I recently moderated a panel at the Ward’s Spring Training Conference on using the Internet to market your fixed operations department.

The panelists, Les Silver, MPi; Neal East, XTime; Ray Fenster, Lindsay Automotive Group and Bob Horn, Firkins Automotive Group provided several ideas for using the fixed operations department as a way to set you apart from the competition.

Some of the questions we tackled include: How can we better position our Fixed Operations on the Web? What should we say about Fixed Operations? How do we get our service management staff to view the website as an asset?

One thing is clear -- Your website can be the media to position your fixed operations superiority in your market. It’s your story of why you are the power to contend with. You have the assets. Use them!

Most dealer websites have the following:

1. Schedule a service appointment page. Usually, this is an email form, but some of the more advanced dealers are using tools such as XTime or Time Highway that integrate directly into the DMS system and lets the customer set an appointment in real time.

2. Order a part or accessory.

3. Service specials – but make sure you update these regularly, even if it’s just changing the date. There are few things worse than an expired coupon or special on your website.

4. Recall information

5. Ask the expert

6. Meet our staff

7. Quick service These things are important to have, but we need to start thinking more creatively. Think about it -- if your website and pages are the same as everyone else, your operation is viewed as just another dealership service department.

Below are some suggestions of potential strengths in your fixed operations department that you can advertise online and in traditional media.

Technical Staff Technicians have gotten the short end of the stick for some time in the dealership. The typical service department has reduced their technical staff to nothing more than a number. Technicians often are referred to by this number and have no identity in the eyes of the customer.

The reality is technicians might be your dealership’s greatest strength. I have met technicians who have more than $50,000 invested in tools. What a commitment! Add to that, the education. I believe you have technicians who have more education than some doctors. They aren’t grease monkeys any more.

How many vehicles has your top gun serviced in his career? Let’s assume the following: your technician has been with you for 20 years, serviced eight cars a day since he/she started, 20 years x 250 work days per year = 5000 work days x 8 cars per day = 40,000 cars serviced by one technician!

Is this not a sales point that needs to be communicated? Why not promote this asset on your website? Have this technician do a short video interview explaining how he/she services the customer’s car. I know they are not professional actors but that makes them more believable in my opinion.

The pessimist (some might say savvy) always raises their hand and says, “I don’t want to put my top gun technician in a video; my competitors will try to steal them!” This could happen, and you should factor this into your consideration. If that concerns you, then market the entire service department, rather than specific technicians.

Service Advisors Consider that the automotive service sector often generates the most consumer complaints that are logged with many of the attorney general offices around the country.

Your service advisors are the face of your dealership, and drive your image to all of your service customers. How have you presented them to your customers? The website is a great way to promote and humanize them. Doing so may soften an angry or frustrated customer. Market your dealership as the place people want to do business with.

Consider having a video bio for each service advisor. Let your customers meet them before they actually meet them face to face. This is also a great tool for the hand off from sales to the service department when it’s not feasible to do a formal introduction.

Selling Convenience Customers want and demand convenience. Your service department may do a good job providing it. But do you promote that on your website?

It’s the number one purchase consideration behind need. You can communicate by offering a time focus statement or by offering time guarantee by the operation. For example, offer an oil and filter change in 16 minutes or it’s free.

Real online service scheduling will become a huge advantage in the near future, especially if it allows online payment for the service.

Quick Service is another convenience to advertise. The process used will vary. But it’s the message -- quick service sells. Be sure if you offer this to include it on the webpage.

Make your fixed operations department part of your email newsletter campaigns. You can experiment and learn what works. There are dealers who are reporting significantly increased service appointments and profit being generated by email campaigns.

I’m sure you have other strengths in your dealership that can set you apart. The trick is to think creatively.