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Choosing The Right Shop Management System

Back in the day there was usually a person with a clipboard who ran the shop. They were the one that kept everything organized and on task. Just as vehicles have evolved and gotten a lot more complicated, so has running a business.

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Customer service is different – but not

We all carry smartphones that give us instant access to nearly the sum of human knowledge – with that immediate gratification and power, your customers have come to expect more as consumers too, including from your shop that works on their vehicles.

To provide the level of professionalism and immediate answers that you need to stay competitive, one of the best ways is to use management software that fits the needs of your situation. There are quite a few solutions in the marketplace and almost all can be custom tailored to your situation. Here are some steps that can help you take control of your business and move it to the next level.

Define your needs and do your research

Whether you’re new to this business or have been around since carburetors were still rolling off the assembly line, the first step is actually laying out what you need or could use help with. Shop management is not simply bookkeeping – that is just one aspect of the business. Most good programs allow you to interconnect with your bookkeeping software, as well as integrate with other services like repair instructions, parts lookup and ordering, vehicle history and so forth.

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There are software packages that are industry-specific, designed to service heavy-duty trucks and equipment, while others aim only for digital vehicle inspections or tire shops. Think of these shop management programs like a toolbox; it’s where you keep all the tools you need to get the job done and meet your customers’ needs. When you buy one, get one that can hold or do more than just what you have right now – make sure it can grow and expand as you do.    

Plan to grow

For your back shop, you wouldn’t buy a toolbox that’s only big enough to hold the tools that you have today – you would .size it to handle where you want to go. Your management toolbox is no different and the best ones are expandable and can do things that you didn’t even know you might need. Who knew that Bluetooth hookups to our smartphones and refrigerators in a toolbox would ever be a thing, but they sure are nice. 

Do not let how you currently do things limit what you look for in shop management software; instead find a program package that can raise your game and do things for you. Look around at the different shop management software offerings: most offer a free trial or at least great demonstration versions. Many have features that you did not even know were possible.

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When you set an appointment for a customer to bring in their vehicle for work, it would be great if you had time to call and remind them ahead of time, but that’s not really feasible in today’s busy work environment. However, you can buy software that will automatically text your clients reminders and updates regarding their vehicle. That’s like having another extra person in the office.

Other reminders can be sent as well, including inspection and maintenance reminders. You can track the vehicle and repairs and offer predictive maintenance to customers, too. 

“Hey Bob, you’ve got about 20,000 miles left on these tires, and you’re getting close to your car manufacturer’s recommended timing belt service. I don’t want all that to hit you at one time, so let’s go ahead and schedule the work, or at least let me send you a reminder pretty soon.”

This is a win-win situation. Your software looked up the VIN and gave you the OEM maintenance schedule, and this helped you with a potential upsell. Bob is well taken care of and won’t get financially clobbered with a huge bill all at once. Even if you don’t sell the job today, the reminder will help sell it sooner than later and Bob will remember that and likely tell his friends, leading to increased customer loyalty and growth.

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Say Bob drives a Porsche and only wants his favorite tech to work on it. You can plan that out, order the parts and keep up with your employee’s time, other work orders and vacation plans right on many of the software packages available now. When Bob is ready for those new tires, you know your tech will be available to do the work. You can even create great looking estimates and invoices, schedule payments and text reminders to Bob and your other customers.

Even the most dedicated shop owners and managers can’t be there around the clock, and as you grow, you may have multiple locations, too. You can generate productivity reports and keep up with all aspects of your business right from your phone. Manage parts and inventory, appointments and scheduling, quotes and invoices, track payments and late fees, all from your phone. 

Stay on top of your business

One of my favorite features is marketing. The CRM or Customer Relationship Management part of the software can not only send reminders, but also special offers and requests for social media connections and recommendations. You can even send birthday and holiday greetings (with business tie-ins and opportunities, of course).

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Remember, technology has an increasingly prominent role in shop management. If used properly and to its fullest extent, you can help your business grow and prosper. Even if you’re not a “computer person,” the convenience and versatility is impossible to ignore. Running a successful business in today’s environment requires a lot more than the ability to turn wrenches – by using the technology tools available to us, you can be more productive than ever, help your business grow and become more respected by your clients.

Kevin Stack has helped build engines and businesses since 1997.

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