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Volvo upends workshop protocol

Customers first: Volvo owners will communicate directly with their technician under a new scheme being introduced by the car-maker in Australia.

Changes for Volvo's workshops to help boost efficiencies and reduce service times

Volvo logo20 May 2015


VOLVO Car Corporation is making sweeping changes to its global service workshops and has introduced an open-hand policy to directly involve customers in the service and repair process.

Volvo Personal Service, which has already successfully rolled out in many European and South American countries, claims to reduce service times, boost dealer profitability and ensure long-standing trust between service staff and customers that retains brand loyalty.

Now it has hit Australia, with workshop planning and staff training underway at Solitaire Volvo in Adelaide, the first of Volvo Car Australia’s 30 dealerships to embrace a radical switch in how service staff interact with customers.

Volvo Car Australia managing director Kevin McCann said programs such as Volvo Personal Service were vital “to get better at understanding the customer’s journey”.

“VPS means we are removing the glass wall that has become trendy between a service reception area and the workshop,” he said. “Now the customer will deal direct with one technician.”

Volvo Car Australia aftersales director Phil Larmour said the emphasis was on customer service at the workshop level.

“The sales team will sell the first car but the workshop technicians sell the second, the third and so on by creating a relationship with every customer,” he said.

“It’s a radical change. It goes beyond just servicing and repairs.” VPS came out of Volvo’s headquarters in Sweden and followed a previous, similarly customer-focused program called One Hour Shop, which was not used in Australia.

But VPS takes it a few steps further. The customer books the Volvo in for service at a specific appointment time and is met by the technician (or technicians) who will repair the car.

The service advisor, who previously booked the car in for repair and noted the required work before handing over to the technician, becomes almost obsolete, Mr Larmour said.

The workshop becomes a team environment with generally two technicians working on each car. Either can telephone the customer with updates or get immediate responses to verify additional work where needed.

Likewise, the customer has the mobile telephone number of the technician and can call to request additional work or receive invoice details.

This interaction is immediate and means that if the technician notices additional repair work is required, can get instant confirmation from the customer and promptly carry out the work. This saves time by avoiding a second service booking.

Mr Larmour said the training for technicians was intense and diverse, covering customer relations, working with a team member and adjusting to a new workshop layout and tools.

“We use scissor jacks, for example, which are more efficient because because they allow easier access to all points of the vehicle,” Mr Larmour said.

“The workshop layout changes. We have a wall of tools, for example, that is designed to make it easy and quick to use for the technicians.”

It’s not a cheap exercise for dealers but Mr Larmour said the benefits outweigh the initial costs.

“Overseas examples show efficiencies on the dealer’s bottom line,” he said.

“There has been a seven to 10 per cent increase in parts sales and the customer satisfaction index has risen by between 10 and 12 per cent at dealers using VPS. Globally, even mediocre dealers are reporting big jumps in customer satisfaction.

“We are also seeing a five per cent increase in the number of vehicles sold because the benefits of VPS has led to improved customer retention.”

Mr Larmour said payback from the initial cost – which is estimated at about $70,000-$80,000 for dealerships not needing substantial workshop alterations – can be between six and 12 months.

“Many dealers take the opportunity to improve the building when incorporating the workshop changes,” he said.

“But it can lead to other savings. One Volvo dealer in Korea was planning to buy an additional property for extra workshop space. When he was introduced to VPS, he didn’t need to buy the second property.”

Mr McCann said customers are more knowledgeable than ever before and “it’s how we relate to these customers that will make the difference to our success in sales and servicing”.

“It’s a lot of work for us and there’s new ways of doing things,” Mr McCann said.

“But it immediately makes the service and repair process quicker which means lower service costs and a lower bill to the customer.”

All Australian Volvo dealers are expected to have VPS facilities and employee training completed by 2018.

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