DETROIT — Volkswagen of America Inc. is piloting virtual reception service kiosks in two of its dealerships that allow customers with appointments to drop off their vehicles and get on their way in less than three minutes when the service lane is busy.
Meanwhile, an updated version of the kiosk that is to be piloted by VW this summer will not only handle payments electronically, but also receive and distribute keys — a trick that could fully automate the night drop box at most dealerships.
The German mass-market brand is the latest to experiment with digital kiosks in the service lane as a way to get busy customers on their way without having to wait in line to speak to a service adviser. Volkswagen's pilot follows earlier moves by Ford Motor Co., Kia Motors, Mercedes-Benz USA L.L.C., Honda of America, Audi of America Inc. and others with the technology, which was developed by GoMoto Inc.
The kiosks integrate into most DMS systems and have improved upsells and customer satisfaction in the VW service lanes in the pilot, says Jon Meredith, senior manager for service business development with the aftersales group at Volkswagen of America.
"The kiosks are not here to replace service advisers," Mr. Meredith said, "but we're looking to help the adviser service the customer more efficiently. The kiosks can help when the service lane is very busy."
Mr. Meredith said the first-generation kiosks installed at a Volkswagen dealership in Pasadena, Calif., for example, wrote up between 10 and 15 customers per day. The response from customers was positive.
"The kiosks had a high customer-satisfaction rating, and we saw that there was an average of $22 per (repair order) in additional sales through those that checked themselves in through the kiosks," Mr. Meredith said. "They also had a very consistent check-in time of under three minutes."
Response varies by age
At Boston Volkswagen in Watertown, Mass., which piloted the kiosks over the last year, customers had early mixed reactions, with older customers tending to stick with traditional service advisers, dealership General Manager John Welch said. But the kiosks quickly became invaluable to younger clients, especially during busy periods.
"We're a metro store, so, especially in the morning as people are dropping their cars off for service on the way to work, customers appreciate the kiosks because it gets them on their way quickly," Mr. Welch said.
"It definitely creates less tension, because people aren't standing in line."
Mr. Welch said the kiosks have increased the store's service upsell, its accessory sales and recall work because of the low-pressure menu selling on the kiosk screen. Customers look over the different items in the menu and feel comfortable adding items to their repair order because of the way they're presented, he said.
"One of the really nice things about using this technology is that we can program the machine to ask and do anything that we want it to," Mr. Meridith said. "So, for example, every time a VIN is put into the machine, it automatically checks for recalls, and if there is one, it adds the recall to the repair order."
The machines can also prompt customers about their interest in trading in the vehicle they have in for service, and can provide approximations of trade-in value to generate purchase leads.
Next-gen model coming
The second-generation virtual service advisers — which Volkswagen of America plans to pilot in four other dealerships this summer — will contain mechanisms to both capture and distribute customer keys.
Mr. Meredith said the added functionality, along with payment processing, could give dealerships true 24-hour capabilities. First-generation kiosks still require humans to handle keys.
GoMoto CEO and founder Todd Marcelle said Volkswagen partner Ford was an early adopter of the company's service kiosks, but that Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Kia and other brands "have all deployed different variations of the product." He said his company is "closing in on 1,000 deployed kiosks" in U.S. dealerships, with an average monthly cost to dealers, depending on terms, of about $900 per month.
So far, Mr. Meredith said, Volkswagen dealers have responded enthusiastically to the trial runs.
"We have many of our dealers who aren't even waiting on the full results. They're signing up in advance and installing them at the conclusion of the pilot program," Mr. Meredith said. "They're already there with the tech. This is one of the very few times where dealers have bought into the tech by an OEM or a vendor before we're even done with the pilot; they're already seeing a benefit and signing up."