Optimize the use of mobile devices in your dealership while avoiding common pitfalls

Smartphones are everywhere. Really? Unless you’ve been living in a cave or completely off the grid, this statement is not surprising. According to the Pew Research Center, over 64% of American adults own a smartphone and 45% own a tablet. We use our mobile devices to share photos and videos, to make voice and video calls, to play games, to read email, articles and books. We even use them to control the appliances in our home or office. The reality is that mobile devices have made their way into every aspect of our lives.Mobile-devices.jpg

While we can talk about the negative effect this is having on things as unrelated as driver safety and erosion of quality conversion with friends and family, the use of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, can have a very positive effect on your dealership. These devices can greatly enhance your staff’s flexibility and effectiveness. However, some ground rules must be set, especially if your staff will be using their own devices, and standard operating procedures should be put in place for how these devices are to be used.

The primary benefits of using mobile devices in your dealership boils down to the three C’s: Communication, Collaboration and Control.

Communication – 85% of Americans ages 18-29 are smartphone owners while 83% of Americans ages 30-49 and 58% of Americans ages 50-64 own a smartphone. Furthermore, 78% of college graduates and 84% of those living in households with an annual income of $75,000 or more per year own smartphones. The bottom line is your customers have them as do most of your employees. Using built-in applications like email and texting, more and more people are preferring to communicate with apps as opposed to talking on the phone. With the advent of speech to text conversion software found on all Apple and Android devices, you no longer have to attempt to type messages on these devices either. We can also share images, videos and documents on our mobile devices with customers and internal staff.

Collaboration – Keeping your team energized and excited, while staying focused on your customers is simply good for business. Take cameras and GPS capabilities as an example. With an increasingly mobile workforce, there are multiple ways you can use location services and image capabilities to connect employees more effectively and share information more efficiently. Photos and videos of boats, engines and equipment can be shared with customers, subcontractors, manufacturers, suppliers and internal staff members.

Collaborative apps like Google Docs and cloud storage technologies like Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive allow your team to stay connected to a common set of data, and you can send updates to your team, instantly keeping everyone on the same digital page. Using GPS capabilities, you can track where your mobile technicians are located so when a customer calls and needs service on the double, you can deploy the closest resource.

Control – If your dealership is like most that I visit, there are likely a number of paper processes in place and forms that employees are asked to use to assign tasks, track labor hours, request parts, view inventory listings, etc. This information must then be entered into the dealer management or accounting system that runs your business. While many management systems today automate these things, forcing someone to find a terminal to get the information they need can be both time consuming and inefficient.

To maximize productivity and ensure that your team is spending more time with customers and less time in front of a computer, mobile devices have proven to be very valuable.  A common set of mobile apps used by your team will ensure that all of the critical information you use to manage your dealership is kept in one place. Customers, prospects, boats, inventory, parts and work orders can be viewed and managed from a mobile device so your team can get the information when they need it regardless of where they are. You can regain control of what in many cases is an out-of-control paper process and avoid common pitfalls of having staff members take a handwritten document and enter it into a dealer management system. Maybe this doesn’t happen at your dealership but some of the time sheets and technician notes I’ve seen are often illegible or the information is simply incorrect. Furthermore the data entry is time consuming and redundant.

The key to not letting the mobile revolution completely undermine your business is to ensure that smartphone and tablet usage is to enhance the customer experience, not replace it. Your sales and service team need to stay focused on staying in front of customers and working on their boats. Mobile devices don’t replace human interaction, and they certainly don’t turn wrenches. When your staff has a customer in front of them, it’s time to put down the device and look the customer in the eyes. Like scrolling through Facebook posts on your phone at dinner, staring down at your smartphone or tablet while a customer is in front of you does not strengthen the customer relationship. If anything, it creates a barrier between your customer and your staff member. For instance, a trained sales person or service advisor can easily jot notes down using a stylus on a tablet. It’s really no different than writing it down on a piece of paper. But they need to practice this so they feel comfortable doing it. Fumbling around trying to find an app while your customer waits can sour the experience you want to provide.

I am often asked about the use of employee owned smartphones and tablets at a dealership. Many dealers and service centers allow their employees to use their own device at work. The company will often give them a monthly allowance to defray the expense. However, the last thing you want is for your staff to compulsively check Facebook, Instagram or Yahoo News. Some businesses have started to incorporate smartphone monitoring tools like Checky and Moment that actually tells the user how many times they unlock their phone and how much time they are spending on it. These apps are good at providing daily usage but they haven’t evolved to the point of breaking down the usage within certain time periods (e.g. Mon-Fri between 8 am and 5 pm).

All in all, mobile devices can have a very positive benefit on a dealership if used in the right way for the right things. In the next post, I will provide some actionable examples of things a dealership can do to start using readily available apps to help increase both communication and collaboration in your dealership while maintaining a level of control to keep everyone focused.