Dealership service departments outmuscle competitors by employing better-trained mechanics and offering finer customer amenities. But the competition often outhustles dealers when it comes to effective digital marketing of back-shop services.

Independent repair shops and car-care chains maintain a larger online presence than do dealers, primarily because of their more strategic use of online strategies that put them high on search-engine results.

In response, many dealers are addressing that digital shortcoming, as they focus more on fixed operations at a time when vehicle sales are ebbing. (See the 2017 WardsAuto Service 150, a list of top dealerships with standout fixed operations.)

“Creating awareness of the service department has become important,” says Justin Sprague, division vice president-product marketing for CDK Global, a technology service provider to dealers.

“There’s a real opportunity as dealers become increasingly focused on fixed operations,” he tells WardsAuto.

CDK offers examples of how dealers often fail to make it to the top of search-engine results.

For instance, Google results from entering “Chevrolet oil change” turned up a top-of-the-list ad directing people to the Chevy website, followed by paid promotions from Jiffy Lube, Sears Auto Centers and Goodyear. Only one dealer ad showed up, bottom right.

“Dealers aren’t showing up prominently on the search results,” Sprague says. “They’re disadvantaged in capturing business.”

That shouldn’t be the case because dealer service departments have a lot going for them, he says, while noting CDK offers various digital tools and solutions to heighten dealers’ fixed-ops online presence and drum up business.    

Sprague and Vince Phelan, CDK’s senior director-marketing, argue dealership auto technicians are highly trained and readily able to fix the complicated systems in modern cars. Independent shops with shallower talent bases can struggle there.

Also, dealerships offer nicer customer lounges with amenities such as WiFi and comfortable seating. Moreover, dealerships are more likely to put service-department customers in loaner vehicles.

“A dealer may have those advantages but they are not touting them as much as they could,” Phelan says.

A frequent rap against dealers is they charge more for vehicle repairs and maintenance work than do their competitors.

But Sprague points to surveys that show perceived consumer differences between price and value. “When price is the subject, people say dealers are more expensive, but 81% of drivers say quality of service is more important than price.”

Of two website design platforms, adaptive and responsive, Google prefers and recommends the latter. That’s because all the hits go to a single URL, which positions them higher in indexing.

That and the proper use of search-engine optimization and search-engine marketing can enhance the likelihood of consumers finding a dealership of the web at a time when so many consumers turn to search engines, Sprague says.

“Eighty-two percent of people with smartphones use them to locate local businesses,” he says. “And there are 70 million monthly auto parts and service searches on Google alone. But many times dealers aren’t showing up on the search results.”

He’s a strong advocate of online marketing and its benefit of providing quick feedback. “I love digital because it’s measureable. You get a good idea of what is effective, what people are and aren’t responding to, and optimize your channel and spend accordingly.”

Another way service departments can improve their digital game is by becoming more of a presence on their dealership websites.

Dealer websites tend to focus overwhelmingly on vehicle sales and inventory, Phelan notes. “They are falling short of taking full advantage of their service capabilities.”

He and Sprague recommend giving fixed ops its fair share of website real estate, arguing it is a main resource customers use to decide on service and schedule appointments.

Today, most dealers offer online appointment scheduling on tools that come with more features and functionality than early versions.

“The system reminds customers of an appointment by email or texting, increasing the chances of them showing up,” Sprague says. “People can go online to the scheduling tool and see recommended OEM services based on the VIN. They can also change appointment times. Online scheduling is a huge benefit to customers and dealers alike.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com