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How to Capitalize on Inbound Notifications from OnStar Systems

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One Texas dealership has used customers' OnStar notifications to inspire an increase of visits to its service department.

The memory remains fresh in Mike Lee’s mind, though it occurred some 16 years ago.

Around 2002, a friend called Lee, a longtime fixed operations director in Waco, Texas, asking to be set up with new tires. Lee eagerly offered to help, and soon ventured across the street from his dealership workplace to visit a Firestone store.

A Firestone employee promptly took over from there, calling Lee’s friend and making a host of upsells.

“They called her and they sold her a new set of shocks, new set of brakes, four new tires, and an oil change,” Lee, the fixed operations director at Richard Karr Motors, recalls. “I thought, you know, we’re missing the boat here.”

Soon after that experience, Lee decided he wanted his dealership service department to focus more on multi-point inspections, and doing full-service maintenance, just like aftermarket competitors did.

Yet, despite the fact Lee had decided on a guiding business strategy, it didn’t immediately inspire a flood of customers to visit his dealership.

It wasn’t until Lee began using a nearly 15-year-old, virtually free lead-generating service offered by his OEM that his fixed operations reached its full potential.

 

The Problem

Lee had always been impressed by the GM headquarters in Detroit, and particularly captivated by that facility’s OnStar command center and its map of the U.S. The map features blinking red lights that indicate where OnStar’s in-vehicle communication service is currently being used.

The image of that vivid, bright-colored map stayed with Lee for a long time. He knew all those blinking red lights in central Texas represented potential service department customers for Karr Motors, and he hoped to take advantage.

However, he wasn’t certain how to reach out to all those General Motors customers efficiently. Karr Motors was able to retrieve customer information from the OnStar system, which had been around since 1996, but Lee learned that such information was worthless unless his employees were capable of reaching out to customers quickly.

“You have [OnStar notifications] come in at 12 o’clock at night, 2 o’clock at night—all different types of times,” Lee explains. “We found out in the very beginning that, if a person puts an [OnStar] lead in and you don’t respond to them for two or three hours … they’re going [elsewhere].

“So you’ve got to respond to them in less than 20 minutes, and you’ve got to do that 100 percent of the time.”

 

The Solution

In 2009, Lee found himself serving on a dealer fixed operations board. And that proved fortuitous.

While working with that board, he heard multiple companies explain how they had success handling online leads.

“So, I called one up, got them to come down and spend time with me,” Lee says. “They gave me some information, and we saw that it would develop into our way of doing business.”

Shortly thereafter, Karr Motors began using a company called SCI to help facilitate converting OnStar notifications into customer visits. The lead management company began sending automated email messages to OnStar customers who had vehicle issues in Central Texas, letting them know that Karr Motors was available, first thing in the morning, to book them for a maintenance appointment.

Lee took the additional step of entrusting follow-up phone calls to a recently retired service advisor who had worked for him for two decades.

Now, Karr Motors has a streamlined process for reaching out to OnStar users. The procedure works so smoothly, in fact, that the retired service advisor books several service appointments from OnStar customers in just a few hours of work each day.

“Every morning, the first thing we do is, at 7 o’clock, we print a list of” recent OnStar notifications, Lee explains. “And then the retired service advisor gets on the phone and starts calling them.”

The phone list notes OnStar customer information like phone numbers, employers, a

vehicle’s required repair, and the date of an OnStar notification.

Entrusting a former, longtime Karr Motors employee to follow up with OnStar notifications has proved key, since he knows the dealership’s clientele well.

“He makes a note on everybody he calls … thorough notes,” Lee says of his co-worker. For example, “Call Jenny. Talk to her about her car needing a lube, oil, filter, and tire rotation. She also told me about a rattle it had, so I booked her an appointment tomorrow, and reserved her a car, because she said she had shopping to do.”

Lee says that, on many days, Karr Motors is able to convert 70–80 percent of the leads

generated via OnStar into visits to the dealership.

“My main job is being a cheerleader and getting business in here every day,” Lee notes. “So, when you see some type of operation that’s gonna bring you business, and it’s free? What better deal can you get than that?”

 

The Results

In his 25th year as fixed operations director at Karr Motors, Lee jokingly notes that his facility’s process for utilizing OnStar takes a ton of work off his shoulders.

And GM’s OnStar-related technology has continued to evolve. In 2018, GM is utilizing OnStar to put an increased focus on safety and security with services like turn-by-turn navigation. In a similar vein, the OEM now offers several mobile apps, like myChevrolet, which allow customers to schedule and manage service appointments.

“OnStar drives a lot of business,” Lee says.

According to him, Karr Motors has used its process for handling OnStar notifications to retain 80–85 percent of customers that have purchased a vehicle at the dealership in the previous 7–12 months. All those service appointments that OnStar helps book certainly don’t hurt the dealership’s bottomline, either, judging by the $3.6 million in annual revenue that its service department produces.

The dealership’s process for capitalizing off OnStar “puts us leaps and bounds ahead of the competition,” Lee says. “It fits every little facet of our business.”

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