How in the world has technology eluded the Detail Department of car dealerships for this long? This is a multibillion-dollar industry and it’s still done with paper and phone calls. While technology has exploded over the last 25 years in the auto industry, the Detail Department is still in the dark ages. In an area of the business that affects pretty much everyone, we’re still running blind.
The Dark Hole
The detailing of a car affects customers through the Sales, Service and Reconditioning Departments. Everyone uses the Detail Department but no one knows what’s going on back there. There’s really no way to know if the detailers are twiddling their thumbs or if they’re 20 cars deep.
Have you ever wondered why dealers don’t try to sell details on the Service drive? The answer is because they say it’s not worth the hassle. They’re afraid of the black hole in the back and don’t want to affect their CSI for a small margin service like a detail. In today’s world of decreasing Service frequency we can’t overlook a penny.
Many volume dealers have realized that outsourcing the Detail Department function is financially beneficial and that it saves a lot of headaches. Most managers look at the department as a necessary evil that’s required to sell cars. When dealers outsource to a 3rd party, a whole new series of problems occur. Sure — outsourcing saves on benefits, supplies, and the frustration of managing that “necessary evil”. But you really lose control. You don’t know who they are, they have high turnover and the invoicing nightmare makes outsourcing not worth the savings.
I’ve seen dealers change detail companies like they change clothes. They’re continuously looking for some sense of sanity. Company after company can’t get it done and can’t meet their promises after the contract is signed. After rotating companies, dealers again attempt to handle detailing in-house.
After a while, they realize they’ve hired the same people the detail company was hiring and it becomes a vicious cycle. I believe most dealership Owners and Managers have simply given up on that possibility of a well-run Detail operation, let alone thinking about it as a profit center.
Everyone is a Customer
A few years ago as a dealer, I set out to fix this problem, once and for all. It was then that I realized that if I could build a computer program that could solve this issue, not only would it solve my problems, it would solve the same problems for thousands of other dealerships across the country.
Both the dealer and detail companies need help. They want to work better together; they simply have never had the tool to do it. With such high turnover, it’s just impossible to have great process between two companies unless there’s a system that gives them no other option. I knew that if I could build a better mousetrap, I would have both dealerships and detail companies knocking on my door. The process we’re talking about does that.
The detail companies that “get it” are growing more rapidly than they can handle. They can now provide a better product. All detail departments clean cars for a price, but now, these companies can provide more than just a clean car.
K.I.S.S. = Keep it Simple, Stupid
I had an in-depth knowledge of work-flow software and automotive processes. I realized that I needed to create a product that could be used for both internal and outsourced detail options. I knew that if it was going to be used by dealership Sales, Service and Detail associates, it needed to be simple. Anyone who’s been around the auto industry knows there are some very old dogs in this business and some people that might have a hard time with technology. From day one, I knew it needed to be dummy-proof. When we first rolled the system out, simply showing some of the detailers how to use a computer mouse and spell their company name as their login was eye-opening. That was quite a realization of the continued need for simplicity.
The detail business is kind of like the old stock trading method; it was still in the caveman age. Less than two decades ago on Wall Street, there were thousands of dollars trading hands through hundreds of individual paper transactions. We have we-owes requesting jobs, carbon copies attached for detailer payroll purposes and boxes and boxes of paper taken back to the office to calculate for invoices and payroll. Simply crazy that technology hasn’t evolved until now.
At the end of each month, I walked 1,500-plus invoices to accounting for payment and it took no less that three or four days alone from my accounts payable associate to process them.
Additionally, the controller dealt with the double billing and illegible documents authorizing detail transaction. “What’s the VIN? Who authorized this? What service did they request? Why are we being charged different amounts for the same service? “ All were questions asked every single month. That took a lot of time to solve.
Communication, invoicing and payroll can all be fixed with one simple system.
The industry needed a workflow invoice-generating tool that could be used on any device with Internet access. Outsourcing needed to be done via a company that has real time communication, clean and accurate invoicing and no double billing. And, best of all, a system that was paperless. A customized website through which dealers request details and the Detail Department accepts the requests, assigns the worker and completes the transaction. All requestors and workers use individual log in’s so that each step and action is tracked and monitored. The invoice that’s generated tracks who requested the job, the times, the prices and everything you’d need to know about both the job and the vehicle. When it’s completed, it sends the invoice electronically to your e-mail account requesting a PO. When the PO is updated, it’s sent to accounting electronically as well. Accounting uploads the digital reports and / or invoices into their DMS and “voila” — it’s done! And it’s 100% paperless.
For the Detail Companies or Departments, it revolutionizes their business as well. They can manage multiple dealers from a computer screen and tell where their problems are before that dreaded phone call from the dealer management. It handles the accounting, time clock and payroll portion of their business from the click of a mouse and it can literally save them thousands of dollars in paper annually.
One of the biggest challenges has nothing to do with associate training. Believe it or not, it’s been getting potential users to understand the concept. Dealers and Detail Companies have always done business through phone calls and paper. Two separate companies operating off the same system is completely foreign. But once they grasp the concept, it makes complete sense to them.
Doing business with our sublet vendors doesn’t have to be painful. It’s simply controlling the environment in which we do business. With the technology available today, it’s about time we became “one” with our partners. Clean, accurate communication is now available. We don’t have to consider the Detail Department the “necessary evil” anymore. It can actually be one of the best-run, headache free departments in the dealership