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Auto Success September - Tackling The Dilemma of Service Scheduling Calls, Part 1

Originally seen on Auto Success magazine

By: Jennifer Sanford
Jennifer Sanford is the vice president of marketing and industry relations at Telepathy Labs for STELLA Automotive.

The current automotive service scheduling experience is failing vehicle owners. Over 80% of service appointments are scheduled by phone, even though most dealerships offer online service schedulers. Unfortunately, appointment scheduling processes are inconsistent, increasing customer frustration.

I decided to dig into this further to determine where the process is broken and what, if anything, can be done about it. It became clear that the telephone methods currently used to book appointments suffer from numerous challenges. These unique challenges include phone systems, staffing models and appointment scheduling processes. In this article, we’ll examine the issues facing phone systems in automotive dealerships. We’ll dive into the other challenges in subsequent articles.

Phone Systems
Most businesses have a basic Internet Voice Response (IVR) phone system. In some dealerships, it is used as a back-up for receptionists, answering every inbound call. An IVR is an efficient and practical solution only if it:

1. Contains less than five menu options
2. Can transfer to a live human
3. Offers an opt-out to reach an actual receptionist if needed

Some IVR systems have as many as nine options, even though most people can’t remember more than four at a time. An IVR system simplifies the process of reaching the right person only if that person is available. IVRs cannot offer other solutions if someone is unavailable or a method to even return to the original menu options. Callers experiencing high-priority issues need the option to speak to an employee fast. Many IVRs prevent callers from reaching a human and do not include an opt-out option. About a third of callers never even accomplish their intended call objectives. Call abandonment can occur at several places throughout the process and, unfortunately, leaving a voicemail does not help.

Staffing Models
Dealership owners know that people prefer to speak with live representatives, so most use some form of person-to-person experience as the initial point of customer contact, including:

1. Receptionist: A receptionist is usually the first touchpoint for inbound callers, but they work standard hours and are limited to one call at a time.

2. Internal BDC: BDC management models differ based on the dealership or group’s size. Compensation typically includes a base salary and split commission for appointments that show. When BDCs are responsible for handling inbound calls, then up to 80% of the staff’s time is spent handling those calls. Making outbound calls designed to generate new business becomes secondary. Peak times for inbound calls must be staffed accordingly. It’s no wonder that industry averages indicate that only a quarter of BDC calls result in hard appointments when BDC teams don’t have time to make those calls.

3. Third-party BDC: Third-party BDCs help generate new business and can also be deployed to handle incoming calls. While rates vary, all external BDCs have variable per-minute fees, which can become incredibly expensive for scheduling oil change appointments.

Many dealerships have IVR systems as back-ups but as noted above, that is a conditionally acceptable option.

Current IVR phone systems and staffing models fall short of addressing the issue — customers want someone to answer the phone who understands their questions and addresses their needs. Fortunately, a truly conversational AI platform does both! These are just two of the areas of opportunity for automotive dealerships today. In part two of this article series, we’ll discuss employee turnover, appointment setting processes and recommendations for your store.

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