• April 12, 2002
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Customer Service Gets a Tune Up

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If there is ever an industry that could use a few extra lessons in customer satisfaction, it is the automotive repair industry. Customers often need to arrange transportation to and from repair shops, parts may be on back order, and mechanics may find unexpected, additional problems. These types of situations often leave customers feeling frustrated. "We're all pretty attached to our vehicles. That's why automotive repair is really disruptive to your life," says Randy Vanstory, cofounder and vice president of automotive services at Joe Auto, in Tomball, Texas. But Vanstory, a 15-year veteran of the automotive repair industry and former owner of five auto repair shops, and his crew at Joe Auto are looking to improve the customer experience-and are using CRM technologies to do so. "Our research shows that consumers look for trust and convenience from automotive repair businesses," Vanstory says. "Trust is something you have to earn through good or superior service. It's hard to put trust as a concept into the customer, but there are ways to deliver the message." That is why the company is building its business around customer trust and satisfaction. To help mitigate the inconveniences associated with automotive repair, Joe Auto has implemented a series of customer service initiatives. These include a Web site that allows customers to arrange for service, manage their profiles, and view repairs in real time (via Webcam) and allows prospects to take a Webcam tour of the facilities; an hourly ($5 per) and daily ($35 per) rental car program in conjunction with Hertz Rent-A-Car; pick-up and drop-off service within a five-mile radius of the shop; and overnight repair service. The company employs comprehensive back-end technology to accomplish this. In fact, one-and-a-half years ago, prior to opening the doors of its first automotive repair shop-an eight-bay prototype in Tomball-Joe Auto invested in CRM. Because of its aggressive expansion plans, the firm needed a highly scalable, yet affordable CRM solution. "When we started looking around at all the applications, we looked at what we needed to run one shop and then 50 shops," says Mark Daugherty, enterprise applications manager at Joe Auto. After reviewing solutions from CRM behemoths such as Oracle Corp., PeopleSoft Inc., and Siebel Systems Inc., Vanstory and Daugherty decided it would be cheaper to build a customized CRM solution. "The software applications that were out there were really geared for the manufacturers and the dealerships. That didn't fit our model," Vanstory says. To help design its Web site, Joe Auto turned to Extreme Logic, an independent software vendor based in Atlanta. The first version of the Web site, which took approximately eight weeks to build, enabled customers to schedule appointments online and watch mechanics work on their cars via Webcam. Vanstory says: "This shows we have nothing to hide," which is integral to building the trust and relationships Joe Auto is seeking. The company's commitment to customer service does not stop with the Web site. To shorten repair time, Joe Auto offers overnight service. "We call it FedEx rules: If you get your vehicle to us by 6 p.m., we'll have it ready for you by six the next morning," Vanstory says. But this service, which benefits nearly 80 percent of Joe Auto's customers, could have presented a logistical nightmare. This was addressed by a workflow application Extreme Logic designed that enables the mechanics to share specific repair information on each car. The overnight-repair guarantee requires night-shift mechanics to sometimes work until 2:00 a.m. to prepare cars for an early-morning pickup the following day. Often these repairs are begun by day mechanics, who then hand off work to the night mechanics. If a day mechanic clocks out during a complicated repair with heavy tear-down, the night mechanic who takes over needs to know exactly where in the repair the day mechanic stopped. "Often we are handing off work for someone else to complete. When you do that you need to have a good method for sharing information. Our workflow method enables us to do that," Vanstory says. "Everyone in the facility uses the workflow application." Thanks to Joe Auto's goal to focus on customer satisfaction and Extreme Logic's ability to facilitate that goal, the automotive repair company is able to outperform most competitors. "Only five percent of automotive services in the U.S. generate an excess of $1 million per year," Vanstory says. "Our first year in Tomball we ran about $1.6 million." The success in Tomball has Joe Auto executives making an even bolder move with its expansion: Last summer the company opened its second location, a 27-bay facility in Westheimer, Texas. "Running a 27-bay facility is logistically different than an eight-bay facility," Vanstory says. "We needed to create a paperless environment." Joe Auto used the Extreme Logic solution to do so. In addition, Joe Auto plans to open one more facility this year and roughly 20 locations nationwide in five years-at which time, Vanstory says, Joe Auto will realize a more than 300 percent return on investment from its Extreme Logic CRM solution. Now that's what we call running on all cylinders. Under the Hood Customer: Joe Auto Vendor: Extreme Logic Development and deployment: Initial implementation took eight weeks. Benefits: Using a custom-built CRM solution, Joe Auto customers are able to:
  • Arrange for service and manage their profiles online
  • Watch mechanic repair their cars in real time via Webcam
  • Take virtual tours of the facilities via Webcam
  • Bring in their vehicle for service at 6 p.m. and have it ready for pick up by 6 a.m. the following day
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