Four Areas to Address When Digitizing Your Shop

Jan. 1, 2017
Key considerations before cutting paper and moving your operation to a new level of customer service

As president of AdvisorFix, Jeremy O’Neal’s job occasionally calls for him to diagnose areas that can be streamlined at auto shops.

When it comes to customer service, O’Neal has noticed a widespread issue in the industry. To put it in plain language, most shops are void of efficiency, he says.

“You know, we get so busy fixing cars and focusing on the cars,” O’Neal says. “The car’s not the patient, the customer is.”

Shops need to turn their attention to consumer demand, explains O’Neal, who frequently speaks at industry events on the topic. And, foresight would indicate that includes making the switch to a largely paperless operation. While the process of adding technological advances like digital vehicle inspection software can be costly, the switch can pay dividends.

And, shops that insist on sticking strictly with traditional customer service methods risk alienating customers. What’s more, shops that don’t consider advances like digital inspections risk falling behind their competitors with regard to technology. Building upon such sentiments, O’Neal offers his tips on getting started with making a digital transition, highlighting four areas.

Before You Start 

Of course, a shop owner needs to get his or her crew on board with the decision before making the switch to a largely paperless operation. 

“It’s going to be a rough patch for 30 days,” O’Neal says of a shop’s digital changeover. “But guess what? When we come out the other side, we’re going to have a more streamlined operation.”

One key argument for adding digital vehicle inspection software, like that offered by Bolt On Technology or AutoVitals,  is that it can make the sales process virtually pain-free for both the customer and the shop.

“Here’s the thing,” O’Neal notes. “If you can go digital on the inspection and documentation of the condition of the vehicle, it literally makes the sale for you. What happens then is, the customer will call you and say, ‘I got your report; I’m not really concerned on the struts, but I see I need brakes, transmission service, spark-plugs. How much would it be to do all that?’ That just made the sales presentation for me.” 

While O’Neal is a fan of digital inspection technology, he doesn’t feel shops necessarily need to make 100 percent transitions to paperless. After all, some traditional shop processes, like filling out a technician worksheet by hand, are still relatively quick. 

“Words of caution I would have,” O’Neal says, “for a shop considering going digital: Number one, think through the process and get your service writers, your technicians—everybody—on board, and help them embrace the technology. And then do your research and make sure the company that you’re going with is going to fit with your integrations that need to happen.”

The Appointment Process 

These days, the appointment-making process at many auto shops can grate on customers who simply don’t have patience for playing “phone tag.” 

O’Neal contends that shops should offer more definitive online options for booking appointments. 

“If you look at the majority of shops today, when I go online and book an appointment, I’m not confirmed for that appointment,” O’Neal notes. “Somebody in that shop has to receive the lead, and then they call me back to confirm. 

“All the communication is driving from the service advisor picking up the phone and calling the customer. Customers don’t want that today. When customers want something, they want it on demand.”

Making Repair Orders 

O’Neal, who earned 2016 Mechanical Training Provider of the Year from the Automotive Management Institute, is adamant that text messages should be utilized more in the shop culture. After all, we live in an era where people seemingly use smartphones for everything but making and taking phone calls. And, that digital technology should extend to the repair-order process. 

In 2017, digital technology allows service advisors and technicians to text customers ample photos and videos to illustrate what needs tending to on their vehicles. 

Remember, it’s called “customer service.” It should aid the customer, O’Neal says. And, along those lines, within the next five to eight years, O’Neal expects to see a seismic shift in what consumers demand via digital means.

“Look at how consumers are buying things today,” O’Neal says. “Amazon is one of the world’s largest retailers, but they don’t have a storefront. How do people buy from Amazon? You go on the app and, to buy, you push a button. And then it’s delivered to your door the next day. That has completely shifted how we buy things.

“If I owned a shop. I’m really going to focus on digitizing the customer experience because that’s what they expect to put them in a position where they feel empowered.”

Inspections, Updates And Service History 

Digital customer service offerings like inspections, updates and service history documentation are all made relatively easy with digital resources like those from Bolt On Technology,
AutoServe1, AutoVitals and (there are nearly two dozen reputable digital inspection companies widely available). 

With the aid of digital inspection software, for example, a tech can utilize a mobile device to make service notes (techs can even use voice command to document notes with an iPad) and easily provide before-and-after photos of repairs, which lend clear proof to customers of work rendered. Digital photos and videos can also provide clear evidence to a customer of further maintenance that needs to be addressed on a vehicle. Ideally, the paperless process can educate customers and increase their trust in shops. A shop could even have tablets at its front counter to streamline customer service. 

Paying For Repairs 

One key for shops hoping to earn high marks on review sites like Yelp: Don’t belabor the repair process. That includes making the payment process as quick as possible. O’Neal feels resources like digital inspections can greatly increase a
shop’s efficiency. 

“Remember, it’s all about speed and efficiency in the shop, too," O’Neal says.
“How fast can we get the car through
the shop?”

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