I’ve been around enough installations of technology and tools in dealership service departments to spot a train wreck before it happens.
I suspect many can recall a technology investment that went south and, ultimately, proved to be a big waste of time and money.
But I’d argue that such failures were due to a lack of preparation for the technology, and a less-than-clear understanding of the purpose the technology will ultimately serve in advancing the department’s interest to properly engage and serve more customers and drive profitable growth.
The preparation and purpose are critical to successful implementation of the technology that will help you provide a premium service experience. Before we delve into best practices to address each front, it’s important to understand what technology, for all its potential and power, will not do.
New technologies exist to either solve a problem or help you do your job more efficiently. Often, the problem and the inefficiency are related, if not the same.
For example, if your advisors take too much time with customers during the initial write-up, the problem may be that you haven’t captured enough information about the customer, and the problem with the vehicle, before the advisor began the conversation. Some advisors also take too much time and don’t pay attention to the information you already have.
New technology that might solve this problem, coupled with having the customer’s information in hand, will create an effective, positive engagement.
“We like to look at our weaknesses, and based on that we investigate and try new technology,” said Kris Truman, who recently retired but served as Executive General Manager and CEO of Hoehn Auto Group, Carlsbad, CA.
For Truman and team, a review of their customer satisfaction scores made them think there was room for improvement. They recognized that increased satisfaction would lead to a higher rate of retention and loyalty, which would help them meet their objective to bring more profitable business to their service department. Their investigation into the problem led them to recognize that they could do better in providing customers with an experience that would motivate them to return. Their brain-storming and discussions about the problem led them to technologies—like online scheduling and tablets for advisors and technicians—that would help them provide the experience customers were looking for.
Truman’s approach to thinking about a technology investment is wise. It naturally ties the root cause of a problem, which everyone agrees needs to be addressed, to a potential technology. This connection then sets precise expectations of what the technology will help Truman and his team accomplish. Further, the approach sets the stage for the motivation necessary to ensure managers and team members invest their effort and time to adopt new technology as part of their typical workflow.
I’ve come across stores where dealers and service managers thought the investment in the technology would be enough. They paid for it, put it in place, and expected everyone to get on board and start using it.
Technology by itself isn’t a silver bullet. In the proper hands, technology can work wonders. But it’s the combination of the person, and the tool, that bring about the optimal result.
Preparation Requires a Review of Your Process, Expectations
Everyone’s heard the line “garbage in, garbage out” when it comes to computers and data processing systems.
The same is true with service technology, particularly if you consider the first thing you put into your technology investment is your preparation.
“Technology can help, but you have to start with the fundamentals and get those right and then add the technology,” said Tully Williams, Fixed Operations Director at Del Grade Dealer Group.
Here’s an example: If you plan to provide your advisors with tablets, they should fully understand that they won’t be sitting behind the counter as much as they have in the past. The mobile-enhanced process allows them to greet customers at their vehicles, confirm appointment information and preferences, do a brisk walk-around and note vehicle condition and get the customer on their way.
The “fundamentals” here, as Williams calls them, is a clear understanding of how the initial meeting with customers should flow, and what the advisor should do and ask during the process—not to mention that the advisor’s satisfaction ratings will be higher when customers don’t have to wait five minutes or more.
The more you’ve got this new technology-enabled process mapped and thought out before you invest in or install the technology, the better off you’ll be in getting the technology up, running and benefiting your business more quickly.
I also encourage dealers to clearly define the goals, or results, they expect from their technology investment. You have to ask the “what should we expect?” question and look for reasonable, and specific, answers.
Yes, your ultimate goal is to increase retention. But, by how much should it increase? You need to have a baseline in place and the ability to measure the process and technology going forward. Are you looking to increase your appointment show rates? If yes, by how much and what is it today? Are you looking to increase your dollars per RO? If yes, by how much? Are you looking to reduce the amount of time customers spend waiting to see an advisor and complete their write-ups? If yes, by how much and how long do they wait today?
These are the granular-level expectations that you should define as part of your preparation. These expectations should also guide how you investigate and evaluate potential answers. If you have clear expectations of what a particular technology can do for your business, it makes your effort to find the right technology more effective and efficient. In addition, your preparation has set the stage with metrics you can use to measure and evaluate whether technology hits the mark and delivers the ROI you envisioned.
A Purpose-Focused Roll-Out Plan
It may seem obvious that the ultimate purpose of an investment in service technology should be its successful implementation.
Yet, dealers and service managers are sometimes guilty of undermining their own success as they roll out new technology in their service departments.
For example, you can’t just install a technology in your department(s), turn it on and expect great things to happen. This is, unfortunately, common and a recipe for disaster.
Truman knows this reality first-hand. “In the past, we’ve launched in multiple stores and it’s too hard,” he said. “We’ve learned that trying to install a new technology across different dealerships with different personnel and needs is too prone to error. Failure costs dollars and retention and it agitates employees.”
The Hoehn group’s roll-out approach today is more purposeful. “We’ll do a 90 to 120-day test in one store. Once the pilot store employees have things figured out and we have buy-in from them, they’ll tell the other stores of the successes and benefits. It’s easier to add the stores if they see the value for them.”
Williams echoes the point that buy-in is critical. He views his role as chief technology investigator at the outset, and then as coach and mentor.
“Imposing technology on your teams always fails,” Williams says. “Buy-in is all about the benefits and value the technology provides your people. It takes a commitment of time, resources and training from leaders to make it work. If you don’t help your people succeed, they won’t.”
Finally, your vendor should be ready, willing and able to help you avoid technology investment traps, before during and after the installation. This support should encompass making sure the technology works and helping your teams understand how the technology is helping them achieve their goals as well as the broader objectives of your business.
Here’s how Williams sizes up his potential technology partners:
“I interview every vendor of technology that we’re evaluating, with an eye to a couple key questions – Is it easy for our employees to use it? Is it easy for our customers to use it? Integration is critical, so we’re always looking to reduce the number of vendors that we have in the equation. And the company has to be easy to do business with and has to be open to our ideas and suggestions. Being a partner and being collaborative can’t just be slogans or words in a brochure, those need to be real promises they put into practice.”
His words are worth remembering as you investigate the technology and tools to help build a better service experience.
Learn how to turn one-time visitors into lifetime customers by attending Jim Roche’s session at Digital Dealer 24 this April 10-12th in Orlando, FL.
Author: Jim Roche
As Senior Vice President of Marketing & Managed Services, Jim Roche is responsible for brand positioning and driving marketing’s strategic impact on business. Jim brings over 30 years of automotive high-tech leadership experience. Previously, Jim was founder and Chief Executive Officer of AutoPoint, where he was the visionary and driving force behind the development of the industry’s first multichannel marketing platform, its adoption by hundreds of dealers and its subsequent acquisition by SRS. While at SRS, AutoPoint experienced rapid growth; Welsh Carson Anderson & Stowe acquired SRS in 2013.