On the surface, everything seemed much simpler 30 years ago, Tom Palermo says.
“Vehicles were not that complicated. There was not much going on as far as technology,” he says. “I remember working on cars with carburetors. They didn’t have computers in them or anything.”
Over the course of his 30-year career, Palermo has kept up with ever-evolving vehicle technology, earning 47 ASE certifications (master certified in six areas) and a world-class technician designation from the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association. On top of that, he’s been named technician of the year five separate times by WIX Filters (2011), Quaker City Motor Parts (2012-2014) and NAPA/ASE (2015).
And now, 12 years into his management position at Preferred Automotive Specialists in Jenkintown, Pa., the highly recognized technician wants to pass along the most important lesson that’s factored into his success: All the certifications in the world mean nothing if technology, equipment and software within the shop aren’t keeping up with advancement in vehicle design.
“It’s gotten very expensive to do—it’s not for the faint of heart,” Palermo says. “You have to resign yourself to the fact that you're going to put money every month toward updating the equipment in your shop.”
And it’s paid off: Over the past 12 years, annual revenue has achieved an average yearly growth rate of 7.5 percent. That’s thanks to increased efficiency, which stands at over 140 percent for several of his technicians.
From the front of the shop to the back, here are five technological upgrades that can help your technicians achieve top-tier efficiency numbers.
1. Management System
Before you can even begin to think about a multi-pronged system that leads to increased technician efficiency, Palermo says you need a management system that can coordinate it all.
“Our management system is ridiculously important to what we do on the front and back end,” Palermo says. “It gives us the ability to track our customer retention, marketing, sales, productivity, efficiency—everything.”
Improving overall efficiency at Preferred Automotive Specialists has required a streamlined process that allows service advisors and technicians to communicate seamlessly. Essential to that is a centralized system that houses all of Palermo’s various other technological upgrades.
“The way we have things now, my service advisors don’t have to walk back and forth between technicians and customers,” Palermo says. “There’s less interruption, more work, which all obviously leads to better productivity and efficiency.”
Choosing a management system is a huge undertaking that should not be handled lightly. Palermo worked with his staff to research a system that worked best for the shop’s processes and allowed everyone to communicate fluidly.
2. Online Advertising
Ultimately, raising technician efficiency amounts to finding more work during inspections that service advisors can sell. But all of it will be for naught if they’re not even inspecting the right vehicles.
That’s why Palermo says it’s worth investing in search engine optimization (SEO) and website upgrades. Each covers your bases: Increased SEO will bring more people to your website, and a professional web presence will ensure customers dedicated to investing in their vehicles are engaging with your shop.
In addition, any online ads—through either Google or Facebook—should be targeted toward the demographics that have consistently offered your shop the highest ARO.
“Getting that formula right and selling your brand is critical to being able to keep the bays full,” Palermo says. “It allows you to get the work that will keep your shop profitable.”
No tool has gone further in improving communication and increasing efficiency at Preferred Automotive Specialists than digital inspections, Palermo says.
“My guys are able to be a little more consistent when doing their maintenance checks,” he says. “It’s customizable, so we were able to build a process that everyone likes and can use easily every day.”
Each technician is equipped with a tablet that contains the digital inspection program, which is connected through the shop management system. Technicians perform inspections via tablets, marking which vehicle components are safe (marked with green on the inspection), will be in need of repair soon (yellow) and need to be addressed immediately (red). This information is then transmitted to service advisors, who can begin to fill out estimates in real time as inspections are being performed.
Not only does this eliminate walking between the front and back of the shop, but it also addresses various other inhibitors to workflow, such as lost papers or messy handwriting. Palermo says the tablets’ voice-to-text features have made it easier for technicians to take notes within inspection reports.
“You can get really granular in your description if you want to,” he says. “There’s no limit on the amount of room that they have to document everything.”
Not only does this process get the estimate to the customer more quickly, but it allows service advisors and technicians to immediately be on the same page. Technicians can send photos and videos that physically show the necessary repairs, which the service advisor can more easily sell via text or email.
“It’s a really great sales tool for the service advisor, because now the customer is not just talking to someone on the phone that is saying their car needs front brakes, a tire rod and an alignment,” Palermo says. “They can actually see a nice, clean report.”
4. Repair information
Training and education can only go so far, Palermo says, and even the brightest employees need help. That’s why each of his technicians has his or her own laptop, on which repair information can be accessed. This allows his technicians to quickly diagnose complicated repairs.
“It’s really important to know where to find the information that you need to fix the vehicles,” he says. “There are so many great options for shops. It would be a disservice to not utilize them.”
Palermo’s technicians heavily rely on one particular information platform, but purchasing multiple subscriptions ensures there are several options for finding the right solution. This way, if one particular wiring diagram or flow chart proves to be too confusing or unfamiliar, technicians have a second source to compare.
5. Customer Relationship Management
The final step once again verges into administrative duties: Once you’ve found the customers that will invest properly in your business? Hold on to them.
That can be accomplished, Palermo says, through investments in customer relationship management (CRM) software, which is designed to improve retention by keeping in regular contact with customers via campaigns. These marketing pieces often sell the importance of maintenance and remind customers of upcoming appointments, keeping a continuous communication going long after the customer leaves the shop.