Friday, February 14, 2014

Service Advisors Must be Plugged Into the Connected Car Customer

The connected car is the new reality. If you don’t believe it, have a look at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show headlines: “Autos Morph Into iPhones as Buyers Want Wi-Fi With Wheels” (Bloomberg News). In fact, the car could soon become the ultimate mobile device. Consumers expect their cars to provide infotainment, but they also want their cars to diagnose themselves and help facilitate the process of getting fixed… a fully connected service experience.

The question we’re asking is: Where does the connected car leave the service advisor? Does it mean that the day you buy your car will be the last time you’ll see a human being at the dealership?

There’s no doubt that the connected car will disrupt the traditional service advisor role.

In the pre-connected world, service advisors (SA) drove the customer relationship through all steps of the service process, from initiating service to follow-up. They managed systems, identified upsell potential, and kept records. Connectivity is changing this dynamic. It’s really the car that will own the relationship with the customer. The service advisor will simply facilitate the process and, potentially, have limited customer contact.

In fact, our recent focus group suggests that drivers trust their vehicles more than dealership personnel to provide service advice, particularly on regular maintenance items (click here to see some early footage from that focus group). Drivers are receptive to detailed service-related diagnostic information coming directly from their cars, and take it as the honest truth; they are willing to schedule appointments based on detailed vehicle diagnostic notifications alone. The technology is believable because so much in our lives today is successfully connected and self-diagnosing (think computer error messages and antivirus software). One OEM client revealed that car-initiated interactions (e.g. appointments) have much higher close rates than those made through the traditional channels, suggesting that these service jobs are deemed more necessary by the customer.

Big data will automate service decision-making.

Today’s vehicles are advanced computing machines. The sensors that provide detailed information about the health and status of the vehicles, combined with other OEM data, extend the dealer-owner relationship beyond the point of sale; all without the interaction of a service advisor. Cars are increasingly ‘talking’ to the dealer.

Where does that leave the service advisor?

Think of this scenario. The vehicle triggers a detailed factory maintenance light, based on actual vehicle mileage. At the same time, an OEM system knows that it’s time for that vehicle’s 50K maintenance and sends a maintenance flier to the customer’s mailbox/email. The consumer makes the appointment (by phone, email, or via the in-vehicle appointment system) and is given an accurate estimate of timing and price. Immediately after scheduling, the shop management system obtains the necessary parts and schedules the technician. When the customer arrives, the service advisor has in hand a write-up and history (created by the system). The vehicle goes in for the service, which the customer can monitor via a smartphone, the owner’s portal, or greeter boards. Finally, the customer picks up the vehicle, as well as a report containing the multi-point inspection and future/deferred services (with up-to-date prices that will be honored by the dealer). The service advisor’s job is to handle any exceptions that arise. In other words, the SA facilitates a transaction that has already been guided by the decision support system.

The Ultimate-Service Genius Bar

That doesn’t mean the SA is obsolete. In a different scenario, the service advisor becomes key to customer satisfaction. Relieved of clerical tasks by the technology, the advisor can really focus on the customer’s needs and concerns, and provide the human factor that also builds trust.

What skills will these “connected” service advisors need? Clearly, strong people skills and a knack for problem solving. An ability to maintain composure and focus while solving customer issues is critical. They should be able to acquire new skills in car technology and be eager to learn. They should have excellent time management skills and be able to make decisions quickly.

Perhaps it’s time that dealerships take a page from Apple’s playbook and create a service “genius bar” of sorts. With help from the OEM, dealers could develop “service delivery specialists” charged with holding the hands of customers during the service process.

These geniuses would know everything about the customer and the history of the vehicle. Naturally, they will be equipped with tablets to help explain service and repairs to customers, to answer any questions, and resolve all the gripes that sometimes leave customers fuming. They would have the training and knowledge to explain service issues and could provide car technology guidance to vehicle owners.

The concept isn’t new to the automotive industry; both BMW and Lexus have deployed product geniuses. Of course, implementing service geniuses won’t be easy, but if done right, the rewards can be enormous. Just look at the success of Apple’s tech support stations.

Bottom Line: Connectivity is definitely changing the game. The ability of automakers and dealers to make a vehicle “easy to own” will drive owner loyalty. The service advisor needs to play a role in this by becoming more customer-focused and more customer-centric. More importantly, connectivity will allow dealer representatives to build a broader, better relationship with customers, one that will extend far beyond the point of sale.

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