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Study: Customers happier to arrange service appointments online

October 6, 2017
Among dealership service customers who scheduled their appointment online, more than three-fourths (76 percent) said they were apt to go that route again, according to research from Cox Automotive.
What’s more, setting up the service visit online creates a path toward a happier customer, said Jim Roche, vice president of marketing and managed services at Xtime, a company that strives to increase retention for OEMs and dealerships by delivering a premium customer experience.
Problem is, many customers don’t know that online appointment-setting is an option.
According to that same research from Cox Automotive (Xtime’s parent company), 45 percent of customers who didn’t use online scheduling were not aware it was offered.
"That is a surprising and disappointing fact," Roche said. "It’s on us in the industry that we have that lack of awareness."  
Fortunately, he said, it’s a "low-hanging fruit" that dealers can do something about. For instance, he urges dealers to send an email blast to customers at least twice a year to let them know that online service appointment scheduling is available — and beneficial.
"Setting the appointment online really lays the foundation downstream for a great experience," Roche said. "Because you get the day and the time that you want, the dealer can be prepared for you. The system can make sure that the reservation is managed so that they can spend as much time with you (as needed). It can look up open recalls on your vehicle."
It also can help ensure the experience is a high quality one, which leads to the uptick in dollars spent. In fact, scheduled visits tend to pull in $54 more per visit than the walk-in visit.
"They spend more because it’s a better experience," Roche said.
And it’s one that has been planned for, whereas the walk-in service appointments might not always be planned.
If the consumer has scheduled the appointment, it likely means time and money has been budgeted, too, Roche said.
Plus, he said, the dealer has information on the specific issue with the car along with the day and time of the appointment.
"You’ve laid the foundation for the dealer to handle your needs in a much smoother and prepared way," Roche said.
Beyond the periodic email blasts, Roche also advises dealers to explain the online appointment-setting process during the delivery of the vehicle. He urges dealers to walk their new customer into the service department and introduce him or her to the service advisors.
It is important to raise that awareness and "repeatedly" tell customers about online service scheduling as an option, Roche said.
People are often creatures of habit; meaning they’ll continue scheduling their service appointments the way they always have. So if that’s to be changed, the benefits of online scheduling has to be communicated.
Roche advocates a multi-channel approach to getting the word out.
"It’s impossible to know in advance what someone’s preference is going to be," he said. "The strategy has to be to meet them where they want to be. So, the only way to do that is to provide full coverage.
"It’s mobile. It’s on the Web. It’s available through the phone. So anybody who needs to interact with the dealership or the dealership systems to schedule online can do so any time, 24/7."