Running a Shop Solutions Sales+Marketing Technology

Pre-Check-In for Customers

Order Reprints

Mike Rush compares it to ordering at a restaurant—without a menu.

“That’s the way it is for customers in our shops,” says Rush, owner of Hartland Service in Hartland, Wis. “The waitress asks you what you want, and you can take a stab at it and guess, but you’re not really sure. And on the flip side, if the waitress doesn’t write down everything exactly, that information gets lost when it goes to the cook.

“How would your meal end up? Pretty bad, right?”

Yet, Rush says, that’s the way the industry has always operated, and that poor upfront information gathering is where the vast majority of customer-related issues begin.

Two industry companies, though, feel they have the solution to that problem with their respective pre-check-in products. Both Bolt-On Technology and Visual Advisor have created technology-based programs that allow customers to fill in complete information on their vehicles before the front-counter experience even starts.

Bolt-On offers an in-shop kiosk. Virtual Advisor is an email-based program.

Both are giving customers a menu, and those customers are writing their orders for shops.

“We’ve created this beast in the auto industry where we want to provide the best possible customer experience, yet we want to get them in and out fast; we want them to leave,” says Mike Risich, an industry veteran and CEO and founder of Philadelphia-based Bolt-On Technology. “So, we need to find new solutions to gather information as efficiently as possible while not hurting the customer experience.”

The Idea

All industries face a similar issue, Risich says, and many have created solid
solutions—solutions the auto industry should learn from.

Airlines, for instance, have used self-service, check-in kiosks for more than 20 years, Risich points out, and a local deli in his company’s Philly neighborhood uses “smart kiosks” that allow customers to order their sandwiches and get prompts for upsells on salads, drinks or desserts based on seasons or that day’s weather.

“The goal with all of these ideas is to save time for the customer and for your staff as a business,” says George Zabrecky, co-founder of Virtual Advisor and president of auto industry marketing firm Nwz Worx.

If you can eliminate the need for your service advisor to walk through these questions with the customer—or ask the wrong questions or omit important ones—then you’re saving everyone time, Zabrecky says.

And it eliminates the pressure customers feel in shops. Filling the form out on their own, Zabrecky says, eases tension.

The Systems

The Bolt-On program comes in the form of an Android-enabled tablet computer, preloaded with the company’s system and set in a display holder. Customers can enter the shop and go directly to the kiosk and begin their check-in.

The Virtual Advisor system starts before the customers come in the door. After scheduling an appointment, the shop sends interactive check-in forms directly to the customer via email.

Both programs have preloaded check-in forms that can be customized to any shop. They include diagrams of vehicles and explanations of components, and give customers an option to request that certain items be inspected.

The programs also allow the customer to fill in all of their contact information, giving your shop database an instant boost. Both programs will automatically populate the information into your shop’s management system and appointment calendar.

The Point

Rush has used Virtual Advisor since the beginning of the year. It has helped his shop gather critical information before the customer even walks in the door, he says.

“They get to fill it out on their own time, at their own pace, without feeling like they’re being sold something,” he says. “If we’re able to explain we’re sending it when we make the appointment, and get it out to them within the first 20 minutes afterward, we’re getting an 80 percent return rate on them. And they’re detailed, with valuable information we might not have gotten otherwise.”

Risich says the kiosk idea isn’t to reduce your front-office staff. The kiosks come in most handy when a line forms in the lobby, or when a customer is simply dropping a vehicle off for an oil change.

“We’re reducing your staff’s time they spend on this, so they can focus more on the needs and interactions with the customer,” he says. “We’re not reducing staff; we’re reducing time wasted.”

Rush says the tools not only help his shop from a workflow standpoint, but also help to improve his customer’s perception of the auto service experience. 

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