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November 16, 2016

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Going to NADA make the most of it.

Going to NADA make the most of it.

As a vendor who is and has been on both sides of the isle, both vendor and dealer, I see NADA as a daunting and exhausting but also exciting opportunity. This is where the “opportunity” and the seeker match. Be it dealership personnel seeking a product or service or a product or service seeking buyers and users, this is where they all meet. This convention, being as it is the only gathering of its kind, gets to be rather overpowering if you do not plan to visit whom you want to visit ahead of time. This is also where you want to separate wheat from the chaff, look for new trends, technologies or products. A lot of companies introduce new products during this gathering some of which are truly outstanding and some which, as they say,are not worth the time. Also, if not careful you might walk yourself to death literally as the halls are huge and much to see. So, I have a few tips to make your trip worthwhile learned from years of attending this event from both sides of the isle.

1- Study tools your dealership is using and see what the return on the investment on each is. This “return” is not necessarily money wise but also time wise. As we know in today’s world, time is money. Evaluating customer facing tools such as website becomes very important. Realize that the website of the millennium has morphed into something very different than the standard sites most OEM certified vendors sell.

2- You also need to evaluate these tools in user friendliness. I am sure, that you realize that in the millennium, most software technology is built so that it is intuitive. Meaning, most people doesn’t take courses for using Facebook for daily use. Your systems today should follow the same rule. So, don’t be so worried about switching gears that your people might have hard time learning or that the cost of training might be high. These could include CRM products and services. Is the CRM in its present form serving your company well?

3- Study tools and processes at your dealership that might be lacking but that customers value or would like to have. Essentially put yourself in the shoes of your customer. One type of product here could be an electronic vehicle health report that is interactive and communicated directly to the customer. This kind of tool assists in reduction of declined services and adds transparency and streamlines communication with customer which is all three pluses for your dealership.

4- Which department at your dealership could use a boost in productivity and what kind of tool can help you achieve this. For example online payment system in service department improves efficiency, reduces red tape and makes your customers much happier.
So, itemize these needs and score them as most important to least and then once NADA releases the list of vendors you can then choose which ones to visit. And, if you see this blog worthwhile, please come visit us at both 5306.

October 28, 2016

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It’s all about your intent

It’s all about your intent

It is well known that products and companies that prosper are those that first, truly provide a product that works and secondly, have the best of their clients at heart. It is also well known that you build a relationship that can be nurtured only if you truly communicate and let the other side know how important they are to you by investing time in their well being. Parents that raise successful children are those that not necessarily spend a great deal of time with their children but those that use the time spent in total focus of interacting with the child. So, the short and sweet of it is that all of us crave attention, not only from those closest to us but, from those with whom we have chosen to have a relationship. People we do business with are no different; we choose to work with them and we expect for them to focus on us when and if we are interacting with them. The other day I saw a little cartoon on the web that brought this point home more than ever. Two guys are talking and one says to the other that “you keep talking about this club you belong to and it is no more than a gym, so what is so special about the “club””.? And, the other guy says “nothing, except that the fact that I am member of their club makes me feel important”. Wow, how tremendously insightful, the club makes their customers feel as though they belong and that they are important.

There is nothing shatteringly amazing about this. The club makes their members feel special and wanted and any business owner can have that “club”. We as car dealers have a huge number of people that spend a great deal of money with us. Our top 33% customers generate 85% of our revenue. Would it not make them feel special if, first, they learned that you knew who they are and second, that you valued them enough to make them part of your community or club. The car dealer of today is inundated with businesses trying to make them irrelevant. It is the job of the dealer whether he wants to become as such. How do you keep from becoming yet another victim of times, make your customers fight for you. Make them want you there because you are a support system they cannot do without. Get to know who they are and let them know who you are and what you are about. How do you do this? Build your community, communicate through the community and allow the communication to be bidirectional. Not just you yelling at them when you are ready to sell something, but allow them to communicate when they “want” something and then react.

With autoWALL, we promote transparency and open lines of communication. That is most evident in the use of the techWALL and the vehicle health report, where a technician provides a status report on the health of the vehicle to the customer. Although you sell more service and reduce declined services and improve technician efficiency by using a system like this, none of these are the real impetus for installing it as those are again, all internally focused reasons. Meaning they make you more profitable and make your life easier. The main reason is because you make your customers feel special. It is not in the delivery of the VHR but, the fact that you are willing to spend the time and money and resources to install a project such as this where, at its heart is attention to the consumer. The question you want to ask yourself is can I survive without my customers. Well that is a silly question to ask as we all know the answer. So, do all you can to involve and take care of the customer and make them “truly” feel special. Believe me it will pay you at the end.

August 26, 2016

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A Case for Marketing the Dealership Brand

Good Grief, you think that website makes your customers feel special? Or is it all about you?

Customers are very perceptive!

Have you ever wondered why people buy cars from one dealership versus another? You might say the reason is simple, they like the products they sell. Well how about in metropolitan areas where there are multitude of dealers of the same brand? What makes one stand out in the eyes of the customer versus another? Have you heard the phrase “my mechanic” takes good care of me or “my salesman” takes good care of me? That is when an employee of a dealership has built a solid relationship with a customer who in turn responds to his calls or communications and better yet remains loyal to dealership for both sales and service.

There have been many attempts to circumvent the dealerships as they stand. Ford Motor in the eighties tried in Rochester NY and failed miserably and so did General Motors in other parts of the country. The final reason why people buy from anyone is that people buy from people. And especially from those who have shown longevity in business and in retaining the friendship. Although Uber is trying to change that mind set; still owning a car in this country is a mandate and a right to man or womanhood and a tremendous boost to one’s independence. So car ownership and car dealerships are here to stay. So, it is the “family” of the people of the dealership and its brand that is really selling and that is what needs be promoted. Especially if you are a dealer with multi brands it becomes even more imperative for you to promote your personal brand. Why should the customer buy from you than the guy down the street? What makes you stand out and what makes you special. Believe me, although your physical facility, is important, and so are your brands, they are not the main reason you are in business. So, celebrating that brand of the people of the dealership is every bit as important as the brand of cars that you sell.

How do you do this? It is not that difficult by truly first focusing the light on your customer and making him understand how valuable he is to you. And building a solid relationship, first, initiates with an element of trust. Why should this customer trust you to spend his hard earned money to buy a car from your dealership? And better yet why should he keep on trusting you to service his second largest investment in life, his automobile. The best way to garner that element of trust is to “listen” to what the customer has to say and make it easy for him to have a venue thru which he could express himself easily. And, by that I do not mean your dealership phone system. As, it is proven that unless someone knows your employees cell number they cannot reach that person as they do not listen to voice mail on dealership land lines.

autoWALL is a system that does exactly the above, each customer and all dealership members are members of the community through which they can communicate. Customer can express his beef easily and you can sell to them as well; because now that you listen they will listen too. On this WALL you can also inform them of not only your quality of service but the service you and your people provide to the community at large. You can celebrate your employees, their qualifications and how they serve the community in other forms. Again, remember buying and doing business is a “people” relationship business and cars are just a mere commodity.

July 6, 2016

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Think your technicians can only turn wrenches? Think again!

You think your technicians can only turn wrenches?  Think again, they can drive sales and profitability!

Average vehicles on the streets of this great country of ours have 150,000 miles on them and are 11 years old. There are close to 84,000 registered independent repair companies available in the market to serve these vehicles. Also fully 63% of the US population cannot address a $500 repair bill. What do all these statistics point to? For one, people are keeping their cars longer and those cars need to be repaired and secondly, as the cost of repair is hard for them to swallow, the customers will choose the repair shop that truly is transparent to them and serves them to the fullest extent. The concept of “my technician will treat me right” becomes even more relevant here as the customer does not see the technician as yet another salesman trying to sell him something but as an advocate trying to only diagnose a difficult problem at the least cost.

This becomes a tremendous opportunity for a franchised dealer as well to make the fixed operations more profitable. But with every opportunity there is a price to pay and with that I do not necessarily mean financial but rather a change of mind set. You see this level of change is not achieved by just handing people in the service department some tablets using the same old technology of the past. As mentioned above the consumer of today faces very different challenges than those of their predecessors and the dealership of today needs to be able to address those needs. In short, the auto dealer of today has to portray their service department not only as a place where you “service” cars, but a place where, you most importantly, “serve” the consumer. If your dealership truly makes these transitions, the rewards are outstanding and long term. Actually the financial burden of this project can be quite minimal as there is already new technology available that links the technician into the “chain” of people at the dealership that serve the customer. Consider techWALL of Gratis technologies, this tool has been in the market for a while and it simply uses the old inspection report the dealerships and customers are used to except it is now totally electronic. Once the vehicle is in front of the technician, he then initiates the “vehicle health report” which is then forwarded to parts for pricing and availability then to advisor for final scrutiny and then submitted to customer for final approval. Once the customer approves the report and “submits” to advisor, the technician is notified who initiates service., then, once the service is complete SPOL, the online payment system, communicates to the customer’s phone that the vehicle is ready and sends n invoice to that phone. The customer pays thir invoice, again on their phone and comes in to pick up thir car easily and quickly – no lines. The whole project addresses the need for transparency and time saving. All declined services and future needs are also recorded on client profiles for automatic followup.. Also this portrays the fact that in every service there are a “group” of people serving that customer. the technician, in its own right, becomes a tremendous selling factor against the independent repair shops. You see at the auto dealership of millennium it’s not just the technician that is “working” on the car, but parts counter is trying to find the best part and advisor who really knows this customer and his “condition” is trying to find the best fit for the service needed. By that we mean that if the service needed at the time might be more than the customer can swallow the advisor might be more aware of that fact than others and by communicating thru the same system the advisor, parts, the technicians and the customer might be able to choose the best solution readily.

In short, the tools that the dealership needs to incorporate must be those that address transparency, communication with the customer and most importantly be easy to install and easy to use for people of the service department. this is the time for change and the opportunities are too great to ignore for the service department of millennium.

July 5, 2016

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Disrupt or be Disrupted

Disrupt or be Disrupted is the topic of a great article in the Fortune Magazine June of 2016.

The essence of this article is the following sentence.
“Accelerate speed and drive competitive advantage through digital transformation”


A survey of hundreds of thousands of autoWALL client members on the question, “what services and technologies does your dealer use that are most important to you”, was responded with these simple two characteristics.
1- Systems that save me time
2- Systems that allow me to communicate easily and seamlessly with the critical employees at the dealership.

Now, if you want to stay in business and flourish there are a few rules that you have to follow, they are as follows.
1- Listen to your customers needs
2- Implement processes and tools that get you a way to address the client needs
3- Do all of the above in most the cost effective way possible
4- Remember that at any moment other companies may wake up to your “customer’s needs” and can come up with better tools and services to nab your customers

These “Better Tools and services” are usually called “disruptive systems”. Think of Uber, people used to wait for a cab at a curb or have to call the night before and sit in a dirty yellow cab. No longer is that necessary, you can call an Uber from an app on your smart phone and have a cab in ten minutes and also provide a job and revenue to anyone who might like to join Uber and drive part time to supplement their income or work full time. Both sides of the equation win. The customer is provided an easier better way to get a ride and every day common people are provided more income. Of course, you can say that the Taxi Cab driver loses here and the answer to that is yes, and I am sorry for that, but why the Taxi Cab companies did not come up with an APP that could call a cab in ten minutes? I guess the answer is they were sitting on their laurels!

The auto industry is in danger of this also. There are many places that “disrupters” can hit and the easiest and the most critical is the service department. You see most service departments are run still using old technology which, in all fairness to them, is pushed down their throat by their OEM. A great article written by the insightful “Alpha Dawg”, Jim Ziegler was published in Auto Dealer Magazine on June 2016 addressing this issue eloquently and is very much worth reading. Appointment setting tools of the 1990’s which require 14 clicks to set an appointment, and no way for a customer to directly and easily communicate with critical employees at the dealership other than through the dealership phone system. They are told that a CRM, actually builds a relationship with customer, when in reality it is only a database management tool. Websites developed in the early 2000 by Cobalt are still touted as the state of the art tools.

At some dealerships service department employees are now handed a tablet, but the software on the tablet does not provide systems that enable the customer and employee to save time and communicate. Technicians are not at all part of most systems even though the technician diagnoses a lot more issues that could end in more sales and profitability in the fixed operations. The customer is usually not notified of those issues until later, requiring another trip to service department and further cost resulting in an unhappy customer.

So, there is some very cool technology that could handle all these needs and keep the dealership service department from becoming obsolete and disrupted. There is online payment system tool for a service and interactive multipoint inspection tools where technician, parts and service advisor can communicate with the customer. These tools enable the customer to directly text the status of an issue with their car to a road side assistance center. All of these tools keep service departments in the Millennium, keep millennials happy and increase customer satisfaction. This relates directly to customer retention and ultimately increases revenue. The greatest advantage of these tools is that they make the dealership the “disrupter” not the “disrupted” and improve revenue, which is the ultimate goal of any company.

March 27, 2016

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You heard of Navinder Sarao?

You heard of Navinder Sarao?

Well, until this morning I had no earthly idea who he was either. But he is about to be extradited to US for having caused the 2010 “Trigger Flash fall” of the Dow Jones Industrial average. The online magazine Market Watch in their March 23rd article introduced Mr. Sarao as:

“The Hounslow trader accused of helping trigger the flash crash of 2010 sent 7.4 million “trade modification” messages – sometimes seen as a sign of abusive trading – on a single day, according to prosecutors seeking to extradite him to the U.S.

Navinder Singh Sarao’s trade modification messages on the CME market for E-mini futures sent on April 29, 2010, amounted to 42% of all such messages sent across the market, according to Mark Summers in opening arguments seeking to get Sarao sent to the U.S. for trial.

The U.S. authorities allege that Sarao’s trading of E-mini S&P 500 futures on the CME in Chicago contributed to the May 6, 2010, crash that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.45%   fall 9% in half an hour before recovering.”

So you say what does SPOL has anything to do with Navinder Sarao? Well one of the objections against SPOL is the fact that it uses PayPal as a payment platform and hence this causes the merchant to not only pay merchant services charges but also PayPal charges. This is where Navinder merges with SPOL, you see there are thousands no millions of Navinders lurking around the world just itching to get their hands on your customer’s credit card information. If a guy from the comfort of his Mom’s kitchen could bring down the Dow Jones Industrial you think he cannot access the merchant services of your bank? And if he does who is responsible? You or the bank? I bet you that somewhere in the fine print your merchant services contract indicates that they have no responsibility toward the hacking of their merchant services. But by using PayPal, your company is assured of two things first is that PayPal executes thousands of transactions per day and hence has the wherewithal to plan for contingencies that thwarts attacks such as Navinder’s far more than any specific company with merchant services. And, if they are intercepted, it is not you the merchant that is liable but PayPal. This insurance policy just as any “insurance policies” has a cost associated and is not free but is well worth the cost. Secondly, in reality, PayPal is no more expensive than merchant services, it all depends on how much in form of transactions you as a merchant put through their system. The higher the amount the lower their per transaction fees becomes. So, the security and the ultimate reduction in cost that PayPal can offer make its usage by SPOL, a no brainer.

Now, you might say, why should we even offer online payment system to our clients let them just come by and pay as they have done for that last 100 years. Well the answer to that is, are you still selling 100 year old cars? And, with the new vehicles you sell do you not also introduce complexities that can make life a bit more complicated but far easier? What about that Internet thing? Remember it can allow Navinder’s into your life, but what else it awards you and are you willing to let it go just to avoid possible issues? It is very true that with each opportunity there are issues, it is up to us to mitigate these issues by choosing the best solution and SPOL is the one for automotive online payment system.

March 11, 2016

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Handling Dissatisfied Customers

Handling Dissatisfied Customers

One of the most appealing aspects of the internet is its equalizing effect. A small group of people or just one single person can communicate information to thousands in a matter of seconds. And this information, if not complimentary, can have a devastating effect on huge and powerful companies. This is a beautiful thing, but also frightening. As now, we are all accountable for our actions especially those corporations who tout the fact that we are “service” companies. The retail auto industry is by no means immune and because of its structure of separate distinct departments, is even more in danger. Plus, although no longer the case, dealers and their service departments have had a reputation that is not enviable. So, as an auto dealership, we are hit with two whammies. One, our reputation caused mostly by our predecessors, and secondly the disjointed nature of our departments makes it very difficult to manage a customer experience all across our dealerships. Meaning, a customer could have a great experience in sales department but a bad one in service and vice versa. And, the two experiences very probably will add to a negative result, which of course, will point him to the web as the only source of retaliation. These negative comments even if, responded to on the web, unfortunately, remain on your rating site, or face book page or myriad of other sites. Heck, if the user has any idea of how to use social media, by a click of one button he could broadcast his offensive remarks to many sites at once. So, how do you handle this? Well you can hire an army of people to monitor all social media for negative comments, and try and respond. But of course the damage is done, as others have already read it and the poor little guy who is abused is always right and the cost is prohibitive.
So, what is the solution? The saying goes that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Most all dealership employees and specially management would gladly help clear issues for an unhappy client if they knew that the problem existed. So, is it not better to put products and processes in place that would preempt the “dissatisfied” customer from broadcasting than try and make him happy after he decided no one cared and only his loud voice on internet FINALLY got your attention?

This whole concept of client management is the heart of autoWALL. This is the only system where first you are providing a website that is customized to each of your customers, but also, you allow the customer’s voice to be heard anytime that customer wishes and specially after each and every transaction. In autoWALL, all members are equal and communicate with one another openly without having to know email address and or phone number. The customers cannot communicate directly, with other customer but a customer can communicate with all “dealership people” all the way up to the dealer principle. So, if the customer is unhappy he can express his issues directly to an “enabler” who is capable of addressing that issue. And, believe me dealership people love to hear these messages and so does the customer. As, most customers are not interested in bad mouthing anybody it’s just that they feel wronged and want their issues answered. Equally, most dealership management are not interested in doing wrong to a customer, it’s just that they do not know that “wrong” has happened. autoWALL brings these two stake holders together, facilitates communication and ,Voila, the problem is solved.

So, you say, wow, this must be expensive. Well how much do you have to pay to clean up bad reputation stats or watch social media for bad reviews? And, how much business are you losing that you do not even know about because of these bad reviews? And, the addressing of direct open dialogue with customer is a free aspect of autoWALL so you pay NOTHING extra.

Now, do you want to learn how it works?

August 19, 2015

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Service drive technology – Increase Revenue and Improve Customer Satisfaction

The purpose of this workshop is to help build your fixed operations brand and hence improve its profits. Service departments have for years been called “Fixed-Ops” or “Fixed Operations”. Have you ever taken a moment to find out why? In a great article written by Don Reed in Auto Dealer Today on line magazine titled “The Meaning Behind the Term “Fixed Operations”, he said it was ” because you don’t have as many variable conditions in service and parts as you do in sales.” And that essentially your customer count tends to be the same month after month. Have you wondered why the customer count does not increase with the number of sales? After all the customer has to bring the car back to your dealership for most the services needed. So as your customer count in sales goes up why does it not go up in service department also? After all you have just increased the pool of people who need you to service their car. This very specific and important question is the essence of this workshop. Why is it that a dealership that sells 100 cars a month does not show an ever increasing monthly number of customer pay repairs at their service department. I actually do not like the term “Fixed-Ops” as it is limiting and implies lack of growth. So, from now on and in this workshop we are going to refer to service department just that! Service department or perhaps Parts and service department!

A few days ago, I was listening to the BBC World News station. In one very interesting documentary, they were discussing the eminent emergence of the cars that are self driving. Wow, how cool is that I thought, you could sit in the back seat and work or snooze or whatever else you wanted to do. All those text junkies will feel that they have died and gone to heaven, no more having to go without texting for a few minutes of their lives! Well, this although eminent is still a bit in the future. The physical relation with other vehicles and the mental calculation a driver does in busy major cities makes this a bit more complex. So, maybe not immediately, but we are going to own use and yes have to repair the said vehicles. Wow, can you imagine the complexity of repairs and the extent of knowledge of a technician of the millennium? And the opportunity all of this offers for the service department. Although we don’t have the “self driving” car, we still have cars that stop when facing an obstacle, veer around an obstacle, warn us when we are about to move right or left when there is a car next to us and essentially help us drive far more safely. With blind spot protection, manufacturers are already talking about reduction in sheet metal sales. But all of this safety has a price, higher repairs cost and potentially more repairs. This is a great opportunity for the automotive service world. Now, all we need to do is address the first point in the paragraph, why are our repair numbers not steadily increasing and what can we do about it? And then what next steps we need to take to improve service department absorbency far beyond 100%. That will be discussed in my workshop titled “Service drive technology – Increase Revenue and Improve Customer Satisfaction” presented at Digital Dealer 19 in Vegas this October, I will be honored to see you there so that we may further explore this topic together.

June 22, 2015

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We Will Be Closed In Observance of Independence Day


 We will be closed in observation of Independence Day from July 3rd – July 5th, 2015.

Normal business hours will resume on Monday, July 6th, 2015.

Have a happy and safe Independence Day!

May 6, 2015

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CDK Global approved interface

We are honored to announce that Gratis Solutions is now an approved interface with CDK Global.  Service-Pay-Online for CDK dealers, as well as many others, is totally seamless and requires no human interaction.  Once the RO is completed in that DMS, the communication with the consumer via text, post or email can initiate where the customer can pay the repair through a secure system directly online.  This makes lines at the end of the day shorter, life easier for service advisors, less need of yet another cashier who does not know what the repair was, and most importantly, less red tape when someone is using a spouse’s or parent’s card to pay.