Failure To Properly Handle Inbound Service Calls Hamstrings Service Departments

Start with a small BDC team and take other steps to catch all customer phone calls. BY BILL WITTENMYER

During several of my recent speaking engagements, much debate has arisen over how to handle inbound calls for the service or fixed-ops department. I’m often questioned about the quickest and most effective way to improve inbound call handling, and it’s an easy answer. Dealers must make sure incoming service calls are handled by a BDC, whether it’s a virtual third party or an in-house group. That is the first place to start.

Everyone knows the service department is a dealership’s lifeblood for profitability. Most service advisors do a fantastic job up-selling to customers in the lane. In fact, many possess the same characteristics and qualities as a front-line auto salesperson (even though most service advisors, who view their role as consultant/advisor, would probably disagree). I constantly hear how different their role is from when I used to work in the dealership environment. However, contrary to that opinion, advisors are exactly like salespeople in the dealership. They possess the same traits, they just get leads differently.

With the majority of an advisor’s leads obviously coming from the service lane, phone-ups are a close second. Some leads are trickling in from Internet requests, as more and more consumers move to online scheduling and alternative ways to communicate with dealerships.

However, the same attributes or behaviors that make service advisors and salespeople successful are the same ones that sometimes hold them back – especially when communicating with consumers by phone.

Gap With Phone Skills

Most salespeople, and thus most service advisors, do a great job with face-to-face communication. Most display strong, assertive personalities. They can take “No” for an answer but they also have the ability to stay persistent with strong product knowledge and advice, while still making consumers feel comfortable.

However, many people in sales characteristically lag in organization, patience and attention to detail. And, while they communicate well in person, that does not always translate to good phone skills. Plus, most service advisors are successful in their jobs, which means they are with customers during times of high phone traffic and unavailable to answer calls. It’s a perfect storm for missed opportunities on inbound service calls.

A recent sampling over a 30-day period of 120 dealerships that use the ELEAD Contact Center for service calls found that more than 70 percent of inbound calls result in an appointment, when those calls are answered and handled properly. The most important thing – and this is where some dealers falter – is to have a live person answering calls.

On average, dealerships miss or fail to answer more than 100 calls during a month, and that is only taking into account before- and after-hours time periods. How are incoming service calls handled during peak time periods at your store? You know the times I mean – the early morning or evening hours when most people are in the service lane either dropping off or picking up their vehicle. Service advisors will be with them, providing excellent customer service. But, the customers on inbound calls must leave it to chance that they will receive a callback or follow-up. Maybe they will quickly move on to a competitor.

5 Ways To Catch More Inbound Calls

Henry Ford built an empire on specialization. However, his automotive industry has, at times, gotten away from this mindset. Developing a strategic and customer-centric process for handling service calls is a great way of getting back to the basics.

Following are some key processes that your store can implement today to increase service appointments and market share. Also, remember that multi-tasking is just the equivalent of doing several things poorly and not creating success in a single area.

1) Create a dedicated inbound call team for the service department, or outsource this activity to a specialized provider. When starting out, most dealerships don’t require a large BDC team to concentrate only on service. A small team is an easy way to test the waters, and don’t forget, that team will immediately enjoy success just by answering all the previously missed calls.

A small team consisting of one or two people can cover peak time periods as well as normal business hours. Once you have the chance to monitor phone traffic, there is always the option to expand the team to cover after-hours.

2) Make sure the inbound call team has access to the service CRM and online appointment scheduling tools. If possible, try not to limit customers to specific appointment times, but rather always ensure the service lane can handle the schedule’s capacity. Do not overbook, as this only facilitates bad customer experiences.

Customers want options, not obligations. Most importantly, they require convenience.

3) For those of you with an auto attendant on the store’s phone system, make sure to include an option that specifically lets consumers schedule their service appointment. You need a process designed only to streamline appointment calls to the inbound call team, which ensures they do not get bogged down with other inquiries.

Alternatively, for those of you with a live operator, coach that person on additional questions to ask when answering calls, in order to help clarify appointment-setting calls vs. other inquiries. Make sure the operator is well versed on how to route calls accordingly.

4) Every dealer should have call-tracking capability that is tied to his or her CRM or DMS, and is specific to service calls and campaigns. It’s vital to review the actual number of incoming calls, those answered by your team, time spent on the call, and the corresponding number of appointments scheduled.

Such reporting enables you to monitor effectively, manage staff performance and make any needed adjustments. You will also gain insight into higher-traffic times, other missed opportunities, and metrics that can provide great feedback or coaching points to maximize the team’s performance and execution.

5) Provide the inbound call team with specific word tracks and scripting. That way, consumers receive a consistent experience across every touch point, and you achieve set goals. Keep it simple, and always give the team a lifeline (access to or a way to instantly contact) the service director or service advisors in case of inquiries that are in-depth or require more details.

Mistakes, Then Recalibrate

With any new endeavor, there are challenges. Some of these challenges will require a change of course. Success is composed of flexibility, measurability and the ability to fine-tune results over time.

Again, the most important element for any store is to answer all incoming calls and be attentive. You will solve this with a dedicated inbound call team. The next step is to enhance the customer experience, by incorporating such items as service appointment follow-up and outbound phone strategies that are proven to increase business opportunities.

Good selling.



Bill Wittenmeyer
Bill Wittenmeyer
Bill Wittenmyer serves as VP Sales, Layered Apps & Competitive Accounts at Elead. With over 25 years of experience in automotive retail, he relies on the industry’s most comprehensive technology platform and data-driven strategies to help dealerships enhance customer experiences and grow profits. Highly regarded as a dynamic and motivational speaker, as well as an industry leader with non-traditional views, Wittenmyer speaks at several prominent automotive forums each year and contributes to top news publications and television business shows that influence industry business leaders across the U.S. Before joining Elead, Bill worked in automotive retail in sales and operations management. He earned his degree from Ashland University and took post-graduate courses at Georgia Southern University.

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