Apps have been around for a long time now. The App Store came about in 2008 offering 50 apps and within the first weekend they were downloaded 10 million times. Android and Blackberry soon followed with their own versions. By 2011 there were 100,000 applications for the iPhone alone.

Applications have become an everyday part of life, from checking the weather and the ball scores to writing an article for AutoSuccess magazine and getting a little background data. I’m sure hardly a day goes by without you checking your phone for some type of information that just 10 years ago might have taken you hours or days to find out.

Unfortunately, apps have been slow to come to the automotive business. Many dealers spent a lot of money developing mobile apps for their business that were nothing more than a mobile version of their website. Sure, it had the inventory and the sales hours. It might even have had a section on “meet our staff.” Throw in an end of the month sale and a service coupon or two and there you have it. Regrettably, for the customer it produced a collective yawn. Most dealers over time lost interest in this form of communication. Now when you bring up developing an app, there is very little interest.

Well, I think it’s time we revisit automotive apps. What the customer is looking for is not another sales pitch but something that affects their life and makes owning a vehicle easier and more cost effective. A customer who just purchased a car doesn’t care that you have 0 percent financing, but he might want to be notified when his first oil change is due. In my opinion, your focus when using this type of tool with your customer should be concentrated on the service drive and, if possible, directed toward their vehicle.

Here are a few examples that make using a mobile app much more customer centric. Let’s start with a rewards card. Most dealers today offer some type of service rewards card to their customer, if they don’t, they are probably wondering why their business is falling off. Let the customer use your app to redeem and track their points. When they pull into service, they just open the app, show the service writer the points and redeem them. Simple and easy but also very convenient for the customer.

How about coupons? Dealers spend thousands of dollars a year sending out mailers with service coupons. Why not send the coupon directly to the customer’s phone? When they come in for service, they just open your app and show the coupon. Have a “redeem” button on the coupon that the service writer uses, and the coupon is gone. Quick, easy and cost effective.

Do you do have a pickup and delivery service for your service department? If so, why not set up a valet service on the app? Your customer can chose their day and time and not have to take two hours out of the work day to sit in your waiting area every time they need any work done on their car. Your service manager will love it as well because it will be easier to schedule the service and he won’t have someone coming into his office every hour wanting to know if their car is ready.

Another great feature could be to include the customer’s service history on the app. How many times has the customer ask when did they buy their tires or wiper blades? Every service they have ever had done on their vehicle could be right on their phone. Using this service history, we could set up the mobile app to send out notifications for oil changes, 30K’s and to track just about any future service their car might need.

Hopefully, you’re starting to get the picture of what a successful app should look like. There are a thousand other features you can add to an app that will make the customer’s life easier. Some other great ideas I’ve seen on apps are geo fencing, where did I park my car?, closest gas station, social media posts from the dealership and QR scanners. I’ve have even seen a customer app that tracks a subscription marketing program for the service drive.

Mobile apps are about the customer. This is a great communication tool between the customer and the service department. Just as we check our other apps every morning for phone calls, texts and the weather, you need to design your service app to be exciting, informative and functional so your customers look at you as their dealership for life.

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Jack Garrity

Vice President Sales BIO

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