In an increasingly digital world, it made no sense to Malcolm and Stephanie Heathcote that completing a paper inspection required so many different steps.
“There’s paperwork for every process,” says Malcolm, who owns Preferred Auto and Fleet in Thunder Bay, Ontario with his wife, Stephanie.
When the Heathcotes took over Preferred Auto and Fleet, a service advisor was expected to write an inspection and then either upload it themself or have someone else upload it into the computer. Stephanie points out this can be very time consuming, especially if the service advisors’ handwriting isn’t the best. Not only does it eat up time, it can also cause miscommunication between the shop and customers.
“In the beginning, we’d have customers that came in and claim that what we said was wrong with the vehicle was not what the service advisors told them over the phone,” Stephanie says. “They’d claim we didn’t tell them everything and there was no way of proving we did.”
“You can tell them four things wrong with their vehicle on the phone and they’ll only remember two,” Malcolm adds.
“For us, we had to change our process as a whole in the shop,” Malcolm says. “We had a lot of issues when it came to communication. A customer would come in after a phone call and say they heard a different price than what we were quoting … it was a lot of little things that caused us to look for a solution.”
The Heathcotes decided to find a way for their service advisors to complete inspections that was not only more efficient, but also able to create more trust between the customer and the shop, as well.
Even though they’ve always had a passion for automotive repair, the Heathcotes do not have the typical background of a shop owner. Malcolm was a machinist for 10 years before he came to the conclusion that he didn’t love what he was doing. Malcolm and Stephanie, who met in shop class in high school, decided that they would pursue their dream and open an automotive repair shop. The two finally stumbled on a shop owner that was looking to sell his shop, Preferred Auto and Fleet, in 2014.
When the Heathcotes took over the shop, it became clear that some processes would need to be changed.
“A lot of shop owners, they’re happy just to tread water,” John Burkhauser, BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY’s Director of Education, says. “They’re happy to just open and close. Shops need to understand things change.”
The Heathcotes quickly realized that seemed to be the case with the previous owner of their shop. The shop owner had not kept the shop as up to date as he should have, and with little experience, the Heathcotes looked to outside resources to help them figure out what to do.
The Heathcotes used the service advisor that they inherited from the previous owner as a sounding board.
“With his experience in the industry, he was a wealth of knowledge,” Malcolm says.
Going even further, Malcolm attended a workshop for business owners and service advisors with the goal of improving operations.
“With all of this new technology, I kept wondering, ‘Why are we pushing papers?’” Malcolm says.
Malcolm says that although the group was helpful, none of them had the answer. They were all successful shops that had a trail of paper. It didn’t make sense to Malcolm, so he looked even further.
After doing research and talking to people in the industry, going digital seemed to be the best idea.
“The way the world is advancing, it’s [going digital] wise for anyone that wants to stay current and provide that level of customer service,” Stephanie says.
With digital inspections, service advisors can walk out to the vehicle and complete inspections electronically. They can also take photos and add notes and then text or email the inspection results to the customer so he or she can physically look at it.
The Heathcotes started out with a digital inspection tool that they weren’t happy with because it did not integrate with their shop management system and it actually ended up taking longer than their original paper and pencil approach.
Determined to find the best solution, the Heathcotes kept looking and three-and-a-half years ago they were introduced to BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY and its suite of digital inspection tools.
“BOLT ON had the integration that I needed to move forward for a better process,” Malcolm says.
Now, with BOLT ON, all of the techs and service advisors at Preferred Auto have their own tablets that they can pull up information on and use it to text and communicate back and forth with.
Once a digital inspection is complete, it is texted to the customer with visuals and an itemized list of what’s wrong with the vehicle, as well as what looks good.
“It takes the confusion out,” Stephanie says. “It shows green, yellow and red as far as the health of the vehicle and the pictures confirm what’s wrong. Texting it to the customer takes the pressure off. They’re able to look at it in the comfort of wherever they are without being put on the spot at the shop.”
It can also be used to auto-schedule appointments.
“For the service advisor, being able to set up work for the future automatically and being able to walk out to the vehicle with the customer and show exactly what is wrong with his or her vehicle makes all the difference,” Burkhauser says.
The tool also allows you to customize vehicle inspection templates. At Preferred Auto and Fleet, every customer gets a complimentary vehicle inspection, so the shop has created one that it can use every time, which has helped streamline the process.
Since opening the shop, the Heathcotes have added an additional service advisor and now have a staff of two service advisors, three technicians, and themselves. Going digital has helped them grow.
“It’s made everyone’s job much easier,” Stephanie says.
Specifically with the service advisor, taking away the little jobs that eat up time, like manually entering repair orders, makes that position more efficient, Burkhauser says.
“Now, service advisors can take a tablet and look at everything with the customer and physically point the issues out,” Burkhauser says. “Not only that, it can easily update and add to the vehicle history instead of having to spend time finding all of this information. It’s all at your fingertips.”
The visual aids have also increased trust between the customer and the service advisor and helped to sell more work.
Although Malcolm says it was thanks to multiple changes, since starting with BOLT ON, the shop has significantly increased the amount of work that comes in the shop.
“I think in a small town, or anywhere really, automotive repair shops are painted with a brush that makes it seem like they’re there to rip you off,” Stephanie says. “Malcolm and I were raised to be honest and help people. With this technology, customers can see the report. It helps with the conversation. That way, when the service advisor is explaining something on the phone, the customer has something to look at and they can understand things a little more.”
“It’s definitely worthwhile,” Malcolm says.