ClearMechanic recently conducted a study to determine how easy it is to make car repair appointments. We chose 75 repair shops in the Bay Area, comprised equally of dealerships, independent shops and chain shops. For each shop, we attempted to make an appointment online during the day, online at night and over the phone during the day.
One headline result of this study: it is impossible to make appointments at 95% of repair shops during evenings and Sundays. The shops won’t answer their phones during these times (because they are closed) and do not offer online scheduling tools (e-mail request forms don’t count!).
Another important result is how long each phone call took. To make an appointment over the phone, it took approximately 3 minutes! Compare this to the time required for restaurant reservations over the phone (approximately 30 seconds).
Before explaining why, keep in mind that we stacked the deck in favor of repair shops during this study. We prepared several different scripts about types of car services we needed (e.g. brake inspection, oil changes) and our vehicle type (e.g. Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu). When asked detailed follow-up questions by the repair shop, we had prepared answers and delivered them quickly. This means that we were abnormally concise. The reality is, a real-world phone call to auto repair shops will include more pauses and delays by the consumer.
So, why did the phone calls take so long? Here are a few important reasons:
1) Hold time. This is an especially big problem at dealerships, where it is common to be transferred once or twice before you speak to the right person.
2) Shop not answering phone the first time. This happened 5-10% of the time, but had a large effect on the average time to make an appointment. If we were sent to voicemail, we called back until we could make an appointment. (A countervailing effect was repair shops who barely took down our information and claimed we had “confirmed appointments” after 45 seconds. Whether those shops recorded our information and would be ready for our cars at the scheduled time is up for debate.)
3) Providing information and waiting for the shop to write it down. Spelling your name, providing make / model information and providing contact information takes time. These tasks are better completed online.
4) Going back and forth with the shop on which times you prefer versus which times the shop has available. This is a classic problem for any phone-based appointment. It’s much easier to see all of a shop’s open slots instead of offering a first preference, confirming if that works, then offering a second preference, and so on.
5) Most important: repair shops ask unnecessary questions during the appointment-making process. Shop owners have convinced themselves they *need* to know certain facts before revealing their scheduling availability. For example, a shop may ask how much mileage is on your car. That information will be useful when the shop technician performs an inspection. However, it is irrelevant to whether the shop can take your car at 9:00 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. Likewise, dealerships frequently ask if a consumer bought his / her car from that dealership. Again, irrelevant to whether the service department can take you the next morning.
What’s even more frustrating is that these questions will likely be repeated later on during the actual appointment.
Below are examples of questions we heard from repair shops during our phone calls. These were all asked before the shop was willing to reveal their scheduling availability.
1) “What is the mileage on your vehicle?”
2) “When was the last time you had [X] service performed?”
3) “What type of engine does your car have?” or “What is your trim?”
4) “How far away are you coming from?”
5) “Can you tell me what the symptoms are that make you think you need [X] service performed?”
6) “Have you serviced your car here before?”
7) “Did you buy your car here?”
8) (personal favorite) “Are your brakes making a squeaking sound, a squealing sound or a whistling sound?” and “Is it the front or rear brakes?”
Again, each of these questions is a filtering mechanism for the repair shop to a) determine how serious you are as a potential customer and b) determine how valuable your repair job may be. There is also a more innocent, but still time-consuming, factor: car guys like talking about cars.
From the shop’s perspective, this is rational. Shops often get phone calls from car owners who are price shopping and never make appointments. Asking detailed questions lets the shop vet the car owner before writing down your information or blocking off an appointment slot.
From the consumer’s perspective, this is not only inconvenient but also intimidating. Phone calls drag on during precious work hours. And, being interrogated by a car expert is not a fun experience, even if the questions are well-intentioned.
At ClearMechanic, we empathize with the perspective of dealers and shop owners because we have developed technology solutions for these customers for several years. They field weird phone calls every day from consumers who know little about their own cars. Plus, shops are loud, busy places, where a ringing phone is often perceived as a distraction instead of a new customer. That said, I think every serious service manager and shop owner will acknowledge their appointment-taking processes are far from perfect.
This is why our new scheduling platform is a win-win for shops and consumers. Shops are great at fixing cars, not taking appointments. Consumers prefer to do things quickly, on their own time and (for younger consumers especially) without picking up a phone.