2020's pandemic accelerated the adoption of advanced customer centric dealership services such as service pickup & delivery, home test drives, and remote sales. Service pickup and delivery, once an owner amenity associated with luxury brands Lincoln, and Genesis, became available at more premium, and non-premium dealerships. Another form of service that gained more traction with dealerships in 2020 was mobile service. Mobile service allows dealerships to perform vehicle maintenance and minor recalls at the customer’s home, or office. From a customer perspective, mobile service is a more convenient form of vehicle maintenance, since it is the least disruptive to the customers’ day, and leaves a minimal “time foot print” on their schedule.
Mobile Service is certainly not new, and its applications vary depending on business needs. In the aftermarket for example, mobile tire installations, mobile brake service, and mobile oil changes, have been available for years. EV companies with a direct-to-consumer sales model use mobile service to offset the lack of a physical service network (Lucid, Rivian), or to create additional service capacity for a smaller physical service network (Tesla). In the traditional OEM arena, Ford and Mercedes Benz have led the way in the U.S. market with their OEM backed mobile service programs. For a traditional OEM or dealership, mobile service can be utilized to improve retention, customer experience, and service capacity.
For a traditional dealership or OEM, mobile service can be used to improve several key areas in dealership service operations:
Higher Customer Satisfaction
Increased Service Capacity (at the dealership)
Loaner Car Efficiencies
Service Valet Efficiencies
Completing minor maintenance and minor recall appointments at the customer’s home not only improves the customer’s experience, leading to higher retention, but it also creates additional service capacity at the dealership itself. Improved service capacity reduces appointment lead times, and allows for better accommodation of walk-in customers who don’t have an appointment. By allowing staff more time to focus on each customer at the dealership, the experience of on-site customers is also improved. This can be especially helpful during minor recall campaigns when a higher volume of customers require quick repairs. For dealerships with loaner cars, or service valet, mobile service can be used to create more efficiency, and further improve customer experience. Minor service appointments and recalls that can be completed in less than one hour without a lift, often remove a loaner car from the dealer’s loaner fleet for one to three days. If some of these basic appointments were completed using mobile service, more loaner cars would be available at the dealership for customers who come in. In the case of service valet, more loaner cars on hand shortens lead times for service valet appointment availability. Essentially, mobile service will allow dealers to provide loaner cars or service valet to more of their customers, without the risk of putting too many loaner cars into their loaner car program.
There are some limitations to mobile service. As such, mobile service can only be offered to customers who have a home (or office) with a safe location for the technician to work on their vehicle. Additionally, mobile service cannot be offered to customers who park on the street, or lack a safe location for work to be performed. Customers who reside in condominium communities or multi-unit dwellings will need to check with their property management company about having mobile service performed at the location. For office locations, customers will need to check with the office property manager to assure clearance for the service. The other limitation with mobile service would be inclement weather, as often, the mobile service work is performed outside.
Let’s start with what we already know from quick service, or express service: The highest demand customer maintenance need is an oil change and tire rotation. Oil changes also happen to be the maintenance need that most customers defect to the aftermarket for. To address the issue of customer defection to the aftermarket over oil changes, OEM’s rolled out Express Service programs several years ago to improve retention. Since mobile service will be a new venture for most dealerships, it would be best to start with the type of services typically offered in a quick service, or express service operation, as the core of the mobile service program. Express service (Level 1) is an oil change, tire rotation, and a multipoint inspect (MPI), performed in about one hour. Based on the MPI results, there’s potential to upsell additional maintenance needs such as engine air filters, cabin air filters, wiper blades, and light bulbs. Since these additional items can be quickly replaced, the average mobile service visit can still be completed in about an hour, allowing for multiple mobile service appointment slots per day. If the MPI identifies service needs which cannot be performed with mobile service (tires, brakes, etc), the mobile technician can offer to book an in-store service appointment for the customer, or arrange for a service-valet pickup if offered. In this fashion, mobile service functions as a business development tool, sending additional service business back to the dealership – service revenue that otherwise would have been missed, or lost to the aftermarket. Focusing on high demand basic maintenance needs ensures ample service demand to fill up all available daily mobile service appointment time slots. This enables a dealership to reach a higher number of their customers with mobile service, driving up overall customer satisfaction, and retention.
An express service style menu also reduces the number of tools needed in the van, and simplifies parts stocking and storage, minimizing initial investment, and simplifying operation. In terms of staffing, the position needs a person who is technically proficient, but is also highly skilled or trained in customer handling. Keep in mind that a mobile technician will be acting as a driver, greeter, service advisor, technician, and cashier. This person will require basic technical training, but a higher level of customer handling and customer experience training.
Mobile Service Van
First impressions are everything. While it is tempting to save a few dollars and buy an old cargo van, in the interest of presenting a professional image for the dealership (and building customer confidence), invest in a new, modern, cargo van. Think of the van as an extension of the dealership physical facility. For most dealership customers, this will be their first experience with mobile service, therefore both the van, and technician need to present a professional image.
The Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, and Dodge Ram Pro Master are all excellent full size modern cargo vans. The high roof 1500/150 versions are great for a mobile service program, as the cargo areas have adequate space for installing additional tools and equipment in the future. This will allow dealers to easily expand their mobile service menu beyond just oil changes and tire rotations (Ex: adding mobile brake service, or mobile battery replacement). For metro markets, or areas where access to parking garages is necessary, consider using a mid-size van like a Mercedes Metris, Ford Transit Connect, or Dodge Ran Pro Master City.
The advantage of using one of these popular vans is the large Upfitter industry that offers everything from full turn-key service vans, to individual parts that can be used to build a mobile service van at the dealership.
After selecting a van, the next step will be upfitting it to suit the planned mobile service program. Several upfitting companies offer full turn-key solutions, or a dealership can build their own mobile service van. If choosing to build a mobile service van, the first step will be ordering pre-made partitions and storage solutions for the cargo area. The cargo area will store all tools, special equipment, service parts, fluids, and safety equipment. It also needs to function as a small work space for the technician. Once the cargo area layout and storage are sorted, assemble a quality tool kit based on the decided service menu offering, along with lifting solutions such as standard jacks, a Quickjack, bladder jacks, jack stands, so forth. Along with a compressor, a used-oil collection system will need to be used for storing used oil, as well as a new-oil storage, and delivery system. To prevent any fluid spills, a large chemical spill prevention containment pad will be used under the vehicle during oil changes, along with a spill clean-up kit in case of any accidental spillage. A pop-up tent, safety cones, PPE, and reflective safety clothing for the technician should be included. A complete First Aid kit and eye wash station should be installed, along with other safety precautions. Part of the van budget should include a professional vehicle wrap, or graphics. This van will represent the dealership on the road, therefore it is critical to use a professionally designed wrap that fits the OEM’s brand and dealership. Finally, add a vehicle monitoring device, as offered by brands like Zubie. These OBDII dongle vehicle monitors are simple to setup, and allow for live tracking of the van, setting of driver behavior alerts (to create driver accountability), fuel usage, maintenance needs, and daily reports of arrival times, times on location, and departure times.
A mobile service van should have the necessary tools and special equipment to perform all items on the service menu. If ECU reflashes or recalibrations for recalls or service campaigns will be offered, plan to install the required special reprogramming tools, cables, laptop, as well as a business grade Wi-Fi.
Selecting the right person for this role, and providing them with proper training, will be critical to the success of the mobile service program. From the customer’s perspective, a mobile technician represents the entire dealership experience. While technical skills are important, this role should place a greater emphasis on customer handling skills, presentation, and professionalism.
If the person selected is currently a technician, they should be enrolled in the OEM’s service advisor courses, service selling, and other customer handling courses in order to improve their customer facing skills. If the person selected is currently a service advisor, they should enroll in the OEM’s basic technician courses. Additional HAZMAT transportation training is also required, and available from several 3rd party training providers.
When it comes to selecting a mobile technician, ask this basic question: Would I feel confident with this person coming to my home, and performing vehicle maintenance on my family cars?
After selecting the right person, and outlining an appropriate training path, the final step will be to equip them with the necessary technology to perform their work in the field. A service tablet will be central to the mobile technician’s work, and the customers experience. The service tablet will be used to perform a variety of functions, including writing RO’s, updating customer information, recall checks, performing the MPI, communicating updates to customer via text, taking customer payment, booking next appointment, emailing invoice, etc. The service tablet should have a dedicated data plan to connect to the dealership’s DMS. If service tablets are not currently in use at the dealership, check with the dealerships DMS provider regarding their service tablet solution.
Electric Vehicles & Mobile Service: Future standard customer experience
Electric vehicles have fewer moving parts and require minimal scheduled maintenance. From a dealer service revenue perspective, an EV's maintenance needs are limited to: tire rotation, cabin filter, wiper blades, tires, and 12-volt battery. Even the brakes last longer due to regenerative braking, and some issues can be resolved with over-the-air software updates. While this is more convenient from the customers perspective since it reduces ownership costs, it represents a reduction in service revenue per vehicle for dealerships, and an increased chance for defection to the aftermarket for basic maintenance.
Traditional OEM’s and dealerships will need to make it as convenient as possible to service EV’s within the dealer network, and this is where mobile service can become a strategic retention piece in maintaining the connection between customers and dealerships in the era of electrification. Additionally, most new EV brands (Tesla, Lucid, Rivian) have a service experience centered around mobile service. We can assume that future EV start-ups will also utilize mobile service as the core of their service strategy. The connection between EV ownership and mobile service is already being shaped in consumers’ minds, and it will be part of their EV ownership expectations in the future. If traditional OEM’s plan to compete with that type of EV ownership experience in the future, they need to start developing mobile service programs and strategies now.