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Are You Considering a Business Development Center for Fixed Operations?

I. Why a BDC?

In today’s competitive business market, everyone is looking for an edge, a way to grow their business and improve customer retention. Business Development Centers (BDCs) have become a way for many dealers to find that edge. BDCs have been around for many years, and many manufacturers support the process; some, in fact, require their dealers to have a BDC. We are in a time where many no longer see it as a question of if they will go to a BDC, but a matter of when and how.

There are many companies out there that specialize in the implementation of Sales BDCs. Some of these companies have even ventured into the area of Service BDCs. Unfortunately, because their background and training are in sales, their expertise is not in service. Therefore, the service side is an afterthought. This process was developed from a Fixed Operation Director’s mindset and has tried to capture as many BDC uses for Fixed Ops as possible. M5, through working with many effective BDCs and implementing Service BDCs, has evolved into experts in this arena. This document will explore the preparation and implementation of an effective Service BDC.

II. Assessment – Is a BDC for me?

Before you explore any new process or department, you must ask yourself, “Is it for me?” and a BDC is no different. Many dealers are looking for answers to some age-old questions. How do I get the advisors to answer the phone when it’s busy? How do I keep my customers informed while their vehicle is in for service? Why can’t I get people notified when their parts come in? Sound familiar? We have all asked these questions over time. Your answers may lie in the proper development and implementation of a Service BDC. When evaluating the visibility of a Service BDC in each environment, there are a few questions that can help you decide if you need one. Listed below are a series of questions to be used as thought starters. This list is by no means all-inclusive.

  • How do you document your appointments?
  • Is workflow even with your production capacity?
    • Do your technicians run out of work?
    • Do you have too many carry-overs?
  • Are your customers serviced the same day they come in?
  • How do you determine how many appointments to take and when to cut them off?
  • Who currently sets appointments?
  • Is your appointment information up to the minute?
  • Do you make appointment confirmation calls?
  • Do you call no-show appointments to reschedule?
  • How are special order parts received, and customers notified?
  • How do you notify the customer of campaigns and recalls?
  • Do you do any phone marketing for the Service Dept?
  • How many status calls do you receive each day?
  • Do you have any quality control methods for phone conversations?

III. BDC responsibilities

OK, so a Service BDC may be for you; let’s look at the responsibilities we are going to ask of the BDC. Are they simply going to be a call center to take appointments or appointment coordinators? Are they going to be used as a follow-up tool to ensure that customers are being contacted? Status calls? SOP notification? Are they going to be used to truly develop more business? Recall notification? Follow up on declined repairs? Are you marketing to lost souls or orphaned owners? Whatever you choose, it is suggested that you sit down with the Parts and Service Directors and Managers to create a BDC wish list and then determine what is a legitimate and practical BDC function.

IV. Job Descriptions

As with any position, there should be a clear-cut job description for every position in the BDC. The positions to consider are BDC Manager and BDC Consultants. Each position will be responsible for specific duties. If it is a joint Service and Sales BDC, there may be a need for separate job descriptions for Service BDC Consultants and Sales BDC Consultants.

V. Hours of Operation and Staffing

When implementing a BDC, cost may be a consideration. One way to be mindful of excessive costs is to determine the peak hours of phone call volume. When would it be of the best benefit for the Service BDC to be in operation? Is it important that they be available in the early morning? Is it important to be available after service hours? Should they have weekend hours?

Staffing when adding a new department of any kind can always be a challenge. Do I utilize existing employees? Do I hire people specifically for a job? Can we cross-train? How many people do I need? Using established industry standards, or maybe you already have a Sales BDC that can be trained. Should you hire an experienced Manager?

There are many questions about hours of operation and staffing levels. Most can only be answered through observation and evaluating phone volume.

VI. Facility Layout

Depending on the number of employees and the call volume anticipated, the size of the room will vary. Some will choose to use a corner office currently not in use; others may choose to have an area where the BDC is housed. The size is not as important as the layout. A BDC office seems most effective when the consultant’s desks are visible from the manager’s desk. It is also extremely beneficial for the manager to be able to hear the conversations being had between the BDC Consultant and the customer. It has also been proven beneficial for the BDC office to be in view of the Service Drive. In cases where that is not feasible, it is useful to have a closed-circuit camera view of the service Drive in cases where the BDC is removed from Drive visibility. This will allow the BDC Consultant to know if the advisor is at their desk before making a transfer and therefore avoiding blind transfers. Many BDCs also employ dry-erase boards for many means of immediate communication; one should consider the wall space available to mount these boards when choosing an area to house the BDC.

VII. Appointment Methods

There are many ways to determine the number of appointments to set on any given day. Some are “scientific” ways, while others seem to have no rhyme or reason. It is important to have an accurate method to ensure that you do not overbook one day and underbook the next. In one case, you have upset customers with the other technicians standing around being non-productive. Arguably, setting appointments according to your shop capacity is the best way. This method is based on the premise that each technician has a daily capacity, and collectively they create a shop capacity based on who’s on deck any given day. For safety measures, it is important not to book to full capacity (100%). Most have found that due to walk-ins, tow-ins, and additional sales, 70% of capacity is a good starting point, which can be adjusted as business dictates. Once you have your shop capacity number, you simply set each appointment with a time assignment, and when you reach your number, you are full for the day. This method works well with Advanced Production systems, as each group has its individual capacity, and most computer systems are set up to handle this type of scheduling. It sounds simple enough, but the challenges come in when you have people setting appointments who have no idea of the time each job requires and no feasible way to obtain that information quickly. Now enters the body count method. Most of the time, this is accomplished by the Service Manager telling the appointment people how many to take each day, usually with no rhyme or reason. This method is very spotty at best and depends largely on the manager’s “feel.” When we’re busy, they count the appointments off, and we run out of work. Body count can be applied “scientifically” as well with a little thought. The thought is to combine the two methods. We know how many hours a day we need to book, and we know our average hours per repair order. So, if we divide the total hours needed by the average, we can estimate how many repair orders and therefore appointments are needed for any given day. In many cases, especially in a BDC environment, you are dealing with people who have great phone skills but lack an understanding of mechanical things, and in many cases, that’s for the best. M5 has used this “scientific body count” method many times in conjunction with BDC Consultants with tremendous success.

VIII. Essential BDC Tools

Does the BDC have essential tools? ABSOLUTELY! Every manufacturer that we are familiar with has an essential tool list for technicians. The dealership must have, keep inventory, and account for this list yearly, or they are subject to non-payment of warranty claims. Most everyone familiar with fixed ops is aware of this concept. But we have never seen an essential tool list for advisors or BDC Consultants. You would never ask a technician to do a job without the proper tools, would you? Furthermore, you wouldn’t ask a technician to properly use a tool they do not know how to use. Yet daily, we ask other positions in the store to do just that: perform their job properly with the proper tools. It seems logical, right? On the same thought, there are essential tools that BDC Consultants must have and know how to use properly if we expect them to do their job effectively. The following is a list of essential tools for an effective Service BDC; it can also be a good starting point for an advisor’s essential tool list. The list is not all-inclusive but is considered a basic must-have list:

  • Courtesy Inspection
  • Maintenance Menus
  • Quick Reference pricing guides
  • Service pricing guides
  • BDC hot list (things that should be immediately flagged for an advisor)
  • BDC immediate list (things that should be handled immediately regardless of the schedule)
  • Recall parts availability board
  • Current advisor list, employee number, number of appointments per day

IX. Establish Current Call Volume

Establishing call volume by the time of day is essential to ensuring proper staffing of a Service BDC, especially from the start. It sometimes requires outside help, but many phone systems can record this information for you. The first step is to contact the IT person; chances are good that they will know how to generate a report or whom to contact for it. The information can be dissected down to the department and even extension level. By obtaining this information, you can determine how many people you need to man the phones at a certain time. In general terms, a BDC Consultant can make ten calls an hour effectively. “Effectively” is the keyword.

X. Develop a Call Flow Chart

As important as anything else, we need to determine how calls are currently routed and what routing will be necessary to make the process as customer-friendly as possible. There are many phone systems available today, but it boils down to automated or live operators. If it is automated, should all service calls go through the BDC initially and then be forwarded to an advisor, and if necessary, should there be two prompts for service: one for service and one for setting appointments? If you utilize a live operator, it becomes easy for them to ask about a customer’s specific needs without getting too involved and making the customer feel like they have to repeat themselves. A well-thought-out word track can be very effective to ensure that when the operator changes throughout the day, the level of service remains consistent. Some consideration should be given to as many scenarios as you can think of: e.g., what if the advisor gets an appointment call? Should they handle it or transfer it to BDC? Even though that seems like a no-brainer, there are many cases where the customer will be transferred all over the dealership before their needs are satisfied. Most of us have been on the other end of that call where you are just waiting for someone to take ownership of your situation and help you. If we know how frustrating it is, why do we then do that to our customers? Customer convenience and comfort with the flow are the main barometers for an effective call flow.

XI. Develop a Word Track

As with the operator, word tracks are the best way to ensure that the level of service does not change from one employee to the next. Although word tracks are discussed in the Sales Department all the time, we rarely talk about them in fixed ops. But the fact is, we all use word tracks. Many times, they are just things we have said so many times that they roll off our tongues when we open our mouths. The problem is that many of these word tracks are not well thought out and rarely consistent with the person next to us doing the same thing. Needless to say, an effective BDC needs to have word tracks for every given situation. You may find it beneficial and time-sensitive to create your basic “Setting Appointment” word track first and then build the rest of the word tracks around that. After all, the objective of almost every call that a Service BDC will handle is to set an appointment. We have included a list of situations to consider as a thought starter; you may need additional word tracks in your store. The list includes:

  • Incoming calls
  • Appointments
  • Status inquiries
  • SOP inquiries
  • Outgoing calls
  • Appointment confirmation
  • No-show appointment follow-up
  • SOP notification
  • Recall notification
  • Follow-up on Lost Service Sales (unsold ASRs)
  • Recapture of lost souls

XII. Develop Follow-up Letters

Even though most BDC communication will be on the phone and immediate, there will be times when the need arises to correspond with a customer through mail or even email. When designing your mailers, give thought to making them professional, attractive, and eye-catching. Basically, avoid them looking like just another piece of junk mail. Nothing that is “tossed at first sight” is ever effective. The following are some situations we have seen where a mailer is at times necessary:

  • SOP notification
  • Recall notification
  • Follow-up on Lost Service Sales (unsold ASRs)
  • Recapture of lost souls

XIII. Process Development

Nothing in a dealership or in life, for that matter, happens consistently without a process! So, in keeping with this fact, it is essential that we create, document, and train an effective process for virtually every aspect of the BDC. When creating a process, it is necessary to identify who is responsible for performing the process, how often and when it should be performed, and when necessary, how the information will be gathered. Every process, when possible, should have a “checks and balances” element built into it. As with any process implemented, it is what you do the day after implementation to sustain it that matters. We have also found it very beneficial to involve the people responsible for the process when writing it and review it after 30-60 days to ensure it is accomplishing its purpose. The following is a list of situations to consider:

  • Appointment confirmation call process
  • No-show appointment call process
  • SOP notification process
  • Recall notification process
  • Service status calls
  • Customer satisfaction follow-up calls
  • Additional Sales Request declined follow-up?

XIV. Conduct BDC General Information Meeting and Training

One of the most prevalent comments we hear from employees during evaluations and interviews is that they feel like mushrooms, always in the dark. Employers and direct bosses do not communicate with the troops nearly enough in most environments. One of the essential steps to a smooth Service BDC implementation is a General Information Meeting to inform everyone about what is designed and desired, and what the end benefit will be for each person in the store. If they are involved in the development or at least informed before kickoff, they feel a part of the process and growth. When they feel a part, you are helping them implement their plan. And it is much easier to implement their plan than to dictate ours. A General Information Meeting may only include the BDC employees and the advisors, or it could include the entire dealership. Everyone (or their customers) will benefit from an effective Service BDC, so why not inform everyone? Training should be well thought out and thorough. When training in areas such as computer usage, it may be possible to have your computer vendor send someone to train the new employees on setting an appointment in the computer when applicable. In other cases, you may choose to handle the training in-house. In either case, there is something that should be considered as a training topic. Below is a list of items we have found as must-train; this list is by no means all-inclusive:

  • Phone skills
  • Appointment documentation
    • Paper scheduling form
    • Computer appointment log
  • Word track usage
  • When to flip a call
  • Outgoing calls

XV. Create Methods of Measurement and Guidelines

Methods of measurement and checks and balances can many times be the difference between an effective and ineffective process. The BDC is no different. Although it will vary in every environment, there are certain commonly tracked items as it pertains to an effective Service BDC. Tracking can be manual or with the aid of an Excel spreadsheet. The following is a list of items that should be tracked daily, weekly, and monthly by the individual BDC Consultant:

  • Number of incoming calls vs. appointments
  • Number of outgoing calls vs. appointments
  • Percentage of no-show appointments
  • Results of ASR follow-up
  • Results of phone marketing campaigns
  • Kick-off day

Training, as with anything, is also key to a smooth kick-off, but inevitably, regardless of how well you plan and think through it, something unexpected may happen at “go” time, and it must be managed effectively and quickly. No disrespect to anyone else, but Service Managers are generally more accustomed to “managing on the fly.” Due to this fact and the fact that Service Managers are usually better versed in setting appointments than other managers, the Service Manager should plan to spend the first few days of a Service BDC kick-off in the BDC office. It is also necessary to plan any alterations in the phone flow process and have the necessary people available during the kick-off to adjust on the fly. We have also found it very beneficial for other managers to spend time in the BDC during the kick-off. One, so they can have the benefit of watching the process in action, and two, to identify other opportunities to strengthen a BDC from other department views. A missing element in many kick-offs is feedback. Due to this fact, try to have the people it most affects (i.e., advisors) meet with the BDC after a day or two to offer their view of how things are going and how it is being perceived by their customers. In any event, there should be a weekly meeting between ALL department managers and the BDC for the first few months, if for no other reason than to say thank you to the BDC Consultants. Everyone likes to know how they affect the dealership.

XVI. Keys to Success

The success of a Service BDC is based on many factors, but the key is the people. One of the best hiring practices I have heard is attributed to a manager at one of the famous Hard Rock Cafes. He was asked by a patron, how do you get all your people to be so nice and cheery? His answer was simple, “we hire attitudes”. How ingeniously simple! His biggest hiring criterion is attitude. It is very important to pick the right people, after all, they will be talking to 75% of your service customers. Other things that are important to the success are that the BDC has a clear purpose and direction, and they know their mission.

Once the direction is set, we must plan to be successful, thinking of every situation and as many customers’ needs as possible. Although expenses should always be considered, make sure to staff to a sufficient level from the word go, and never ask anyone to do a superior job with the handicap of asking them to carry too much of a load. Tools are essential as mentioned earlier. When people are given the right tools and trained on how to use them properly, their chances for success are tremendously increased. One of the most effective training procedures available is role play, It is at times uncomfortable for some, but after a few initial sessions, it will become fun for most. The beauty of role-play training is it can be used weekly to keep everyone sharp. Any way that you choose to train is an essential key to success. When everything is said and done, it is the results that define our success most of the time. Having ways to measure that success and some KPI to track and target are as much a part of success as anything. All in all, a Service BDC can be a great asset to your dealership and your customers. As with anything, it must be well thought out and planned to ensure a smooth implementation and long-term success.

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