Beef up your Service dept's online presence

Publish Date: 
Jul 1, 2009
By Dave Koshollek

TECHNOLOGY IS NOTHING NEW to most service departments. Ninety-five percent of vehicles now have electronic fuel injection and some sort of engine management system. To service these systems requires electronic scanners, a computer or both.

Arguably though, many service departments are behind the curve when it comes to using their dealership's website effectively to market and manage their business. Let's see if we can change that.

One goal to shoot for is reducing repetitive actions. Strive to do the task once. Do it right and be done with it. To that effort, a service manager can take a greater role in determining what gets posted on the dealership's website so customers get the information they need without having to call the store. Info like hours of operation, range of pick-up and delivery or cost of routine services should be easy to find online.

An excellent example of this can be found on the website of Beartooth Harley-Davidson of Billings, Mont. It won Dealernews' Top 100 Best Website category award last year. In its service section, it posts the days and specific areas of pick-up and delivery and offers a map. By providing this information online, it reduces the number of phone calls they have to handle. In the end, this strategy reduces time on the phone and miles on the road.

Another way service can use the store's website is by creating something I call at-a-glance marketing. In other words, the advertisement design — whether it's a sign, a dyno chart, a flier or a Web screen — has to be understood in a glance; roughly three seconds. Good design attracts the customer's eye and answers his or her first question: "Is this something I would be interested in?" The ad's details can provide more meat if needed.

On Beartooth's home page there's an easy-to-find service tab. Click on the "Our Service Department" selection in the drop-down list and you're taken to a page with a headline reading "Service is Everything!" with eight easy-to-read bullet points telling the customer what Beartooth's service can do for them. Nice.

A relatively new program that's gaining momentum is online scheduling where customers can type in their personal and vehicle information and the work they want done. Dealerships like Reno Harley-Davidson, Malcolm Smith Motorsports, Fay Myers Motorcycle World and Bartels' Harley-Davidson all provide a service appointment form on their websites. According to the service managers at those stores, up to 30 percent of customers are taking advantage of this tool. Even though the service writers have to key in the information customers send them, they still save time by not playing phone tag.

Josh Smith of Fay Myers Motorcycle World told me, "One time-saving advantage is I can read the e-mail, check our parts stock, get prices and determine when I can get the customer into service, all before making the call back to confirm."

Javier Gonzalez, service manager at Malcom Smith Motorsports, added that the online appointment form reduces customer frustration because the customer isn't waiting on hold for a long time during the dealership's busy season.