When Joe Calderon, a senior manager at Lassen Auto Group in Albany, Ore., wanted to improve communications in his service department, he turned to a technology that has been around awhile: instant messaging.
Calderon says integration of an IM system helped to tidy up the service department. It resulted in a more professional presentation to customers, which he believes translates to improved customer satisfaction and higher service and parts revenues.
Lassen Auto Group's Toyota and Chevrolet dealerships, about 70 miles south of Portland, sell about 1,300 new and used vehicles a year.
Calderon, a 19-year employee, wears many hats, including that of IT manager. One day, Sam Barnard, the group's parts and service manager, recommended that Calderon look into an IM messaging system called SideNotesIM.
Barnard had used it at his previous job at a NAPA Auto Care Center in Alaska. There, Barnard said, he worked for a "technology psycho" who was "really on top of things," and found SideNotesIM to be a great tool.
"We downloaded the trial version, and adapted to the actual version shortly after that," in October 2015, said Calderon.
Integrating the IM software was simple, quick and inexpensive, he said. The app costs the dealership a one-time fee of about $200 and includes licensing for up to 100 computers in the store.
Calderon spent less than an hour training his service writers on the new software. He attributes the quick adoption time to both the system's ease of use and the tech-savviness of his employees, many of who have been immersed in a digital lifestyle from a young age.
Communication between employees is key to his service revenue rising, Calderon said. "It's very important that they receive the message that a job is done, right away. That's effective. If somebody is yelling across the room or has to leave a customer unattended at his station for five minutes, the [customer] experience is not good," he said.
Calderon sees other cost savings as well. Because employees don't have to leave their stations to communicate with other employees or departments, productivity rises. "It used to be, a service writer would leave his desk to go to the parts department," Calderon said. "Or, the parts guy had to walk to the service department to bill out an invoice."
The ability to have a good flow of information without having the person leave their station is invaluable, Calderon said. "Using a good IM system and other best practices have allowed us to reclaim productivity that was lost before it was implemented," he said.
The results speak for themselves. At one point the Lassen Toyota service department was near the bottom of the barrel on Toyota's Quality of Repair and Fix it Right scores. Calderon says they have been No. 1 in the nation through the first quarter of 2016.
"Through this and other efficiencies, our repair orders are seeing an increase of 10 percent month over month, added Barnard.
Michael Batts, service manager at Hubert Vester Toyota, is another believer.
Batts has been using SideNotesIM for about three years at the store, which is part of the Hubert Vester Auto Group. The group sells Chevrolet, Toyota, Nissan and Honda vehicles in Wilson and Roanoke Rapids, N.C.
Previously, the store had relied on a phone extension list to reach other departments and the group's other stores, a method that was less efficient and less private.
The group, which sells about 5,000 new and used vehicles per year, has seen a 4.5-point jump in its Customer Satisfaction Index scores. Batts says the technology also helped support an increase to about 1,300 paying customers per month, from 950, across all of the group's service departments.
"We haven't done a study on how much it has saved," but it has resulted in a definite reduction of lost time in the service department, he said. "It makes you so much more efficient."