Smartphones are helping dealership service advisers battle an age-old problem: Convincing a customer of the legitimacy of a needed repair.
At Sunrise Chevrolet-Buick-GMC in Collierville, Tenn., near Memphis, service advisers and technicians are deploying their own smartphones to snap photos and video of, say, a cracked manifold or warped brake rotor.
An application lets them upload the images to the dealership's Web site, where they're tagged with repair-order numbers. The app user can insert a big red arrow, pinpointing the problem.
"We can call the customer and tell them: 'Go to our Web site. Here's your R.O. number. There's your problem," says Tom Edwards, Sunrise's service director. "It's turned out to be a really handy, persuasive tool."
The tactic worked recently when one of Edwards' customers arrived with his GMC Yukon wondering why its antilock brake light was on. He had recently gotten brake work done at another shop.
Edwards' techs found that the other place put in a wheel hub assembly with the wrong wheel-speed sensor for the antilock system, and the wrong-sized rotor. The customer couldn't believe it -- until he saw the digital evidence, Edwards says.
It's the contemporary version of waving the customer back to the service bay to look under the hood.
Lloyd Schiller, a consultant who advises dealerships on service issues, has been touting the power of photos for years.
"If your doctor tells you there's something wrong, you're probably going to get a second opinion," Schiller says. "If he shows you an X-ray with a bone fracture, you're ready to take the next step because you've got visual evidence."
The ubiquity of smartphones and digital tools such as the app that Edwards' techs use, called ClearMechanic, has streamlined the process of sharing images with customers. When a photo is uploaded, the app sends a dealership-branded e-mail to the customer with photos attached, and displays the photo on the dealership's Web site.
The app also provides tabs on the Web site photos that show illustrations of hundreds of components, along with descriptions.
All the photos and videos are archived and accessible on ClearMechanic's site, says Ken Hite, the company's vice president of sales and marketing. He says hundreds of dealerships are using the service, but declines to give an approximate figure.
Edwards says about half of his 15 mechanics now routinely take repair photos, usually on bigger jobs or ones that take a long time.
Sunrise pays $95 a month for a midlevel service that generates the Web images and content and the automatic customer e-mails.
A free version also is avilable; photos are uploaded only to ClearMechanic's site, and the dealership must refer its customers there.
The $95 package also enables uploaded video, which Edwards says helps to show, say, a wobbly wheel caused by a bent rim, and allows techs to narrate the problem.
Schiller likes the concept but has some reservations about techs using their own phones to take the photos and videos: "There's nothing to prevent the tech from texting the customer a picture and saying 'This is a $1,200 job that I can do myself for $700."