All good stories from old guys start out with “Back in my day…”, so I figured I’d start there. When I first got started in this industry, we still used Sun Pro machines and OTC gas analyzers, alignment machines with strings attached to the heads, and some cars still had carburetors. In the front of the house, we had handwritten invoices and used Unix computers with dot matrix printers. We stared at monochromatic monitors with that ever-present green hue and had to sift through actual books for a labor guide or parts reference. This early start means that I’ve seen lots of things come and go through the years.
When I was asked to consider some of the changes that technology has brought to sales for our industry, I thought it would be neat to take a trip back in time. Frankly, it wasn’t. It brought out a lot of memories of pain points and frustration that I had suppressed. Even with some of the first SMS (Shop Management Systems) helping to control the data, store history and estimates, and crunch sales KPIs, it didn’t hold a candle to what we can accomplish today.
Today, we have digital inspections that help our customers have a better, clearer picture of what we see. We have a better handle on the KPIs that get us to what we need, and our SMS will put the data in easy-to-read charts and graphs. No more clunky old spreadsheets of the past.
We have CRM programs designed to help us to drive traffic back to our shop – something leaps and bounds better than “remembering” to call our lost sales. We have phone systems that help us to track phone calls, volume, and even record all calls in and out. If I had wanted to track calls before, it was scribbled on a sheet of paper. And if I had wanted to better my sales pitch by listening to my old calls, I had to record them with a desk tape recorder and strange suction cup cable on the phone receiver.
My, how things have changed. We are in a much better spot than we were 25 years ago, or just 15 years ago for that matter. The changes in Shop Management Systems alone have greatly helped our industry. SMS companies have combined labor guides, preventative maintenance charts, parts catalogs and ordering, point of sale capabilities, sales and KPI management, and all the back-office functions in a single system. I believe that the changes to SMS were the start of a major paradigm shift – for the better, of course.
Canned jobs were introduced, further changing the game. Most automotive shops have canned jobs built into their SMS for common services without realizing the time those jobs used to take. I remember when you would have to order a part, wait for the driver to deliver it, finally get a good look at it, and have to send it back with the driver because it was wrong. Now, you just look at the image and specs on the ordering system without having to worry that the part you’re ordering won’t be the right one.
There was a time when paper labor catalogues were filled with all kinds of handwritten notes to remind you what else you needed to charge for and what the amended labor would be. We had to keep mental notes of each customer; when they went on vacation, what their kids’ names were, and where they worked. Now, that information is easily stored and accessed in our SMS. Where there used to only be a few options for SMS providers, it seems there is a new company starting up every day. And even the newest ones are generally purpose-built with good software.
There are many things involved in the daily routine of operating a repair shop that SMS has made easier. Many of the tasks we take for granted we used to have to do manually. The automation of these tasks has helped shops to stick to their routines, even forcing some of the best practices that might have been ignored before. If you have the right computer software, it makes it easy to detail things you suggested but might not have closed today. That detailed information can be transferred to a CRM, or to a report you manage, or simply trigger a reminder at the client’s next visit. Even if there was “vehicle history” in a computer system 20 years ago, it didn’t do all that.
Technology has also greatly impacted the inspection process. Before, we would snap pictures with a digital camera, upload them to an email, and send to the customer with a few notes. That changed to using Microsoft Excel and Word to make nice reports that we could add pictures to and send to each customer. Now, we have dedicated inspection software that creates those reports in minutes. I chuckle when I hear stories about getting engagement on digital inspections from the team, knowing where it all came from. It’s almost unbelievable how far digital vehicle inspections (DVIs) have come.
As you can see, technology has greatly impacted the sales side of our industry. It has enabled service advisors to be more prepared, with a variety of tools available to them. KPIs are easier to track for the whole team, customer information is at your hands with the click of a button, and explaining the process of a repair is more straightforward than ever with DVIs. Technology and software updates will continue to be an important part of our industry’s growth and I can’t wait to see what comes in the next 10 years.
Mark Seawell is the Director of Advisor Training at The Institute for Automotive Business Excellence. Mark’s experience and skills have created thousands of “ah-ha!” moments for service advisors, helping them to understand and apply the concepts that matter most. For more information on how advisors can take advantage of technology to further their sales goals, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit wearetheinstitute.com for upcoming advisor workshops and programs.