Appointment books, dealership-management systems and telephone calls are quickly becoming a thing of the past at many dealership service departments nationwide.

Dealerships instead are moving toward e-scheduling and, as a result, are seeing an increase in productivity, customer satisfaction and profitability.

West Herr Automotive Group in Hamburg, NY, implemented e-scheduling in 2005 and hasn’t looked back.

“It’s basically streamlined us to get cars in the shop faster and more organized, which allows productivity to go up,” says Mark Zeiz, Director of Service Operations for General Motors franchises at West Herr.

The group aligned their business with Xtime Inc., an e-scheduling company servicing 4,200 dealerships across the United States. Customer loyalty has always ranked as a top priority at the dealership and, according to Zeiz, it’s something that’s been on the rise since incorporating Xtime.

“And I think as time goes on you’re going to see more,” he says.

According to a domestic auto maker’s research, only 25% of car buyers return to the same dealership for vehicle service. Dealerships incorporating e-scheduling, via Xtime or TimeHighway.com, are finding that number on the rise.

For dealers, e-scheduling simplifies and saves time. TimeHighway.com and Xtime integrate with dealers’ DMS systems, providing, according to dealers who spoke with Wards, a “seamless” transaction. Part of the transaction includes initial user training, as well as continued technical support.

“Instead of the old way of doing appointments and service by having a book with a bunch of numbers written in it you can now be anywhere in the dealership, as long as there is a computer there, and make an appointment,” Zeiz says. “You can have 10 different people there making appointments and they’re all on the same page.”

Participating dealers say e-scheduling has freed up hours of time that would otherwise have been spent scheduling appointments over the phone. With an average hold time of five and a half minutes over the phone, Internet-scheduled appointments made faster mean more appointments are made as a whole.

“Basically what you’re selling are tech hours,” says Xtime Chief Executive Officer Neal East. “If you have 10 tech hours and work a 10 hour day you have 100 hours to sell and every hour you don’t sell is expensive to you.”

Scott Jewett is the Director of Fixed Operations at Scholfield Auto Plaza in Wichita, KS. Prior to using TimeHighway, Jewett ran tracking software in the service department that indicated employees were spending 4-5 hours a day on the phone. “That doesn’t leave much time for anything else,” he says.

“It’s opened the floodgates,” Jewett adds, noting that since moving to e-scheduling last summer the company has seen profitability rise 38%. “It’s brought in a lot more business and it’s increased profitability. We’re busier and, at the same time, the staff really feels like they have more time.”

From the customer point of view, e-scheduling provides a quick, convenient way to schedule service appointments 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. Customers schedule appointments through a link in the dealership web site, receive a confirmation e-mail and later a second e-mail reminding them of their appointment. Should the customer miss their appointment, another e-mail is sent requesting they reschedule.

Customers set up accounts specifically tailored for their car, selecting the model and make, year, mileage, etc. Should the vehicle be due for a mileage inspection, owners will be reminded of this as they set up their appointment. Customers may also use the program to request a loaner car.

“I think the best feedback we get is that nobody’s complaining,” says Chris Calder, an Xtime customer and Service Director of Hendrick Lexus in Charlotte, NC. “They like to be able to go in, set up an account for their own car. They like to be able to look at their schedule live and pick and choose when they can come in.”

TimeHighway.com president Karen Dillon says the company has changed rapidly since it entered the world of e-scheduling 18 months ago.

“We will continue to evolve the program to accommodate what our dealers are looking for but we really see a tremendous growth pattern again because more and more dealers are recognizing the power of the Internet,” Dillon says. “They need to harness that for their customers.”

It’s a message dealers quickly are learning.

“The game is convenience to our customer,” says Zeiz. “You’ve got to make it totally convenient so they can get in and get out. If we make it easier for our customers, it will improve our business.”

egenoff@wardsauto.com