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Getting Your Service Advisors To Kick The Paper Appointment Pad Habit

The electronic appointment function is one of your DMS’ most underutilized, and time-saving, features. BY KEN ROCK

shutterstock_149071430Electronic appointment (EA) systems have been around for more than 10 years, so when I visit a dealership service department and see advisors still using paper appointment pads, I should be shocked, right?

I am not shocked at all. The fact is, the EA system is probably the most underutilized feature in DMS service modules.

When I ask service advisors why they don’t use EA systems, I typically hear “I’ve always done it this way,” “I don’t have time to learn the system” or “We’re not big enough.” But, these are just excuses, not reasons. In reality, advisors are afraid of giving up control.

I know what many service advisors are really thinking: “If we switch to an electronic system, something’s going to get screwed up. The technology isn’t going to work right, or other people are going to mess things up. What if we go over capacity? What if they overschedule a technician? What if I don’t know what’s going on?”

They say the best way to overcome fear is to face it, head on. Before we address how to do that, let’s take a look at the many ways EA systems can make service advisors’ lives easier AND service departments more profitable.

Letting Everyone Schedule Appointments

Open scheduling. When you still work with an appointment pad, obviously one person is usually in charge of booking all appointments. With EA, anyone in the dealership can see and schedule appointments.

Many dealerships now train their BDCs to book service appointments through the DMS. Customers prefer this approach, because they don’t have to wait to speak to a particular person and it frees up advisors to focus on their other needs.

Fewer walk-ins. When a customer is placed on hold or routed to voice mail, many times he or she will just hang up. That customer may take a chance and walk in, or even worse try another repair center. Open scheduling via the EA function by anyone (a BDC representative, a receptionist or cashier, even the GM) results in more appointments and fewer walk-ins.

Don’t Enter Information Twice

Elimination of double-entries. With an appointment pad, someone typically writes down the customer and service information. When it’s time to open the RO, that information has to be entered again.

However, with an EA system everything is entered ahead of time. When it’s time to open the RO, you simply click the “Create RO” button on the EA’s appointment screen, enter the vehicle’s mileage and you’re good to go. This approach reduces the typical transaction down to 30 seconds from several minutes with a pad.

Sales of more labor hours. EA systems make it easy to maximize shop capacity. When a service manager views the weekly or monthly schedules, the system tells him how many hours have been booked, which days are open and which technicians are busy. This allows that service manager to easily set priorities and more accurately predict and report on shop capacity status.

Pre-Orders Save Time

Creation of 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 busy mornings in which 15 to 20 customers drop off cars.

Rather than open an RO for each arriving customer, advisors can just pull a printed pre-work order from the pile, review service requests, write down the mileage and have the customer sign. Once the morning rush has died down, they can start working with the actual RO.

Reduction of no-shows. An EA system can be configured to send e-mail reminders to customers about upcoming appointments, thus increasing show rates. Additionally, they make it easy to run a no-show report at the end of each day, so that your advisors or BDC can follow up to reschedule appointments.

Avoid ‘Gotchas’ In Service Drive

Elimination of service bloopers. Keeping appointment information on a pad leads to “gotcha” surprises popping up in the system. Let’s say a customer arrives for a scheduled service. The service advisor opens an RO, and the system notifies him that this vehicle has an open recall, or the warranty has expired, or the dealership doesn’t have a part in stock.

At that point, it’s a little late to notify the customer, who will not be happy about paying more or leaving the car for longer than planned. And, what if that customer needs a loaner car? Does your dealership have one available, and ready and waiting? An EA system eliminates such bloopers by notifying you ahead of time if there are open recalls, OEM recommendations or warranty issues.

More parts sales. Paper appointment pads don’t tell you if a special-order part for this customer has been sitting on your shelf for six months. Again, if you wait until the last minute to open an RO, the customer may not want to take the additional time to have the part installed.

However, when you type a customer’s name into an EA system, it instantly notifies you of his or her parts status – whether it is still on order, on back order or has been waiting on your shelf for pick-up for months.

Customers Are Happier

Increased customer satisfaction. Most DMS providers now have online scheduling integrated into their EA system, which customers can access through the dealership website. When customers schedule their own appointments online, hours of time are freed up for dealership personnel to do other things.

Plus, these customers typically report higher satisfaction levels because they are in control to set appointments instantly, view recommendations and more actively participate in their vehicle’s maintenance.

Help From Above, And Training

Are you ready to throw away your appointment pads by now? If not, perhaps you should ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” If something does go wrong when you start using an EA system, fix it and figure out how to prevent a recurrence.

Sometimes, switching to EA system may take a directive (and incentive) from above. Make sure your service advisors know much they could benefit. The core message is simple: More efficient scheduling = increased sales = more money in the pay plan. In my experience, simply switching to an EA system can increase a service advisor’s productivity by 30 percent or more.

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 that company you need help setting up and utilizing an EA system.

I have trained many service advisors how to use their DMS’ EA functions. Once they make the change, they never go back to paper appointment pads.

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