There are two classic scenarios, says Bill Moss.
Scenario 1: You’re a new shop owner, perhaps a technician who’s decided to go out on your own. You have the drive to start a successful auto care shop, and you’re looking for some guidance.
Scenario 2: You’re getting more work, your staff size is expanding, you’re becoming a trusted name in the community. You’ve gotten to a certain stage with your business—and now you’re looking to go to the next level. Either way, you’ve reached this point: You’re either looking to purchase a management system, or you’re looking for a more advanced one.
“The goal for most of us is to grow, to evolve the business into something sustainable,” says Moss, owner of EuroService Automotive in Warrenton, Va. “You want your software to be as capable as you are.”
Chris Chesney deals with each of these scenarios daily. As senior director of customer training at Advance Professional Driven by CARQUEST, he guides shops through “shootouts” of the numerous management systems available, helping owners pinpoint what system best fits their shops.
Chesney and Moss (who both sit on the National Automotive Service Task Force board of directors) have helped dozens of shops choose management systems, and both have noticed several common oversights owners make when determining one of the most important decisions for their shops. Here are the considerations you can’t afford to miss:
1. Be Mindful of Different Levels of Management Systems.
Forget the fact that most shop owners don’t realize how many management systems are available (there are close to 200). Chesney says that an even bigger oversight is not knowing which ones you’re ready for.
“The more robust the management system is, the better the match is to a more organized, well trained, operations-savvy shop owner,” he says. “Somebody who just came off of QuickBooks or handwriting an invoice on a carbon copy tablet will not be able to take advantage of R.O. Writer, or a system of that nature.”
If you’re a new shop owner, Chesney says to research the various products for a simpler management system that translates well from handwriting estimates and doesn’t disrupt workflow.
Once you get used to reading reports and building your business around the data you’re producing, then look into systems that lend more guidance with reporting, inventory, appointments, marketing, and customer service management.
“When somebody asks which system is right for them, I try to gauge their appetite for improving their own knowledge and skill sets,” Chesney says. “If I can find a little twinkle in their eye, then I’m going to point them to a system that can grow with them.”
In addition to your shop’s readiness from a production standpoint, your hardware may also not be advanced enough for some management systems. You might need to spend money upgrading your Windows or Mac system, and you might need to set up an in-house server.
2. Utilize Limited System Demos.
A great, underutilized way of discovering if a management system is right for your shop is through demos, Chesney says. Most management system companies provide potential customers with demos that create real-life scenarios that allow you to deal with customers, assign jobs and create tickets.
However, shop owners shouldn’t rely on demos alone in choosing the right system.
“You can just download the demo file—it’s limited in what you can use it for,” Chesney says.
Become engaged with the management system company and get a full demonstration of the product, even if it means traveling to a live demonstration or focus group displaying the system’s capabilities. Also, seek out owners using the product effectively and pick their brains or visit their shops to see it live in action.
“Make sure your management system will do what you expect it to do in a live scenario—without the assistance of a salesperson,” Chesney says.
3. Seek Employee Input.
Different management systems bring with them various capabilities, and those features involve more participation from various members of your staff. Thus, it’s important to involve staff members in your research and demoing of your options, Chesney says.
“If you just suddenly present a new system and it upsets production, then you’re going to have trouble explaining those changes and you’ll have an angry team,” he says.
The more in-depth you get with your system, whether it be marketing or inventory or automated job packages, the more focus you’ll need to place on the people who deal with those processes. If you’re looking to ramp up sales, then involve your service writers; if you’re looking to better manage customer relations, have your CSRs test out a new system; if it’s a workflow concern, get your technician testing out the product.
“They may not necessarily have to put their hands on it,” Chesney says, “but if it’s a different process than they’re used to, you certainly want them looking at it. You want to be getting their temperature on it, finding out if it’s a good fit.”
4. Consider Mobile Accessibility.
Various systems offer more convenient methods of accessing shop information. If you’re an on-the-go shop manager, or if you plan on expanding in the future, Moss says you should consider if the system allows you to access data and track your team’s activity from a phone or tablet in addition to a laptop or desktop computer.
5. Determine if Technical Support is Receptive.
All shop management systems have glitches and present learning curves for certain functions from time to time, so Chesney says to make sure there’s a technical support team that can get you back up and running before any issues disrupt workflow.
Also, if there are regular updates to a non-cloud-based system, then you may spend a lot of time working with technical support before it is functioning properly again.
6. Think About Your Marketing Growth Plan.
The number one question you should ask yourself when purchasing or changing management systems, Moss says, is, “Can this software handle where I’ll be in four years?”
With that growth, Moss says, comes changes in your marketing tactics and reach, and certain management systems may not be able to keep up with your new approaches. Companies like Demandforce don’t integrate with every system, making more popular systems, like R.O. Writer and Mitchell 1, more appealing.
“The more popular management systems are more likely to help you with your marketing,” he says. “You need to make sure the program’s marketing plan moves with you. Before making a decision, I would talk to the marketing company I’m using, or the one I’m thinking about using.”
7. Confirm You Can Transfer Accounting Information.
When buying a new management system, Moss says it should help you manage your profits and save time—and both will be hard to achieve if the system doesn’t integrate with your accounting software.
“If my accountant likes working with QuickBooks, but the software is cumbersome and doesn’t work in QuickBooks, it’s pretty easy to shoot yourself in the foot,” he says.
If your management system doesn’t integrate with your accounting software, you’re requiring your accountant to learn a new system, which could lead to frustration and possibly losing your accountant. If possible, choose a management system before choosing your accounting software, Moss says.
8. Consider Your Ability to Reach Customers.
In order to improve your shop’s selling skills, you’ll definitely need a management system that allows you to build a customer database. Not only should the system collect names, addresses and phone numbers, but also customers’ vehicle histories and the best method of contacting them about future work.
Once all the information is collected, Moss says good management systems should allow you to keep up with customers and measure your front office’s ability to sell more work.
“It should tell you what you tried to upsell, the percentage that you tried to upsell, and what you were actually successful with,” he says. “Then you should be able to set up an email 45 days from now saying, ‘Hey, you were in last time, we noticed these issues needed attention and we don’t want them to get worse.’ Some tactful way of getting them back in for completion.”
Also consider the system’s policy on making customer data available to everyone on staff. If you want to customize your marketing program in the future, some systems make it easier so that your staff does not have to do manual updates.