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Setting Up an Effective Phone Follow-up System
for Auto Service Departments

I. Why Phone Follow-Up?

Automotive manufacturers provide a customer satisfaction survey during the basic warranty period to their service customers who had a warranty repair. However helpful these might seem, this information is anywhere from 30-90 days old and is too late to assist a service department in saving a customer who had a really bad service experience.

The purpose of phone follow-up is to provide instant feedback on what happened between the service department and the customer. This allows for quick response for problem situations, hopefully maintaining customer loyalty.

Another concern is that the average customer does not complain about poor service, they just go somewhere else. Statistics usually quote that about only 1-in-20 customers complain. I used to think these numbers were a little far fetched until I worked as a service advisor in a dealership with a good phone follow-up system. Then I realized why we do not hear many of the complaints unless we ask. Many of the service problems were little things that the customer just did not want to bother dealing with, yet it did affect their choice of returning when it was time for any customer pay work like maintenance, general repairs or quick services. The customer attitude was that I may have to return there for a warranty repair, but I get to choose where I want to go when it is my turn to spend my money.

A big pitfall for many service departments in using phone follow-up is that they only use it during the time period in which the customer is surveyed by the manufacturer under the basic warranty. I agree that this could help raise the manufacturer survey scores for the dealership service department and keep the manufacturer happy with the dealership, but I believe the highest rating of CSI is when the customer returns to spend money with the dealership. People only spend their own money at places where they like the service, so it is critical to continue phone follow-up after the manufacturer's survey period to track success with these customers.

II. Finding the Right Person

This is the hardest part of putting together a phone follow-up program. The person making the calls has to be comfortable talking over the phone to people they have never met in person. This person also must be able to establish rapport with the customer quickly. A written script will help.

If this person is shared for another job task, there has to be a clear understanding about how important this task is to the dealership. It needs to be the #1 priority above anything else.

Another consideration is that this person must be comfortable asking questions about work associates with the customer. Plus, if the phone follow-ups are used to beat up employees, then this person will not want to be the bad person finding the ammunition for the manager to use against their peers.

III. Setting Up the Script

A script should be natural and easy to use. The phone follow-up person would want to keep this available as a guide while conducting the follow-ups. The script should be in three parts - introduction, questions and closing statement.

The introduction:

"Hello, I am ( employee name ) with ( name of dealership ). On ( date of service ), you brought your ( year/type of vehicle ) to our service dept where we ( briefly describe nature of service visit ). May I ask you some questions that will take about 2-3 minutes to find out how we did servicing your vehicle?"

( If customer says "no," ask for permission to send a mail-back survey. If the customer says "yes" to the mailed survey, this will create a commitment that will increase the possibility that they will return the mail-back survey. )

Guidelines for questions for a warranty customer still within the manufacturer basic warranty and survey period:

During the months that the customer will receive manufacturer's surveys, use the key questions that rate the service department. However, one of the problems in using manufacturer's survey questions is that they usually have 5 or more different ratings that the customer can choose. I would recommend that the phone question be worded to reflect hitting the highest rating possible because the highest rating is the goal. Also, this helps the customer learn how to respond the manufacturer's survey questions.

Example: Could you rate our courtesy as "Excellent?" Now if your manufacturer uses a different description, such as "Completely Satisfied," then that is the term you would use instead of "Excellent."

Review each of the manufacturer's survey questions in this manner with the service customer.

If the customer is out of the manufacturer basic warranty and survey time period, then you would still want to follow-up using these three basic questions:

1. Did our staff treat you in a courteous and attentive manner?

2. Did we repair the vehicle to your expectations? If the customer answers "no," then ask what happened?

3. Will you use our service department for future service needs? If not, what could we do to improve?

Closing statement:

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, this helps us to learn to serve you and our other customers better. When you have another service need, we hope you will choose our service department. Good bye.

Now this script is general in nature and is designed to be a template to be customized to each dealership situation.

IV. Ask Permission for Phone Follow-up

It is recommended that the cashier ask these next questions at service delivery to help set up for the phone follow-up:

  • May we call you within the next few days too conduct a phone follow-up on your service visit that will take less than 5 minures?
  • If yes, then ask if day or evening is better and confirm the phone number to be called.
  • If no, then let the customer know that the service department will send them a survey in the mail and to please return it as soon as possible. The cashier can also give the customer a mail-in survey with the receipt. These survey questions should match the ones presented over the phone.

V. General Guidelines

These calls should be conducted with a minimum of 70% of the service department customers who had warranty or customer pay services provided.

The customer should be called within 24-48 hours of the visit to allow time to drive the vehicle and so any problems can be corrected as quickly as possible.

The actually phone survey should take an average of 2-3 minutes unless the customer wants to continue the conversation.

Every week a graph should be posted to show the results of the phone follow-up surveys. This will create employee interest and minimize their fears about it being a negative procedure. There should be weekly, or biweekly, team meetings to praise good results and to ask the team what could be done differently for survey questions that get poor scores, i.e., involve them in the problem solving process.

Compare your phone follow-up results to the manufacturer's survey results, they should be close and this will let you know if your phone follow-up is working. However, be sure that at least 1-in-3 customers are responding to the manufacturer's surveys. If only 1-in-4 or less are responding, scores will tend to be lower.

Finally, make sure you have a trained back-up person, in case you lose your main person. This is critical. Also, sit with the phone follow-up person occasionally to coach them and help create a consistency in the quality of the call-backs.

Copyright, 2006, J. Daniel Emmanuel

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