screw things up. The technology isn’t going to work. What if we go over capacity? What if it over schedules a technician? What if I don’t know what’s going on?”
The fact is, EA systems offer more benefits than hurdles. Here are the benefits:
Open scheduling. With an appointment pad, one person is typically in charge of all appointments. With an EA, anyone in the dealership can see and schedule appointments. Many dealerships now train their BDC centers to book service appointments. Customers prefer this because they don’t have to wait to speak to one particular person, and it frees up service advisors to focus on other activities.
Reduce walk-ins. When a customer is placed on hold or routed to voicemail, many times, they just hang up. Sometimes they’ll try another shop, or they take their chances and walk in. Open scheduling results in more appointments and fewer walk-ins.
Eliminate double data entry. With an appointment pad, you typically write down the customer and service information. When it’s time to open the RO, the information has to be entered again. With an EA system, everything is entered ahead of time. When it’s time to open the RO, simply click on the “Create RO” button, and you’re good to go. This process reduces service transaction times.
Sell more labor hours. EA systems make it easy to maximize shop capacity. When a service manager views the weekly or monthly schedule, the system tells them how many hours are booked, which days are open, and which technicians are busy. That allows them to set priorities and more accurately predict and report on shop capacity status.
Create pre-work orders. A pre-work order is an identical copy of what the RO will be. At the end of each day, printing out pre-work orders for the next day is a huge time saver, especially during those busy morning hours, when 15 to 20 customers are dropping off cars.
Instead of opening ROs for each customer as they arrive, service advisors can just pull the printed pre-work order from the pile, review service requests, write down the mileage, and have the customer sign off on it. Then, after the rush has died down, they can turn the work order into the actual RO.
Reduce no shows. An EA system can be configured to send email reminders to customers for their upcoming appointments, increasing show rates. Additionally, EA systems make it easy to run a “no show” report at the end of each day so you can follow up to re-schedule appointments.
Eliminate service bloopers. Keeping appointment information on a pad can create “gotcha” moments when a surprise pops up in the system. Let’s say a customer arrives for a scheduled service. The service advisor opens a RO, and the system notifies him or her that the vehicle has an open recall, or the warranty has expired, or they don’t have a part in stock. At that point, it’s a little late to notify the customer, who isn’t going to be happy about paying more or leaving their car for longer than they had planned. And what if they need a loaner car? Do you have one available? An EA system eliminates service bloopers by notifying you ahead of time if there are open recalls, OEM recommendations, or warranty issues.
Sell more parts. Paper appointment pads don’t tell you if a customer’s special-order part has been sitting on your shelf for six months. Again, if you wait until the last minute to open the RO, the customer may not want to take the additional time to have you install the part. When you type a customer’s name into an EA system, it will instantly notify you of the status of their parts — whether a part is still on order or backorder, or if they have a special part that’s been waiting for them for months.
Increase customer satisfaction. Most DMS providers have online scheduling integrated into their EA system. When customers schedule their appointments online, it frees up hours for dealership personnel to do other things. These customers report higher satisfaction levels because now they’re in control. They can set appointments instantly, view recommendations, and they feel like they have more participation in their vehicle’s maintenance.
Are you ready to throw away your appointment pads yet? If not, ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen?” If a mistake does happen, fix it. Then learn how to prevent it from happening again.
Sometimes switching to an EA system may take a directive — and an incentive — from the powers that be. Make sure service advisors know how it will benefit them. The core message is simple: more efficient scheduling + increased sales = maximizing pay plans. In my experience, switching to an EA system can increase service advisor productivity by 30% to 50%.
Additionally, I recommend training. Technology is so much easier to embrace when you know how to use it. Contact your DMS or service software vendor and tell them you want help setting up the system.
I have trained many service advisors on how to use their EA system. Once they make the change, they never go back to paper appointment pads. The benefits are quickly realized, and they appreciate having extra time to focus on other activities.