Published in Automotive News Nov. 3, 2014
Service Manager Jeff Sterry spends next to nothing to repair damages that customers say his shop caused to their cars. That's because, despite the customers' claims, his shop typically didn't damage the cars.
And he can prove it.
"People would say we damaged their car, and we'd say, 'If you don't mind, we have to check the camera for insurance purposes,'" said Sterry, service manager at BMW of Catonsville in Baltimore. "We'd find, about 90 percent of the time, the damage was already there when they brought the car in for service."
In 2012, BMW of Catonsville installed Eyewitness Surveillance's Service Lane System, an internal hidden camera system that monitors and records vehicle drop-off and delivery spots and other areas throughout the inside of the dealership.
The dealership uses it as a defensive tool. It has helped save the store tens of thousands of dollars in false vehicle-damage reports. It also has helped nab bad employees and thwart potential vehicle thefts. And, it is a customer satisfaction tool, Sterry said.
"It's more than the monetary deal," Sterry said. "The customer feels very bad if you damage their car, but if you can show them you didn't damage their car, then they feel satisfied, and that makes me happier than anything."
BMW of Catonsville sells about 1,300 new and used vehicles a year.
Sterry joined the store three years ago. He quickly noticed many customers were reporting damage to their cars brought in for service.
"We would do a walkaround, note the damage, report it, but invariably, by the end of the day, someone would tell me they had damage to their car," Sterry said. "It's quite expensive. Because do you tell your customer you don't believe them? So we took care of everything."
Sterry said it was costing him $3,000 to $4,000 a month to repair damage that his service department typically did not cause.
So in 2012, he had the lane surveillance system installed. The positive results were almost immediate, he said. Sterry often would find that the damage was already on a customer's car when it was dropped off, he said. Most of the time, it's an honest mistake by a customer, he said.
"Most people don't realize the damage was already there," Sterry said. "We wash every car, so they pick it up and can see stuff they didn't before."
The system installation was free, he said. Sterry said the dealership pays $700 a month for the service. He also has a remote live surveillance on his outside cameras overnight. He estimates the dealership has saved $20,000 to $30,000 during the past two years by reducing vehicle damage costs.
Dealers do not have to buy the equipment from Eyewitness Surveillance, and there is no upfront fee, but the monthly cost varies, said Stuart Marcoon, vice president of sales for Eyewitness Surveillance in Baltimore. He said, "It can cost hundreds of dollars a month up to many thousands," depending on the size of the dealership and how many cameras are needed.
Other companies that offer similar services are Pro-Vigil and Westec Intelligent Surveillance.
BMW of Catonsville also uses its system to protect its fleet of 90 loaner cars. Customers who return a loaner car damaged may say the damage was there when they left with it, Sterry said.
"I can show the customer the video and show there was no damage when they left," Sterry said. "Most will call their insurance company and will take care of it."
Likewise, the dealership uses the surveillance system to monitor damage during the delivery of new and used cars in the event a customer tries to bring it back a few days later saying it was damaged.
"We can show them there was nothing on it when they left," Sterry said.
Sterry said managers have also "watched some events where employees were not doing what they were supposed to do." He declined to provide details but said it was serious enough to warrant firing two employees.
Eyewitness Surveillance's live overnight monitoring system for outdoor cameras helped thwart a possible vehicle theft by alerting police, who got there in 12 minutes, Sterry said.
But despite all those benefits, the system is actually a customer retention tool, Sterry said. Most customers are apologetic when they see a video exonerating the dealership from damage. It shows them that dealership employees are honest, he said.
"What's the value of a lost customer these days -- something like $250,000? And if you can show them everything's good, they say, 'I'm sorry,'" he said.
"And you don't lose a customer."