For most dealers, running an express service lane generally makes more sense than cents. That's because the financial aspect of offering fast oil changes is often not the most important consideration.
For example, at Tempe Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in Arizona, Service Manager Mike Purtle uses his express lane to boost the dealership's customer satisfaction scores, raise retention and funnel loyal service customers to the sales department when it's time for a new vehicle.
Express service also combats a top consumer complaint with dealers — waiting for service, according to a 2018 Cox Automotive survey. It's one of the best options for fixed ops directors looking to prevent time-conscious customers from going elsewhere for oil changes and other maintenance.
"I've never had anyone tell me: 'I can't wait to go to the dealership so I can hang out in the lounge,' " said fixed ops consultant and author Jim Roche. "People are busy, and as much as we want to try to make the dealership a destination, by and large, it's an interruption."
He views express lanes as essential in this era where companies such as Amazon have reshaped consumers' expectations.
"You don't want the customer going someplace else because, ultimately, they will defect," Mr. Roche said.
But operating an express lane that consistently provides fast, mistake-free service takes more than just putting up signs and hiring a crew that hustles.
Mike Bowe, director of aftersales programs for MSX International, a dealer technology services company in Detroit, said the main ingredients for successfully running an express lane long term include constant training, planning for and managing turnover and, more importantly, ensuring that techs follow the store's process on every job. Without these, he said, express service breaks down.
MSX, which has installed its express service system in about 4,000 U.S. new-vehicle dealerships, frequently returns to the stores to assist with training to combat what Mr. Bowe calls "express service fatigue."
'Does this ever end?'
Dealers and automakers will say, "I spent all this money to get my express service installed, and it worked great, but then a year later, it isn't working so great," Mr. Bowe said. "That's because no one is left who was originally trained. Some of the dealers wonder, 'Does this ever end?' "
Bowe advises dealers running express lanes to constantly monitor how they are operating and plan for turnover.
"That means either assigning someone who's been with the store for 15 or 20 years in the service department to be the mentor and trainer for new techs," he said. "Dealerships that do well with express, this is one of the things they do. They know turnover is going to happen."
Mr. Purtle, the Arizona service manager, follows Mr. Bowe's advice.
"I have one gentleman who works in express who is in his 50s," Mr. Purtle said. "That's what he wants to do. He's the leader, and he makes good money. He takes control of the kids; they respect him; they listen and learn."
Perhaps the key ingredient that makes an express lane successful, experts say, is when all of its employees rigidly follow the store's process every time. But getting employees to do that is a constant battle, Mr. Bowe said. He said it takes the MSX team about four days to get a dealership prepped for express service and then another two days for staff training.
When MSX officials return to the store a month or so later, they often find the express lane crew isn't following the process. That includes what jobs are supposed to be done, who does them and when.
Some tasks on the express lane, Mr. Bowe said, may not make sense to techs hustling to keep cars moving. For instance, why check the tread of a vehicle with brand-new tires?
Vehicles on the express lane get a multipoint inspection. A red/yellow/green condition report handed to the customer helps build trust — especially when no issues are found. But maybe on the sixth oil change, techs find worn tires because of alignment issues. The customer is more likely to approve the repair because they can see the results of the inspection and believe the store is not trying to sell a service they don't need.
"You are using the multipoint inspection as a communication tool with the customer about the health of their car, and that's where we see the process start to degrade," Mr. Bowe said.
'You have to tell them why'
Mr. Roche, the fixed ops consultant, said express techs need to understand how following the process affects the entire operation.
"Before you tell people what, you have to tell them why," he said. "That's what captures the heart of people. If you just tell someone that 'you type this into the computer, or you put this here,' you've told them what, but they don't have an understanding of how they fit into the bigger picture. And that can lead to variability."
Mullinax Ford in Lake Park, Fla., north of West Palm Beach, opened its Quick Lane on Oct. 1. The store installed 23-year veteran Angela Adams to run the operation. She worries high employee turnover could degrade the quality of work.
"Typically, the majority are not going to stay long," she said. "They are going to decide this is not for them, or they are going to get good enough to where they are going to move to the big shop. We are working with some of the local schools to recruit.
"It's kind of a constant hiring process."