The Technology-Driven Dealership
September 2009, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive
Choosing to Use the Latest Innovations
Opening a dealership today can be very different than opening a dealership just 10 years ago. Through technological innovations, processes in all areas of the dealership can be improved for both the dealership staff and the customers. There are many innovative companies both large and small in the market working to solve problems, some complex and some simple, for business owners.
Consider two of the more well-known areas that saw innovations during the last decade—credit approval and inventory management. Standardized processing of credit applications electronically has virtually eliminated the faxing of credit information and approvals back and forth between the dealership and the finance company, and inventory management software makes buying suggestions based on real-time and historical sales data thereby lowering cost and improving sales. Most dealers wouldn’t dream of operating without these two items in their dealership today. So what might be the next can’t-live-without-it item? Let’s take a look at a few items on a dealer’s wish list and see if they can be fulfilled.
How do I Use Technology to Minimize my Liability Without Impeding my Sales Process?
Today’s technology allows a dealer to generate or purchase a lead, identify the credit of the customer without the customer’s Social Security number, determine if the customer is likely to be eligible for financing, and if ineligible, immediately send an adverse action notice.
If used properly, this technology allows the customer to acknowledge that they want you to review their information without triggering what is commonly known as a hard pull on their credit bureau. This process would eliminate your prospect from becoming a trigger lead for your competitor. More importantly, however, the adverse action letters are sent immediately and automatically if needed.
The screening process would also shield the balance of the customer’s information from even the dealership staff unless they log in to view it, again minimizing any potential for mishandling of customer information.
The lead would include details that are important to obtaining financing such as the customer’s contact information and eligibility status, detailed information on the type of loan for which the customer might qualify—including interest rate information, a loan-to-value cap, an amount-financed cap, a monthly-payment cap, information on a possible trade, and how long this individual should be eligible for these terms.
Believe or not there is at least one product on the market now that can help with this problem, Green Flag Credit. Additionally, Instant Screen is available and has several similar qualities as those offered by Green Flag Credit. It’s worth the legwork to see of one of them is right for your dealership.
How do I use Technology to Improve the Customer’s Experience?
In a perfect world, every salesperson and service advisor would know all their customers’ names and faces and when each of them is arriving for their next service. However, many dealerships (especially ones with multiple franchises under one roof) have thousands of customers, making it nearly impossible to instantly recognize all of their customers.
What if every dealership manager, service advisor and/or salesperson was sent an instant message or text message as soon as the customer pulls into the service lane? The message would include the customer’s name, arrival time, scheduled appointment time, and the make, model and color of the vehicle. At the same time, the customer would see a welcome message displayed on a flat-screen TV mounted in the service drive.
This could be accomplished with radio frequency identification, or RFID, technology. By placing identification tags on the customers’ vehicles either at the point of purchase or later when they visit the service department, dealerships could use the same technology that tollbooths use for their express lanes.
A vehicle could easily be tracked while on the lot for any reason, from service to detailing. Additionally, dealers would also be able to monitor the amount of time a vehicle is on the lot. It would also be able to text message vehicle status reports to customers and let them know repairs are completed and vehicles are ready for pickup.
While knowing a service customer has arrived before seeing or talking to the customer certainly has its advantages in preparation by your staff, the real benefit is most likely seen in how your customer feels about the experience and how it affects your customer satisfaction index. Customers are more likely to return and become more loyal to those businesses that treat them well and appreciate their time.
At least one product on the market, Service Drive Concierge, is using RFID technology to improve the customer experience through the service department.
How Can I Use Technology to Improve the Sales or Service Process?
Responding to Internet leads appropriately and immediately is a time-consuming process that needs to be closely monitored, which is why many dealers partner with technology providers to set up auto-responders. Some are generic, only letting the customer know a dealership representative will be calling or e-mailing soon, and others are specific to the customer’s inquiry. While auto-responders are helpful, they don’t typically engage the customer in a conversation, which is what the customer usually wants.
For engagement, dealerships need something more intelligent. Although artificial intelligence isn’t a term immediately connected to auto sales, when coupled with auto-response technology, it can improve upon the auto-responder concept. If artificial intelligence can be integrated to the point that an engaging auto-responder is sent and when the customer responds it can interpret the customer’s responses, and intelligently respond it could be a huge time saver. Staff members would not have to type several e-mails to verify information or set an appointment.
Appointments could then be fed directly into the dealership CRM and would appear on daily work schedules or to-do lists.
It could even be used to generate inbound phone calls, set showroom appointments and schedule service appointments. An artificial intelligence product would be customizable to an individual store. Dealerships would be able to train the product to work any sales or service lead and steer conversations down tracks to get the desired result.
Artificial intelligence may not be mainstream in the automotive industry yet, but it is available through the AutoFerret Virtual Agent.
How Can I Use Technology to Improve Human Resource Management?
The saying, “Time is money,” certainly hits home when processing payroll, and time is one thing employees steal, unintentionally or not, from their employers. With the paper-based systems to track paid-time-off that are in place in many dealerships, it can be difficult to keep every employee’s requests straight.
Even with a small full-time staff , keeping track of vacation days, sick days, personal time off, etc. can be a hassle. Whether a discrepancy is created by clerical error or simply because the manager didn’t have time to update an employee’s record at the time a request was approved, mistakes often happen when authorizing paid-time-off, and seldom are the mistakes in favor of the employer.
According to NADA Data 2008, new car dealerships each employed an average of 54 people in 2007 and paid out $2,594,000 for payroll, or just over $48,000 annually per person. That averages out to about $23 per hour. In a business with 54 employees averaging $23 per hour, if each of them got one extra paid day off a year they weren’t owed, that amounts to almost $10,000 paid out for unwarranted paid time off.
Technology should be able to manage paid-time-off effectively. Instead of the person in charge of payroll relying on a mountain of paperwork and his or her memory to keep everything straight, a software program can keep all of the records and instantly report how much time off an employee has used and how much is remaining.
The software would allow both employees and their managers to log in to the system. Employees log in to request time off, and managers log in to approve the request. The system would be customizable to each dealership’s specific benefit program, and employees wouldn’t be able to request time off if they don’t have it available. Ideally, it would even integrate with your DMS’s payroll system and transfer data to it so it’s accurate.
With many managers wearing multiple hats in the dealership today, having to manage one less thing – especially something as time-consuming as paid-time-off – gives them more time to focus their efforts elsewhere. So, you save in two very different ways with a technologically-enhanced and integrated program: 1) you save money by only giving employees earned paid-time-off, and 2) your manager saves time because he/she doesn’t have to spend as much time managing payroll.
While there may be some aspects of this wish that many providers have, DealerTimeOff is a stand-alone product on the market that meets all of these wishes.
Vol. 6, Issue 9