DETROIT -- About 1,200 General Motors dealerships have begun using a tablet tool to help service departments boost customer retention and drum up more business.
The mobile tool, part of a software program called Service Workbench, lets service advisers use a tablet to quickly pull up a vehicle's history, whip through an inspection and point out a menu of factory-recommended maintenance items.
Chrysler Group and Hyundai Motor America have rolled out similar systems, along with large retail groups such as Sonic Automotive Inc. and AutoNation Inc.
But GM's use might be the industry's broadest. The automaker made the tool widely available to its 4,300 stores for free in early 2013.
When a customer arrives in the service lane, the adviser uses a tablet to enter the vehicle identification number and mileage. Up pops the vehicle's vital history, including any outstanding recalls, warranty eligibility, claims history and customer-pay work.
The adviser does a walk-around of the vehicle using a list of inspection items, such as battery life and tire tread. Each is rated green, yellow or red based on the urgency of the needed service. The customer decides which services to have done, and gets a printout of the services agreed to and those declined, with a total cost for each group.
If a customer declines, say, new brake pads even though they're rated red or yellow, GM sends the customer a mailer within the next week offering a discount.
"The main goals are to get a more consistent, better customer experience and to help the dealer and service director to manage their business better," says Brian Hoglund, who oversaw the tool's rollout as a director in GM's Customer Care and Aftersales division before recently taking a new position at the company.
Hoglund said dealers who have adopted the system are "growing their business," but he couldn't quantify the increase.
Dave Wright, director of fixed operations at Shaheen Chevrolet in Lansing, Mich., says the service department has doubled its labor sales and its parts sold per transaction in its quick lube lane since it started using the system more than two years ago as part of a GM pilot.
"It allows the service consultant to have a much more credible conversation with the customer," Wright says. "It solidifies us as the experts when we show them accurately and succinctly what needs to be done to their vehicle, based on the manufacturer's suggestion."
Richard Gonzales, service director at Vera Motors in Pembroke Pines, Fla., which sells Cadillac, Buick and GMC, says the system helps him figure out which techs are doing their inspections correctly.
"Consistency was always a problem with these inspections. If you had five techs, they'd have five different outcomes," he said. "This lets us see which techs are doing a good job and which ones aren't looking the car over as closely as they should. It's used as a training tool and a way to hold people accountable."