When dealer groups purchase new locations, there’s always a learning curve as the newly-acquired dealership adjusts to the group’s protocols. In the fixed ops department, loaner fleet operations are a major customer touchpoint, so effective change can require new technologies and a shift in dealership culture.
For Christene Tornello, Regional Service Director with Qvale Auto Group, 2021 has been a year of experimentation as she’s helped Tampa-area Volkswagen Brandon launch loaner fleet operations and manage them to match Qvale’s standards.
The challenge: creating a loaner-first culture.
“I want to provide our clients a level of service that they expect and deserve, and you know, outshine my competitors,” Tornello said. “VW’s mobility program is really good, so we switched on Dealerware, got another account set up, and bought some VW’s to put in our new fleet.”
To get loaner operations up and running at Volkswagen Brandon, Tornello and her team launched with 25 cars, but simply putting a fleet on the lot wasn’t all it took to deliver the service Tornello was shooting for.
“[Volkswagen Brandon] didn’t have loaners before, so I think some [of the service advisors] were a little timid to give out loaner cars,” she explained.
Every dealer knows that wear and tear often spreads unpredictably across a fleet, and unpredictability is never in demand. Perhaps for that reason, Tornello discovered that a lot of the dealership’s customers were actually being booked into ride-shares rather than contracted for loaner vehicles.
“Especially right now with all the issues we’re having with parts availability, you have to put people in cars,” she said.
In changing the team’s habit to book customers into rideshares, Tornello says she saved several thousand dollars a month, and later added another 10 cars to the fleet, to make sure former ridesharers would always be accommodated.
The goal: matching loaner fleet performance across stores
Now with about 35 cars in the Volkswagen Brandon loaner fleet (and six months between opportunities to make significant changes to that fleet size), Tornello’s experiment is all about keeping customers on the move.
“I’m trying to find the mix, the good balance of how many cars I need… and changing the culture and the mindset of people, both clients and our staff,” she said.
When the fleet was just 25 cars and rideshares were used more often, utilization was in the 80s. Adding more cars helped free up vehicles for booking, but it’ll temporarily decrease utilization rates. As the experiment continues, Dealerware provides a simple view into Tornello’s fleet performance measures, and also of her team’s performance.
“It’s easy reporting. I look at my utilization and average contract days, I can see [who is and isn’t writing loaner contracts], and it’s not convoluted – it’s just the right amount of fluff,” Tornello said.
Tornello knows how to read the right fluff, too. She and her team at the nearby Audi Lakeland, about 30 minutes east of the Volkswagen store, see daily the impact that a culture of customer accommodation can have for a dealership.
There, utilization has remained consistently high all year, around 75 to 85 percent, Tornello said. She and her team understand that getting customers in loaner cars can win customer loyalty, contribute to higher repair order totals, and can even be the start of a sales opportunity.
The perfect partner: Dealerware
Other fleet management tools create some headaches for users that need to manage multiple locations, so Tornello said she appreciates that Dealerware doesn’t “overcomplicate the complicated.”
“I have to do so many different types of reporting, it’s nice to use something that’s simple. I can just change which store I want to look at and review with two clicks of my mouse,” she said. “It’s just so much easier than having to have multiple usernames and passwords and profiles, and I know when we get our next dealership here, I can just add it to this account.”
On the ground, too, Dealerware has made life easier for dealership staff. Though she’s not on the dealership lot day-to-day, her new service manager at Volkswagen Brandon appreciated the switch to mobile contracting.
“We used to work together at another store, and we did it the old fashioned way, we’d print out contracts and get wet signatures,” Tornello explained, “When he came [to VW Brandon], I said everything we do in this organization is digital, and he said ‘this is so much more efficient and cleaner.’”
“You can pretty much run your whole day off of an iPad if you want,” Tornello added, “and most of the people we hire are pretty techy, but even the ones that have sort of rebelled against technology, I don’t hear any complaints on that side about getting acclimated with it.”
Tornello also kindly acknowledged the value of a simple fleet management tool and a vendor that’s ready to help.
“Anytime I’ve ever had a question, the customer service has been so spot on. And you know, you’re not talking to a robot; they’re not reading off a script, they actually have personalities, which is so rare these days,” Tornello said. “And I started using [Dealerware] in 2017, and I can count on one hand how many times it’s crashed.”
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