When it comes to scheduling service visits at a dealership, new research shows that customers overwhelmingly prefer human interaction. This data comes as part of our 2023 Dealership Service Retention Report, where we surveyed 1,380 vehicle owners to give dealerships greater insight into which factors cause customers to return to their dealership for service, and what causes them to leave.

We found that while automation is on the rise, a human touch remains crucial for customer satisfaction. This report emphasizes the need for dealerships to understand evolving consumer preferences, especially when it comes to communication methods, if they want to keep their customers coming back.

The latest data on service scheduling preferences

As automation continues to rise, the value of genuine human interaction has never been more critical, especially when customers are reaching out to solve a problem with their vehicle. While 42 percent of dealership customers still prefer to call and speak with someone, a mere 3 percent would choose an automated system as their top preference for scheduling services, according to the report.

This stark contrast reveals that when it comes to problem-solving or booking services, people want the assurance, empathy, and flexibility that only a human can provide.

What keeps customers coming back to your dealership in 2023?

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“Talk to human” — the danger of automated scheduling

While automation offers efficiency, it’s essential to understand the nuances of customer preferences. Surveys indicate that 14x more customers prefer to call and speak directly with a representative rather than navigate an automated system. However, it’s also worth noting that a significant portion of customers do appreciate the convenience of online scheduling.

The primary challenge with both online scheduling and phone automation is their inability to address a common issue: lack of appointment availability. Research shows that this is a major reason customers seek alternatives or leave a service provider. Automated systems lack the flexibility to offer alternative solutions or appease a frustrated customer in real-time.

This limitation is significant. When customers schedule online or through an automated system, dealership employees miss out on the chance to gauge customer satisfaction. More critically, they lose the opportunity to identify and address immediate concerns.

For instance, if a preferred time slot is unavailable, a human representative might suggest a slightly different time or offer a special service discount as a gesture of goodwill. Automated systems can’t negotiate or “talk a customer down.”

In essence, while automation can streamline processes, it might leave you in the dark about why customers are dissatisfied or why they might be choosing to go elsewhere. Balancing technology with human touchpoints is crucial for maintaining customer loyalty and understanding their needs.

So what else makes automated answering services so common?

Pros and cons of automated phone systems for scheduling service visits

When deciding whether to implement automation at your dealership (along with what level of automation, and where), it helps to understand what you’re getting into. Automated systems are not without their benefits, of course:

Pros of automated systems for scheduling:

  • Efficiency: Automated systems can handle multiple calls simultaneously, freeing up staff for other tasks.
  • Availability: These systems are available 24/7, allowing customers to schedule visits at any time.
  • Cost-saving: Automated systems can be less expensive than hiring additional staff, at least when not accounting for potential customer loss.

Cons of automated systems for scheduling:

  • Lack of personal touch: Automated systems can’t provide the personalized service that many customers prefer.
  • Complexity: For complicated issues, automated systems often fall short, requiring human intervention.
  • Customer frustration: If the system is hard to navigate or not “smart” enough, customers may become frustrated and opt for a competitor. This customer churn can be more costly in the long run than hiring more staff.

An exception: automated notifications are fine

Our research found customers still appreciate automated messages when it comes to reminders, deals, or updates. So automation is welcomed for informational or reminder purposes, though customers usually (and increasingly) prefer this in the form of a text message.

This research revealed that about 2 out of 3 customers prefer text updates during service visits, which has increased significantly since 2020. Between service visits, 40% prefer text messages for updates, a rise from 32% in 2020. This trend is particularly strong among younger customers, but is true across every age group.

Our recommendation

Given these insights, we suggest having someone dedicated to answering your phones. This approach not only aligns with customer preferences but also provides an opportunity to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty, which are increasingly valuable in today’s competitive market.

An automated system can make for a helpful backup however, if a customer calls in when the line is busy and the only alternative is being put on hold. In these cases, you don’t want to make them wait around, and an automated system, while imperfect, is better than nothing.

Gaining a competitive advantage with consumer data

If you want your dealership to thrive in today’s market, it’s essential to stay on top of trends in customer preferences. If you’re looking to better understand what drives customer retention in the automotive service industry, consider downloading the full 2023 Dealership Service Retention Report. This report offers a deep dive into the factors that influence customer choices, and provides actionable recommendations for enhancing your service offerings.

What keeps customers coming back to your dealership?

Download the 2023 Dealership Service Retention Report to see what dealership service customers have to say.

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