How dealerships can keep customers coming back for service

How dealerships can keep customers coming back for service

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In 2018, Jessica Lee was a consultant working with political campaigns to reach potential voters via text messages when she had an idea about a new way for companies to connect with their customers.

She was approached by a general manager at a dealership who was eager for more customers. The dealership launched a lease-retention campaign Lee designed that relied solely on texts.

“From that one day they closed 12 deals,” Lee says.

Seeing the potential in this approach, Lee raised money to build her idea into a dealership-focused solution. She launched Bitesize in 2021; it currently has 30 dealership clients in the U.S.

Lee says Bitesize can be particularly helpful in addressing a long-standing challenge — getting customers into the dealership service department. For most people, keeping track of regular maintenance isn’t a priority. Some customers, Lee jokes, “will only think to bring their car in when it’s actively on fire.”

As for dealership service departments, they want to time customer appointments correctly in order to keep service bays full.

“Getting the right customers in at the right time with the right service technician is crucial,” Lee says.

Bitesize solves that problem, she says.

To recruit service customers, the dealership identifies a slow time of the week. They then select customers in need of maintenance or warranty work. That information is loaded into the Bitesize system, which sends personalized text messages to customers at once.

“They hear back from customers within the first hour of sending the text messages and are able to fill up their service bays,” Lee says.

Service departments no longer need to spend so much time dialing or texting customers individually. With Bitesize, service departments are able to create more traffic in less time and without adding staff.

Lee says dealers using Bitesize on average hear from 520 additional service customers ready to book appointments each month.

Because customers receive so many texts during their day, dealerships need to be strategic about how they use this method of communication. Lee says Bitesize develops texts that sound more human. She said there’s a “science and art” to formulating a high-performing text system. This consists of introducing yourself, providing a compelling reason for customers to speak with the dealership, then asking an open-ended question in a way that resembles more conversational, natural language.

Jade Rice, service operations coordinator for MAP Automotive Group, started using Bitesize for its Michigan dealership in 2020 and has now rolled it out in all five of its stores. Rice says an internal survey indicated customers who are due for service prefer that the notification comes via text. Previously, dealers emailed or called customers, often with no response. Customers reply to Bitesize texts within minutes, sometimes seconds, Rice says.

“Being able to send individual texts to everyone was huge,” she says.

At the group’s Toyota on Nicholasville dealership just south of Lexington, Ky., there was a 9 percent increase in customer pay repair orders and a 15 percent increase in parts and service revenue after one year of using Bitesize. The dealership is now scheduling more than 250 appointments per month from service text reminders sent through Bitesize.

At its Lexus of Lexington dealership, schedule agents are now booking on average 39 percent more appointments per month than they did before Bitesize. Rice says customers have provided extremely positive feedback on the texting service, specifically the ease in scheduling an appointment at a convenient time.

Danielle Lagassa, service manager at Meade Lexus of Lakeside in Utica, Mich., agrees scheduling via text is a big bonus. Her dealership started using Bitesize in 2020 and has seen similar sizeable impacts.

Bitesize makes it easy and efficient “to hit up a group of customers when you’re advertising something last-minute or a recall comes out,” she says.

More than 60 percent of Lagassa’s dealership revenues come from the service department. In March 2019, before using Bitesize, customer-pay repair orders were at 468, compared with 531 in March 2021. Through Bitesize, the dealership gained 15 to 20 more customer repair orders per month. With an average of $425 per repair order, that translates to as much as $8,500 more in labor and parts sales per month, she said.

Lee says part of the success of leveraging text messages depends on how dealerships manage the responses. She recommends dealers schedule their text campaigns so responses come in at a recurring time each day. Also, she suggests designating about two staff members to set aside time each day to respond to those texts. Lagassa says she and three business development center employees are dedicated to sending texts and responding to messages.

Both Lagassa and Rice say they plan to continue using Bitesize for the foreseeable future.

“In terms of the service scheduling agent,” Rice says, “it really has been a game changer.”

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