Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2009   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Shop Management Software

Improving shop efficiencies, customer communications

When used correctly and properly integrated into a shop’s overall business and employee practices, shop management software is an invaluable tool. Used successfully, it can help a shop find unbeknownst profits and improve efficiencies. Over the last year, the makers of several top shop management software systems have been adding new features and enhancements to help shops improve those efficiencies and to better communicate with the shop’s customers.

Improving shop efficiencies

One of the challenges for independents is managing shop productivity. To a casual observer a shop can look very busy, with lots going on both in the front and back in the bays, leaving the impression that the shop must be making a decent profit. How could it not be with all that activity going on? The reality is a busy shop may in fact be very unproductive and its revenues and profits less than the appearance being given.

The problem for the owner of the independent is to pinpoint exactly where the problems are in how their shop operates and where inefficiencies are happening.

Jim Ball, sales manager with Protractor Software Inc., says since the 1980s independents have struggled with trying to maximize shop productivity, with the focus today being on finding ways to better manage a technician’s time.

Take the earlier example of someone coming into a shop that looked busy. The problem is figuring out exactly what people are doing: are they working on a particular job at hand, handling a customer query, filling out a work order, for example; or is all of that busyness really idle time, with technicians doing other kinds of work that really doesn’t involve a vehicle or a customer.

Ball says to help better identify how a technician’s time is being used, Protractor added a time clock function to its software. The program’s time clock works by tying a technician to a specific work order or job. The idea is to monitor how long a technician is working on a particular job, the steps happening within that job and how long each step is taking. The idea is to find out where idle time is happening and why.

For example, if a technician during a typical job has some 20 minutes of idle time, then the shop can use the clock to find out why that is happening. Is it because the technician is waiting on parts to arrive or having to ask the service writer to order missing parts that did not arrive with the original shipment? Does the technician have to interrupt their work in order to help out on the front desk, thereby taking time away from their work in the bay? Or does the technician have to stop work to go hunting for information on the repair needed, slowing down the repair?

“The time clock is designed to bring that information forward and for [the shop owner] to take a closer look at the shop’s practices and workflow,” says Ball. The idea is this detailed time and work information can then be used to find out where inefficiencies are and what can be done to reduce them. This might involve improving training or finding ways to make parts ordering more efficient to reduce wait times or having to make multiple orders.

Danny Lankar, president of Autogence Inc., makers of the popular Lankar Pro 8.0 shop management software, is well aware of how shops struggle to use technician’s time effectively, and to increase productivity and profits. The problem of parts ordering is one Lankar has seen before. In the newest version of the Lankar software, service writers will find an enhanced set of pre-set jobs that can be directly tied to a technician’s work order.

Lankar says these jobs allow a service writer to key in specific repairs needed, the vehicle make and VIN number, to then automatically to have a complete list of all the parts and items needed for that specific repair and vehicle. The idea is to remove the possibility of parts ordering mistakes being made. The system is also dynamic in before it produces the parts order, the system can check the shop inventory to make sure that parts are already on-hand in the shop and are not ordered again. Furthermore, Lankar adds, the system allows the service writer to specify brands of parts to be ordered. If a customer desires a specific kind of oil filter or spark plug needed for a repair or maintenance work, the service writer can specify the customer’s preference and order the requested parts.

Mitchell 1’s newest version of its Mitchell 1 Manager SE comes with a built-in VIN decoder which also improves shop efficiencies by removing the pitfalls of mistaken parts orders. The automatic VIN decoder identifies a vehicle’s configuration and makes sure the parts ordered for a particular service job are the right ones for the vehicle. As a result of being linked to parts catalogues, the VIN decoder can then check to see what parts are available for that repair.

Other new features in Mitchell 1 SE include some 200 integrated reports for helping shop managers find efficiencies, increase profits and Symptom Wizard, for shop service writers to help create more accurate profit estimates and repair orders.

Better communications with customers

One consistent shortfall independents have is poor after-service customer communications. Studies such as the ones on customer satisfaction released yearly from J.D. Power and Associates consistently rank independent shops very high in on-site customer communications, but poorly once the customer leaves the shop with their vehicle. This poor follow-up means lost revenue opportunities.

Danny Lankar has been aware of this problem for a while and this year has put a great deal of focus on offering several tools that should help shops improve their dealings with customers and thereby increase a shop’s profits.

“The main area right now that we are focusing our attention on is the maintenance schedule,” he says. “We are gearing up our software to have the productivity enhancements that support that such as having integration with Mitchell 1 service information and access to diagnostic information.”

Lankar adds his shop management software also comes with an improved email marketing program that simplifies the production and sending out of emails for customers to follow-up on their service experience and to pre-book their next appointment.

“We are creating 60 or so email templates or ePostCards that will cover all sorts of different situations, Christmas, New Year, service reminders, sales and thank-you cards,” he says. “You can use the ePostCard system so that every time you finish a work order you can have the system automatically produce an ePostCard for that customer.”

Anton Jagers, product manager with Mitchell 1 points to a similar system that his company’s shop management software has.

“Our shop management software has a series of services we call ‘business performance services’, one of them being an email and postcard marketing service,” he continues. “It digs into a shop’s data to determine who should be visiting next and sends them a post card or an email message to remind them, it also provides them feedback to see how the process is working, how well the marketing pieces are reaching customers.”


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