Keeping Up with Customers and Technology

As consumer behavior changes, dealers who want to lead the pack must adapt. Customers go online for nearly everything, including automotive service, and dealers need more than just a contact form on the service page of their websites. Forward-thinking dealers have had comprehensive online appointment schedulers for years, and many more dealers are expected to implement them soon.

Steve Parnow, fixed operations director of Grossinger Toyota North in Lincolnwood, Ill., implemented an online service scheduler in 2009. His reasoning was simple: “Just to keep up with the times.” However, it took a bit of tweaking to get the right online scheduler in place. For some reason, his customers weren’t adopting the first scheduler at the rate he expected. He felt it was a “great program,” but had to go looking for another scheduler his customers would use. He settled on and implemented the service scheduler by Dealer e-Process in mid-2010.

For two years now, Auto Park Honda in Cary, N.C., has had a comprehensive service scheduler on its website. Kevin Mills, service and parts director, said the main driver for its implementation was the sheer volume of phone traffic his service department was experiencing. “We felt like people could do their own appointments online and save that phone call. Plus, it gives them 24-hour access,” he said. The dealership already had a good relationship with @utoRevenue, so they implemented its @utoScheduler product.

Putnam Lexus in Redwood City, Calif., has had online scheduling since 2009, due in part to pressure from the manufacturer, said Charles Davies, Putnam’s business development manager. The dealership utilizes Xtime for scheduling. “It was almost an industry-wide push through Lexus. Being that we are in Silicon Valley, it makes sense for us to have it,” he said, adding, “It actually makes sense for any dealer to have it.”

As a customer convenience, Hall Automotive Group (a MileOne company) in Virginia Beach, Va., adopted an online service scheduler in early 2010, and all 15 Hall stores were on it by September 2010. The group implemented, the scheduler that other MileOne dealerships had been using for the past couple years.

These four dealers are part of a movement that’s gaining momentum. Many providers of online service schedulers reported very large increases in dealer sign-ups over the past year and expect more to come throughout 2011. Karen Dillon, president of, said, “In 2010, more dealers started realizing they needed [online service scheduling]. We saw a huge uptick. Part of the other reason behind that, I believe, is the manufacturers [are] pushing it.”

Randy Brobston"I can't imagine any drawback to online service scheduling because if a customer can go there any time of day, schedule an appointment accurately and be notified when it's confirmed, then how can that be bad? And it doesn't take any people. Online scheduling is beautiful."

- Randy Brobston, Customer Information Center Manager
 MileOne Automotive

Xtime saw the number of dealerships using its service scheduling tool double in the past year. “The marketplace is changing quickly … technology can have a profound impact,” said Neal East, Xtime CEO. He said the three main reasons consumers do not service their vehicles with dealers are lack of convenience, lack of trust and lack of price availability.

He said dealers create convenience by offering scheduling online, showcasing appointment availability and making accurate service recommendations for customers. To build trust, he said, it’s about doing what you say you’re going to do. “Trust is primarily saying [to the customer], ‘You can come in for your 8 a.m. [appointment] as promised for your favorite service advisor and have that service completed tomorrow.’” Pricing, he said, “can only be accurate if in fact you are serving up a menu of services that are not just make-specific, but also VIN-specific.”

Another scheduler that’s seen a major increase is @utoRevenue’s @utoScheduler. Ed Maier, product manager of the scheduling tool, said, “There’s been a 200-percent increase in the past year in … the number of dealerships that are adopting online scheduling.” Some of the best dealers using the tool see more than 40 percent of their appointments scheduled online. Of all the dealers using the tool, about 20 percent of their total appointments are booked online, up from about 12 percent a year-and-a-half ago. And the company expects continued growth.

Not only is it convenient for customers, but it’s also convenient for service advisors. “Historically, consumers would make service appointments by calling up the service department ... It’s very inconvenient to the consumer because typically if you call a service department, you’re either going to be on hold or you’re going to be bounced around,” Maier explained. “Conversely, from a dealership perspective, the problem is you want your service advisors to be talking to the customers as they come in the service drive.” Another benefit is that the convenience on online scheduling encourages repeat customers. “If you make it easier for the consumer, they’re going to be more inclined to come back.”

Dave Page, director of operations at Dealer e-Process, stressed the importance of marketing to and engaging service customers online and highlighted how many dealers are lacking in those areas. “If a customer goes to Google and types in ‘cheap oil change,’ … there’s not a single dealer that’s doing any search engine marketing. It’s pretty much blanketed by your Jiffy Lubes, Valvoline, Midas. … If you went to 30 different [dealer sites] and you went to their service pages, they’re probably some of the most un-engaging pages on the entire website.”

He’s trying to introduce dealers to the idea of having a separate site for service, but acknowledged it’s a challenge. “[It] is going to be a tough feat because obviously if you look at the budgets between the two sides, a sales department might have a $75,000-a-month budget, and the service department might have a $3,000-a-month budget.”

Dealers looking to implement a new service scheduler should first figure out what it is they’re looking for in an online scheduler before choosing a provider. A few things to consider are:

• Ease of use from a customer standpoint

• Push/pull of data to/from DMS

• Aid with streamlining of internal processes

Opinions vary among providers and dealers on the most important aspects of a service scheduler. Maier said, “I think the most important element of a good service scheduler is ease of use from the consumer perspective.”

East said a good service scheduler must include three things: universal shop control, bi-directional DMS integration and a VIN-specific catalog menu manager.

Dillon stressed the importance of “having something that’s easy to use.” She added, “We just kept hearing feedback that ‘my customers just don’t like to register,’ so we enhanced [our product so] the customer doesn’t have to. We actually do the registration for them in the background.” Other important aspects she mentioned include “having a good list of services that [customers] can select from, all on the same menu” and allowing customers to choose whether they want to wait for their service to be completed, use a shuttle or rent a vehicle. She said a good scheduler should “provide all the information so that [customers] can make an informed decision.”

Page said offering pricing to online customers is paramount. “I think [having pricing online] is super-important … If the pricing’s there and if the price is right, you’re going to capture that customer.”

Parnow of Grossinger Toyota said his customers like the simplicity his service scheduler offers. “We have a virtual consultant on there, which I just thought was fantastic because it [guides customers] right through how to make an appointment … It’s nice, friendly and easy to use, and I haven’t had any complaints about the system.”

Kevin Mills"We see a lot of appointments made between two and five o'clock in the morning. It's amazing. The world does not stop anymore."

- Kevin Mills, Service and Parts 
 Director, Auto Park Honda

Davies focused on “user friendliness” when evaluating different providers for Putnam Lexus, in addition to looking for one that was “scalable” and would help him manage his loaner fleet. For dealers like Davies who want a scheduler that aids with internal processes, there are several internal controls that can be set up in some service schedulers to help with fixed ops processes. Many schedulers can help manage a loaner fleet and/or shuttle service to avoid overbooking rentals or shuttles. Some also allow the dealership to set up parameters for the number and types of appointments that can be booked per day, which can be broken down by advisors, technicians and skill-level of work required.

Mills, of Auto Park Honda, utilizes the shop controls to help manage his service department. He said, “You can set the amount of appointments that can be made online. … so many per day, so many per advisor, so many per hour. You can do waiters by the hour. If you want one per hour, you can set that parameter. If you want 20 cars leaving per day, you can set that parameter.” He said that maintaining the shop controls can get a tad cumbersome, but it’s important to keep up so the customer always has a positive experience.

At Auto Park Honda, which doesn’t include pricing on the service scheduler, about 22 percent of service appointments are booked online. While that’s a significant jump from the two percent of customers who were scheduling online when Mills first implemented the online scheduler, he said he hasn’t noticed a decline in phone traffic to the service department. “We’ve done several things to add to the phone traffic [including adding a quick service lane to the department], but I can’t imagine having the phone traffic with an extra 22 percent,” he said.

Parnow said since he’s implemented the second scheduler, online service appointments have “skyrocketed.” Grossinger Toyota North sees about 35 percent of service appointments booked online. While the scheduler doesn’t feed into the DMS, he said the extra effort required to put Internet appointments into the DMS is minimal.

Randy Brobston, who manages the customer information center for MileOne Automotive (which includes Hall Automotive Group), said the customer information center booked about 9,300 service appointments for the 60-store MileOne group in December, of which about 2,100 were booked online. In the customer information center, 30 employees handle service-related inquires, and when customers call to set a service appointment, the customer information center representatives use the service scheduler to input appointments.

At Putnam Lexus, Davies said having a scheduler that pushed and pulled data to and from the DMS was key because the three BDC employees he manages input service appointments through the scheduler as well. “Being able to pull up repair orders and info … allows me to get [a new BDC employee] up and running and scheduling appointments within hours.” In December 2010, 10 percent of the dealership’s service appointments were booked online, and from November 2010 through January 2011, 330 repair orders totaling $250,000 were generated through online scheduling. Thirty-six of those were new customers who generated $30,000 in repair orders.

Page said dealers who train their customers to schedule online are seeing the biggest increases in online scheduling. Dealers must make current customers aware of the new scheduling tool, which can be done via e-mail (and direct mail for customers who don’t have an e-mail address on file). Many providers can take care of that step for the dealership.

Charles Davies"Last month, we picked up seven new customers in our database and $2,800 [from those] seven customers that had never even come to our store. Off the [online scheduler] itself, we generated over $70,000 worth of repair orders."

- Charles Davies, BDC Manager
  Putnam Lexus

East said, “This is what the certified DMS integration will do. All the e-mails that already exist within the DMS, we harvest … and use those to launch an outbound notification using their e-mail that pre-registers them [with a username and password].”

Additionally, new sales customers must be continually introduced to the scheduler.  Maier said, “We encourage all of our dealerships to schedule the first service appointment on delivery … They should have the customer schedule the appointment through the online scheduler. So A) they’re already registered and B) they have their first appointment scheduled.”

Dealers can also introduce new customers to the scheduler in follow-up e-mails. Dillon said, “Every night, when we import new customers out of the DMS, if there’s an e-mail address in customers’ records, we generate an e-mail to those customers thanking them for being a customer, telling them about the dealer’s online service scheduling, and we give those customers a username and password as well.”

Another way to let customers know about online service scheduling is incorporating a message into the greeting customers hear when they call the dealership. Oftentimes when customers call dealerships, they reach an automated system that says “Press one for sales, press two for service.” Experts suggest dealers add a line about online service scheduling to the beginning, so when customers call, they hear, “Schedule a service appointment online at, press one for sales or press two for sales.”

Dealers should also incorporate a link to the scheduler on e-mail marketing and advertise it at various customer touch-points like near the cashier and on repair receipts given to customers.

Page suggested dealers invest in a bit of search engine marketing to drive customers to a service scheduler. “If you know anything about pay-per-click, there is a quality score that’s attached to the words you’re bidding on,” he said, adding that he sees a lot of dealers running service-oriented pay-per-click ads that direct people to the dealership’s home page, which doesn’t typically have a lot of content dedicated to service.

He explained, “What happens is the quality score gets affected, your click-through rate gets lower and your pay-per-click costs triple, whereas if you had a service website that was filled with service content and you ran those same ads, you would see yourself paying a third of the cost.” Dealers who incorporate service schedulers into their existing websites (as opposed to having a separate website for service) and want the most bang for their PPC buck should drive PPC ads to pages rich in service content.

Dealers who effectively implement a scheduler stand to see a higher appointment show rate. “[If a dealership] averages around an 85-percent show rate, we tell them, once you implement a scheduling system … you can expect at least a 10-percent increase in your show rate simply because of the automatic service reminders that are being generated both for the appointments that are made through the service scheduler as well as the appointments that are made through the DMS,” said Maier. Other providers offer similar appointment reminder services as well.

East echoed similar figures. “If on average I’ve got a 10-percent higher show rate, that’s a straight line to revenue … That’s serious money,” he said.

Vol. 8, Issue 3

About the author
Jennifer Murphy Bloodworth

Jennifer Murphy Bloodworth

Senior Assistant Editor

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