Friday, July 11, 2014

Waiting for Service Retention

Year after year, our Consumer Sentiment Survey shows that vehicle service customers hate to wait, particularly when the wait is longer than promised. “Getting the vehicle back when promised” is consistently a top-tier customer value. The chart below has become familiar to our clients and the top concerns remain the same. “I just want my vehicle back when you told me it would be ready.”


As consumers, we are forced to wait for things all the time. On a recent flight from our NAPB conference, we sat on the tarmac for 30 minutes waiting to take off. I was shocked to find that, despite this delay, we landed five minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time. While waiting on the tarmac, I had been anxious about missing my tight connection, so I was thrilled that the airline not only got me there on time, but early! My prior frustration disappeared when I realized I wouldn’t have to race through the airport to make my connection.


Perhaps the winds really were in our favor on the flight from Atlanta, as the pilot claimed, but I suspected that the airline overestimated our flight time to increase customer satisfaction about “on-time performance”, and decrease the number of missed connections. Even if the airline had intentionally misled me about their flight estimates, it had worked, and I was even grateful.


A quick Google search shows that this practice has indeed become commonplace for airlines. Some airports have even responded to complaints about wait times at baggage claims by routing travelers to carousels farther from their gates. Travelers spend less time standing and waiting, and complaints have dropped as a result. Airlines have realized how large a role waiting plays in a customer’s experience, and they have found ways to respond.


As an industry, we need to find new ways to address wait times and improve the waiting experience. Nowadays, customer satisfaction isn’t just about getting the vehicle back when promised, but also about the experience the customer has while waiting for their vehicle. Three aspects of waiting can make or break someone’s experience:
  1. Whether or not the time spent waiting is “occupied” or “unoccupied”
  2. Whether or not the customer feels as though their wait time is “fair”: Is the wait proportionate to the value of the service I’m receiving? Is everyone abiding by the rule of “first come first served”?
  3. Whether or not the experience ends on a positive note
Regardless of the various tactical and operational improvements dealers can make to shorten wait times, a few basic changes can significantly improve the customer experience during the wait.
  1. Give the customer something to do while they’re waiting. This seems too simple to be true, but an appealing and pleasant waiting area can ease customers’ boredom and frustration during a long wait time. This doesn’t just mean having a few chairs, old magazines, and a crusty coffee pot. Dealers need to provide TVs, free Wifi, private areas for business calls, play areas for children, and more. Some dealerships we’ve seen have gone so far as to have free manicures or massages!
  2. Quick or Express Service should be just that - fast. Customers coming in for a quick lube service select this option based on its speed and convenience. They know this service isn’t rigorous and expect the vehicle to be out quickly. Service Advisors should be clear and communicative about the progress of the service. If something comes up, the customer should be informed immediately so they don’t think other customers are getting faster service. When a customer observes another customer arriving and departing before their own service is completed, even a short wait time can feel quite long.
  3. A long wait can be saved or ruined based on the last 10 minutes. A customer who is frustrated by their wait can still be saved if the dealership handles their closeout process in a sensitive way. Customers typically remember their experience based on how the visit ends, so this portion is crucial. Too often, it is rushed or even overlooked. Service Advisors should have the ability to offer small concessions to customers who have had a negative experience - a discount on today’s service, coupons for upcoming service, or even a free snack or beverage in the waiting area. Taking a few extra minutes at the end to establish a connection and relationship with the customer is crucial. On the other hand, ignoring the customer’s frustration or failing to provide these small, but effective, consolations may result in the loss of a loyal customer.
Our research about the growing popularity of chains shows that customers care more and more about speed and convenience. To compete with companies that cater to customers who want speedy service, dealers need to get smarter, not just about decreasing wait times, but also about improving the waiting experience.


Bottom line: We’ve seen how service retention numbers drop precipitously as customers pass the warranty threshold. As new cars require even fewer maintenance services, it’s ever more important to retain those customers who do come to dealers. One of the best ways to improve customer experience and perception, and thus retain customers, is to tackle the waiting game. If you can’t cut down wait times without comprising quality, improving the customer’s experience during that wait just might be enough to keep them coming back.


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