Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2014   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Shop Management Software

Shop software can improve workflow and find missed work that leads to improved profitability

One of the reasons many shops have difficulty growing is the issue of workflow. Too many rely on outdated methods of managing shop processes and staff, billing and paperwork and managing stock and customers. For an industry that prides itself on staying up-to-date on the latest tools and programs to diagnose and repair increasingly complex vehicles, many shops still rely on paper, pencils and ad-hoc ways of running the day-to-day operations.

Some will say they have been doing things this way for decades and they don’t see the need to change. It is the old saw, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” They are also likely wondering why they have not grown for those decades as well.

Workflow Management

“One of the best reasons for implementing shop management software is to automate many of the processes that make up a shop’s workflow,” says Nick DiVerde, senior director of marketing and customer connection, Mitchell1. “Let’s start with the write-up process where some shop owners like to improve their diagnostic efficiency by better capturing the symptoms their customers report when they drop off their vehicles. In Mitchell1’s Manager SE shop management platform, the Symptom wizard translates vehicle complaints in customer language to the system, making it fast and easy to process them . . . This standardization serves to prevent labour leaks, delays or inconsistencies while promoting a more professional image for the shop.”

“In my opinion, the major issue with workflow management is preventing traffic ups and downs,” adds Karole Lauzier, vice-president of marketing with VL Communications. “A mechanic who uses software that has a good inspection and reminder system, a system where customer files include addresses, phone numbers and emails, and an effective appointment grid which extends over the coming months . . . [the shop] owns the foundations upon which larger businesses rest.”

Lauzier says that workflow management will help shops find ‘slack periods’ and focus on work that needs to be done but was not during the times when the shop was busy with other work, for example, tire changeovers from winter to spring. “By taking the time and care to provide a brief inspection of each vehicle showing up for tires, [the shop] will be able to invite customers to come back in the coming months to complete the work that will have been discovered during the [earlier] inspection.”

“When trying to manage a business and/or the workflow of a business, one major issue is the number of people that are needed to complete an invoice,” says Matthew Burditt, operations manager with Autogence Inc., maker of the Lankar shop management software.

“There are technicians, shop managers, service advisors, parts people, controllers, cashiers and owners who will in some cases all need to be involved in the completion of one vehicle repair and invoice. This process will, hopefully, be repeated many times each day. Shop management software packages are designed to help manage this entire process. Lankar allows multiple people with differing security privileges to manage the scheduling of the customer appointment, creating the RO, getting customer authorization for the work, total integration of online ordering/receipt of parts and labour guides, managing monies collected for the payment of the invoices, and a system of checks and balances for full reconciliation of all of the above.

“Finally, an area in which a lot of shops do not take full advantage of is reminders, email marketing and follow up which will help grow their business. Total workflow for a shop should start from well before a customer walks through the door to well after. It is a cycle of repeat business.”

Reducing Errors

Bob Worts, director of marketing and sales for Ontario and Western Canada with Gem-Car says that shop software can also help reduce errors when inputting vehicle information, ordering of parts and managing inventory. He says Gem-Car’s software can reduce or eliminate errors by an Internet ordering process that facilitates the online purchasing of parts from suppliers via their electronic catalogues and VIN lookup. It also supports wireless barcode readers to scan VIN numbers to ensure more accurate ordering of parts.

“Parts are selected from the catalogue listing and transferred directly into the work order,” Worts continues. “Vendor suggested list pricing is reflected on the work order unless the user chooses to use his/hers own price matrix. Once approval for the repair has been given, the order can be processed and the parts transferred directly to ‘payables,’ ready for payment to the appropriate parts supplier. Parts can be added to inventory and purchase history can be accessed with a simple click.”

Peter Steele, a principal with Protractor, a provider of management tools, says that eliminating errors and getting a handle on parts inventory and ordering is critical in locating and eliminating profit leaks.

“For a shop operating with a 10 per cent net profit, every $10 that leaks out of the business has a real cost of $100,” Steele adds. “So if you understand this concept, you build your software to help stop the leaks, which in turn makes the user more profitable.”

Protractor does this by setting labour lines that eliminates ‘guesstimating’ labour costs on a job, part sell prices that include margin rates, electronic connection for parts pricing for more accurate estimates and an automated related items feature for service writers that can be considered by a vehicle owner when presented with a final estimate.

“Some of the most common causes for errors in estimating — or any step in the shop workflow — are double entry and failure to consult historical information when checking on a customer’s vehicle,” adds Mitchell1’s DiVerde. “Manager SE helps shops quickly select customers, eliminating the need to write down the information and at the same time displaying the correct vehicle records. VIN Decoder allows quick and accurate vehicle identification. Customer remarks and vehicle memos are stored electronically. Parts ordering can introduce errors from keying parts in by hand. Thanks to the numerous integrated parts catalogue options in Manager SE, all of the part numbers, pricing, descriptions, line codes etc. are seamlessly transferred in the management system.”

“The Lankar Shop Management System is designed to import data directly from all online resources,” adds Burditt. “The focal point of any job is the WO and from there we can look up any parts or labour information our customers need and not only put that information on the WO but order and receive inventory as well. Because Lankar directly transfers the data from its partner’s online resources, human and entry errors are effectively eliminated.”

Finding the Fix

VL Communications’ Lauzier says all shop management software must include integrated Internet links to critical parts information and pricing in real time in order to create accurate estimates. “With AB Magique software, once the parts are found a single click is sufficient to report the parts on the customer’s estimate and another click will send the exact order to the part supplier. This leaves no place for error. This software also tells the shop owner, at the time of ordering, whether or not he has the part in his inventory.”

Workflow management is also improved with fast access to technical information. All of the makers of shop management software have integrated into or provide direct access to technical databases and repair information that technicians can use. This speeds up the repair of a vehicle and reduces the chances of misdiagnosis of problems, and ensures accurate parts ordering. Gem-Car’s software connects directly with AllData, Identifix and Mitchell, and labour times can be transferred from most parts distributor’s web sites and AllData directly into Gem-Car. Mitchell1 ProDemand comes with the dedicated diagnostic module SureTrack. It offers technicians a way to look up vehicle issues based on code, symptom or component, tips and fixes from a database of completed repairs that have been validated by experts, and a regularly updated database of TSBs and recalls. Protractor integrates with Mitchell On Demand and CarFax and VL Communications’ AB Magique allows technicians to access from within the software management system online repair and diagnostic databases when creating the customer estimates.

Going Mobile

Shop software is also moving quickly to take advantage of the growing ubiquity and ease-of-use of smart devices, iPads and tablet technologies to improve workflow. Since technicians are comfortable using these devices and appreciate their portability, it only makes sense to give them direct access to the shop management tools and repair information on these devices. They now don’t have to be tied down to using a desktop or laptop in another part of the shop, taking time away from their work.

“All features of our software are designed with the mobile experience in mind,” continues DiVerde. “We recently completed an extensive review of our repair information product, ProDemand, and improved functions and features of the product to optimize it for use on tablets. Mitchell1 has not created a separate ‘app’ for the mobile market. Mitchell1 wants techs to have a consistent experience with ProDemand no matter if they use a desktop computer or a mobile computer. Technicians will be viewing and using the same software application regardless of how they access the web site.”

VL Communications’ software allows technicians to scan a VIN using a smart phone and sends the VIN directly to the estimating software, and Protractor uses an electronic clipboard that gives greater mobility to staff and access to pre-service task, job assignments and inventory control features of the shop management software.

“Gem-Car currently provides full connectivity for tablets, iPhones, Androids and other mobile devices making it possible for the user to access the garage management software from remote locations,” Worts says. “It is possible for [someone] to greet their customers in the parking lot with a tablet and post the customer’s details and arrival into the agenda allowing the technician to begin the work more expeditiously.”

“The new and exciting world of portable devices is something the Lankar development team is currently investing a lot of time, money and effort into,” adds Burditt. “They are currently building features to include both a VIN Bar Code Reader and integrated Vehicle Inspection Sheets. This will provide the technicians with a seamless method of importing this information directly to Lankar through both iPads and Android tablets.”

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