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Touchpad Tablets Become A Fixture In More Service Operations

It’s not that they let you show repair information that must faster; it’s that customers expect digital. BY JON MCKENNA

tabletsAbout six months ago, Community Chevrolet Inc. in Meadville, a small northwest Pennsylvania city, bought four iPad tablets for its service department. Today, customers are so hooked on a digital display of their service needs that “they want to see the GM multi-point inspection on the tablet even if they’ve just come in to top off their tire pressure,” said Service Manager Tim Betz, only partly tongue-in-cheek.

Touchpad tablets continue to make inroads in dealership service drives. Major dealership groups such as Sonic Automotive Inc., AutoNation Inc. and Penske Automotive Group have helped drive the trend with their major investments in service lane technology. But, as Betz’s single GM store shows, smaller operations also are trying to appeal to a digitally dependent customer base.

Community Chevrolet spent about $379 apiece on iPads for three service writers and Betz. The service manager is a self-professed iPad fanatic, which is why that particular tablet was chosen. GM did not subsidize the investment.

Devices Convey Professionalism

“Basically, it’s a little more professional than your average [approach of] walking up to a customer’s vehicle with a clipboard and paper and pen,” Betz said.

“It showed our customers, especially the younger generation, that we are tech-savvy. When they see that we’re using the technology, too, they get a connection with us and the feeling that these guys will take care of me and my car. It’s no longer the image of ‘How much can I ding you for?’ which is the way a lot of people coming through the door view us.”

Betz’s service writers have always conducted the GM multi-point inspection and a walkaround. Now, however, they carry tablets on which the dealership has loaded the GM Service Workbench app and free TeamViewer app.

Service Workbench is a menu-and-inspection toolkit function. Once the car’s VIN has been typed in, the tablet will show the service writer and customer the GM mileage-based required maintenance. At the same time, it will call up the Community Chevrolet recommended maintenance for that make and model, specs for which the service department has keyed in through Service Workbench.

And, if the customer has been following the GM multi-point inspection previously, the screen will show “to some degree” the work done previously on that car to meet either recommended or required maintenance, Betz explained.

Team Viewer lets Betz’s team remotely access the dealership’s personal computers and pull customer files needed to start generating a repair order.

Leveraging Camera, E-Mail Functions

Plus, his service writers frequently use the tablets to take video or photos of the affected part and e-mail the images to the customer’s smartphone or computer, before any work is authorized. “I’ve found that if you show someone the physical evidence at work, and they have a couple of hours to think about it, they usually say yes” to the repair, Betz noted.

Finally, the tablets have become his service writers’ chief device for communicating with customers by text or e-mail.

Advisors May Balk At First

Not that the transition was completely smooth and easy. Initially, service writers complained about transitioning a traditional paper process to digital and said they found it difficult to read the tablet screen in the sunlight. “We had to change their viewpoint and make it clear we were doing right by the customer,” Betz said.

Moreover, the tablets don’t automatically save time. In fact, he estimated the walkarounds and subsequent write-ups now take on average three to four minutes longer, as his people use the tablets to compile video records of any serious vehicle damage or extremely poor operating condition.

Public Groups Led The Way

Among bigger dealership groups, Sonic led the way in integrating iPads into its service departments, having first tested them in mid-2011 and put them in all stores a couple of years later.

Around the same time that AutoNation was wrapping up its iPad project, AutoNation began a system-wide rollout of tablets that service advisors could use to look up a repair history, prepare an RO and take photos of damaged or work parts or components. Penske also has been phasing in tablets at its dealership service departments.

Betz believes tablets are an inevitable tool for service advisors in stores of all sizes and in markets large and rural.

“We are almost taking something away from the customer if we are not using the technology available,” he remarked.

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