In today’s independent auto repair market with increasingly technology focused motorists, it’s a given, embrace new technology for your shop, or die. To compete in this market, savvy shop owners are looking to tools and technology that provide the easiest path to both attract new customers and keep the current ones, and to improve the bottom line through efficiencies or increased ARO. In this light, choosing a digital vehicle inspection tool has emerged as the most affordable solution with a very short return on investment.
Why Go Paperless?
So, to begin, many have written about why digital inspections are the way to go, and so I won’t spend much time on the topic, other than to point out the top advantages of embracing technology for a paperless shop.
- Motorists today use their smartphone for constant connection with friends, family and business. They give preference to providers who integrate into their digitally connected world. Handing them another piece of paper they have to throw away in an annoyance. How many stores do you visit that ask you if you want your receipt when you check out? I almost never say yes.
- Digital inspections eliminate grease smudged forms with handwritten notes that no one can ever read.
- A digital inspection process eliminates “pencil-whipping.” Techs need to actually perform each step.
- A Picture tells a Thousand Words. A picture or video of the actual part causing your customer’s problem sells the job the instant they want to know why. It provides them immediate education about the problem and establishes your shop as a trusted partner in the care of their vehicle.
- Digital inspections provide immediate digital records for the shop and the motorist. Inspection reports are available to motorists on their smartphone or email and be easily reviewed, forwarded to someone else for approval, and archived for future shop visits.
- Techs have all information about the vehicle at their fingertips including OEM maintenance schedules, TSB and recall data, and vehicle maintenance history.
With all that in mind, let’s assume that we have made the decision to purchase a digital inspection application for the shop. But which one? There are several out there now and they all promise the same results of higher car count, increased ARO, and improved customer satisfaction.
What to Look for in Digital Inspection Software
There are some very key points to evaluate when choosing digital inspection software for your shop. So, to help you streamline your evaluation process, here are some of the most important factors to consider in order to ensure success with your digital inspection project.
1. How does it integrate with other shop software?
We all learned about playing well with others in the kindergarten. Well that’s something to still consider today. First question to ask is how the inspection application will interact with other software you are using today, or are planning to use down the road. Make sure that the inspection product you pick integrates with your shop management or point of sale application. If there is no integration between the two applications your service writer will have to enter vehicle information twice or copy and paste data from from one screen to the other. Maybe even more important than if they integrate, you should consider the relationship between the two software companies. Was the integration developed in a partnership or with permission of the owners of the shop management application? If the integration was performed without the permission or knowledge of the shop management vendor, it is possible that future changes to the SMS could result in the inspection tool getting the wrong information or worse, that your inspection application might accidentally corrupt your customer database.
2. How user friendly is the inspection application?
You will certainly want to review the user interface carefully, keeping in mind who will be interacting with the application. Is the user interface intuitive and easy to use? If your project is successful your technicians will interact with the inspection application using a tablet device constantly throughout the day. It will become their primary method of communicating with the service writer and become the most used tool in their box. How much training time will be required by each team member to be able to fully realize the expected goals of your digital inspection rollout? If the user interface is too complicated or overly busy technicians may reject it or waste substantial amounts of time trying to “make it work.” And, if it requires the vendor to spend days on-site at your shop to achieve that success, what are the costs in lost revenue and downtime just to find out?
3. What hardware are you going to need to support the application?
You will also want to think about how your team is going to access the inspection application. Is the interface the same for all team members and on every platform; PC, Tablet, Phone? Do you have to purchase specialized tablets or computer monitors? If the application runs as a native tablet application, it must be downloaded onto each device which is going to be used for the inspection process. Usually each tablet is assigned to specific technicians and can not be easily shared. Any time there is a change to the application or to the inspection application, every tablet must be updated. A web based application can be accessed from almost any device with a web browser like Google Chrome. It will look and act exactly the same on both PCs and tablets. And, with a web app, changes to either the tablet operating system or inspection application are less likely to run the risk of substantial down time for your vehicle inspections or work.
4. How simple is the process?
As with the user interface, simplicity is a key consideration for the auto repair shop workflow process. More options, in most cases, do not lead to to a better solution. The more customization you can do, usually means there is a lot of customization you must do. You could get so bogged down in defining your process and implementing it throughout the shop that, in the end, the gains you sought through simplification and automation may be completely lost. You may need different processes for different scenarios, but always look for simplicity and short cuts to the bottom line. Many businesses make the mistake of over-engineering a solution that would have been far better solved through a less complicated process.
5. Will your inspection process improve your customer experience?
Aside from how your team interacts with your tool of choice, think about how your customers will perceive it and interact with it. Yes, motorists really do want to interact electronically but they are not technicians, and most are not computer professionals. So, you will want to make sure that your customers will be able use the product free of complicated steps and clutter. A tool that allows your customers to easily collaborate with the service writer and participate in the process establishes a greater sense of trust and gives them a sense that they are in greater control when getting their car repaired. If you are able to gain this trust and show them how your inspection process will provide them immediate updates on their cell phone, they will gladly provide their email address and/or mobile phone number. This not only helps to ensure the success of your paperless shop but also improves your customer retention program by building your contact list. You should also make sure that when your inspection tool allows you to communicate with the customer that you can easily personalize the response, complete with pictures and videos embedded directly in the message. Don’t make your customers have to figure out on their own how to review the inspection data or wait for you to call and explain it. And as this may be the first, last, and only time you get to communicate with them electronically, give them the option to provide feedback right then and there. You’ll want to provide that feedback for the service writer immediately as well.
6. What kind of support will you receive from the software vendor?
Finally, possibly the most important thing to consider is the reputation of the vendor. Make sure to ask other shop owners in your peer groups what they think of vendor and the products. If you are a member of a 20 group or business development group ask what products others in your group are considering. Or if they have already selected a product, find out how the support has been after the sale. Check out online reviews. Just as your customers value the reviews of your shop left by previous visitors, you too should value the reviews left by previous users of the products you are considering. But always look at the whole picture not just a single review. Many people worry too much about a demonstration of the product but don’t take enough time to get a demo of the support systems. Try it out yourself. Call up the support and/or sales line and see how friendly and helpful the people on the other end of the phone can be. If they are not very helpful before you buy the product, they probably will not get better after the sale.
7. What if you don’t get the results you were looking for?
Of course you expect to stick with the product you choose after you get all the way through the evaluation, and testing, and purchasing process. But, what if things just don’t work out? If you can’t make it work in your shop for whatever reason, will your vendor/partner offer you a reasonable solution? So, be sure to look at your contract closely and be prepared to ask some tough questions about their return or refund policies. While no-one is going to work for free, and neither would you, you don’t want to get stuck holding the bag for an entire year if you are not receiving any benefit. In the end, if you follow these common sense recommendations you will end up with the best tool for your shop.