Several statements of truth apply to all of the country’s 18,000 franchised new vehicle dealerships:
1) You’re in business to make a profit; 2) Fixed Operations Departments are central to your profit-making potential; and, 3) a Business Development Center (BDC) can be a critical component to your Fixed Operations Department – a lifeline, if you will, connecting customers who need help with the dealerships’ people who can provide it. But when it comes to BDCs, dealerships diverge into two different camps and the most effective way to understand this division is to listen.
Walk onto the Service drive of a traditionally-modeled shop and, rather than hearing the quiet hum of customers and Service Advisors interacting, you hear phones — the sound of phones ringing and ringing, interrupting the Advisors as they try to work with the customers in the drive.
“My phones would ring off the hook in the morning. My service team was overwhelmed,” says Jim Bloedel, former Service Director of a large Milwaukee – area auto dealership. “Calls came in four, five and six at a time when it was busy.” The challenge isn’t so much the noise, but what the unrelenting ringing represents. On the other end of each call is a prospective customer who needs Service work, often, as soon as possible. From the dealer’s perspective, each call has the potential to serve a customer, book a repair, sell a part, upsell a promotion and enhance a customer’s loyalty. But those ringing phones come with a cost.
They divide the Service Advisor’s attention between the customers in the shop and the customers on the phone. This often compromises both customer face-time and the ability to efficiently schedule Service appointments. “I would routinely hear Service Advisors say, ‘Hey, my schedule is full,’” Bloedel recalls. So he was rivetted when, ten years ago, he attended a presentation that featured the practice of outsourcing a dealership’s BDC function.
The concept has since spread coast to coast, resulting in what can be characterized as a second group of dealerships: those whose Service drives are distinctly phone-ring free.
Sold on the concept, Bloedel decided to outsource his BDC. “Now, I’m suddenly busy all day. There’s no mad rush in the morning and the phones aren’t ringing off the hook, so my guys have time to talk to my customers.”
Bloedel had engaged a Minneapolis- based company called Customer Traac to receive and manage incoming customer calls for Service and Parts and to schedule customer repairs directly on the dealership’s Service appointment calendar. In short order, the dealership noticed that available slots, from open to close, weekdays and weekends, were efficiently filling to capacity. And customers reported higher satisfaction with the service they received.
From The Dealer’s Perspective, Each Call Has The Potential To Serve A Customer, Book An Appointment, Sell Parts, Upsell A Promotion And Enhance A Customer’s Loyalty.
“Within 60 days we found an increase in repair sales. My customer satisfaction level went up because my people had more quality time to spend with our guests,” he says. “Here’s the big thing — my R.O. counts started to go up and I started to get more appointments mid-afternoon and Saturday because I’d taken control of my schedule away from my Service Advisors.”
The value of an outsourced BDC, coupled with Customer Traac’s approach to customer service, convinced Bloedel to join the company as a sales representative. He now serves as its Vice President of Sales and Operations. During his tenure, increased dealership demand is reflected in the numbers: Customer Traac continues to expand its client base, serving dealerships across the country from its two service centers in Roseville, Minnesota and Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
There’s always risk in transferring an internal company function to an outside organization. But technology and training enables outsourced BDCs to operate seamlessly on behalf of their dealer clients.
In an outsourced arrangement, when a customer calls your Service Department, the call will initially be picked up by your representative, who then forwards the call to the outsourced call center. Alternatively, an auto-attendant can route calls directly to the call center, depending on the dealership’s preference.
By syncing up with your in-house scheduling and customer databases, the outsourced Service Representative has immediate access to everything they need to serve both you and your customer: available slots on your Service calendar (based on the nature of the needed repair); an estimated price (you can choose whether to provide this information on the initial call); the maintenance history of the caller’s vehicle; as well as any promotions your dealership is offering at the time of the call.
Dodie Armstrong, Customer Traac’s Director of Operations, explains that the call center representative will ask for the customer’s name and phone number, allowing the representative to immediately find that customer’s information in your database. “If it’s a new customer, we can add them to the system. That’s huge for the dealership, to have updated information,” Armstrong says. The conversation can then focus on the customer’s needs and schedule.
Representatives are trained to schedule the next available appointment for the customer, even if it’s late that same day or on the weekend. “The sooner we can get them in, the better,” she says. “Today if possible; if not, then tomorrow.” No longer does the Service Manager or Advisor control the schedule based on their (or the technicians’) personal needs. Armstrong, who previously established the internal BDC for a dealership in St. Paul, Minnesota, says that migrating the function externally can result in establishing “a well-oiled machine.”
The interaction involves a lot of information to process and impart and Armstrong says that Customer Traac’s agents can effectively multi-task while remaining positive and professional. From the customer’s standpoint, the person on the other end of the phone is a dealership representative with the job of getting their vehicle booked for Service and finished.
From the dealer’s perspective, the value proposition is simple: Does outsourcing its BDC result in a net financial gain and a better customer experience? Operationally, Bloedel says, outsourcing a BDC can significantly reduce fixed labor costs and overhead, while bringinging modern day efficiencies into a dealership’s Service functions. And if using an outsourced BDC nets just one additional appointment per day, he says, the service pays for itself each month.
Agents have access to your store’s Service schedule, as well as customers’ vehicle data, enabling them to fill your schedule and maximize shop loading.
The upside — depending on how the Service team chooses to use its newfound time freedom — can be significant.
Technology And Training Enable Outsourced Bdcs To Operate Seamlessly On Behalf Of Their Dealer Clients.
“When we take the pressure of the phone away from the service advisor, we give them back two to four hours of talk time every day,” Bloedel says. “This is time that can be used to improve the sales process – the greeting, the walk- around, the review, service recommendations – all leading to increased revenue opportunities.” An outsourced BDC can also contract with a dealership’s internal BDC to offer “backstop coverage”, automatically handling overflow calls which the internal BDC is unable to field. Having this coverage assures that you can handle rush periods, like that weekly Monday morning barrage of calls, knowing that you won’t drop calls or miss Service opportunities.
Three years ago, Berlin City Honda Nissan of Portland, Maine outsourced its BDC to Customer Traac, effectively routing approximately two thousand customer phone calls from its Service Department per month. “We wanted to make it a very easy customer experience,” says Nick Sansone, the dealer- ship’s Service Director. “And when you have a call center that communicates as effectively and efficiently as Customer Traac has done for us, it certainly builds the value of who we are as an organization. We don’t feel like the Advisors have a phone in their ear the whole time. They’re not rushed. It lends more time for them to have that good one-on-one time with each customer.”
As Bloedel did a decade ago, you can learn how an outsourced BDC works by visiting Customer Traac’s exhibit — booth 4972C — at the upcoming 2018 NADA Expo in Las Vegas, March 23-25. Ultimately, it’s about having the full force of a call center team to cover and consummate customer calls that could have otherwise been dropped. “When dropped calls are minimized, it keeps customers from falling through the cracks,” he says. “More appointments is what drives additional sales.”
It’s one sales dynamic in which quietude on-site belies a bustling business.
Jon Stone is a writer and digital communicator based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, whose work focuses on health care, manufacturing and auto industry sectors. You can learn how an outsourced BDC works by visiting Customer Traac at the upcoming 2018 NADA Expo in Las Vegas, March 23-25.
This article was originally published in Fixed Ops Magazine. Original version can be found here: http://fixedopsmag.com/magazine/marapr2018/html5.html#page/62