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Five Things Service Managers Should Look for in a Dealership Management System

By Greg Vrigian, Auto/Mate Dealership Systems

This article appeared in the November/December issue of Fixed Ops Magazine

Changing a dealership management system (DMS) is not a decision to be taken lightly; most dealership managers and employees alike resist the idea. But for service managers who have been consulted about the possibility of change, rest assured there are options for all types of dealerships, and the process of a DMS change is not nearly as cumbersome as it used to be.


In recent years as dealerships have relied more on their fixed ops departments for profitability, the managers in these departments have grown in influence when it comes to choosing new technologies for their departments. DMS vendors have also focused on developing robust features and reporting tools designed to maximize fixed ops profitability.


Is your dealership considering a DMS change? If so, here are the five most important features that service managers should be looking for in a new system:


1) User-Friendly


Look for a DMS that’s intuitive, requires a short learning curve, and doesn’t require a lot of keystrokes, codes or gyrations to accomplish simple tasks. Most modern systems are designed to be menu driven with functions laid out in a logical, eye-pleasing manner. For instance, if someone wants to run a specifications listing in the parts department, rather than having to find or know a particular code to enter, the user can simply go to the menu and choose that option. If you know how to read, you should be able to know how to use the DMS.


The main benefit to an intuitively-designed system is that it requires a short learning curve. Ask potential vendors how long it takes to return to 100% productivity after the transition. If that vendor doesn’t have dealers that are 100% productive within 90 days of the transition, you may want to look elsewhere as that system probably isn’t user-friendly.


2) Excellent Support


With more competition and more choices than ever before, DMS vendors should be fighting to not only get your business, but to keep it on a daily business. The best way to do this is the same way your dealership strives to keep customers; by providing excellent customer service. Ask any potential DMS vendors for references from other dealerships. Ask to talk to other service managers who use their system. If you think having to wait for hours to get technical help is the accepted norm, think again.


Another important consideration is what type of experience a vendor’s customer service and technical support personnel have. Are they kids hired right out of college and trained to use a software system, yet have no automotive experience? Preferably, you want DMS vendors that hire employees with experience in the auto industry. Let’s say you notice your effective labor rate for warranty service is lower than the established rate with the manufacturer, and it’s causing a discrepancy in accounting. You’re wondering why and so you call to get help. Instead of having to explain in detail what your problem is, someone with service department experience will know exactly what you’re talking about and be able to help you immediately. In this example, perhaps an advisor or warranty admin typed over a value that was calculated by the system. By running a few detailed reports, the transactions(s) in question can be found and isolated: problem solved.


3) Customizable Reporting Tools


If you can dream it up, you should be able to run it with just a click of a button. Looking at key performance indicators on a daily basis helps keep your focus on profitability. What are your profit centers? Where are you losing money? What are the total dollars your service advisors sell every day? Every month? What are your average dollars per RO, or tech hours per RO? If your DMS has a field, you should be able to easily run a report on that field, and customize it any way you want. If you’re wondering why one service advisor is consistently bringing home a higher paycheck than another, you should be able to review their sales information. Is one selling more maintenance services, while another is focusing more on menu items?  A DMS reporting tool should not only be robust, but also easy to use and customizable to whatever you want to see.


4) Integrated Scheduling Tools & Service Pricing Guides


Having every day functions integrated with your DMS helps to increase shop efficiency. Advanced scheduling tools with a pleasing visual layout and color-coding make it easy to maximize techs’ proficiency and see at-a-glance where cars are, what the techs and advisors are doing, if a customer needs a ride, and more. When the customer calls to schedule an appointment, the system automatically fills in all their information based on a name, phone number, license number or other information. This feature reduces the amount of time service employees spend on the phone and eliminates having to manually type information.


When customers arrive for appointments, by just hovering over their name the service advisor or tech should be able to perform a number of functions such as view service history, create an RO or request information from the OEM (i.e. recall or warranty information) with just a click of one button. The parts department and inventory should also be integrated; if the techs need a part for a repair, the ability to view which parts are in stock and submit a parts request eliminates time associated with visiting and waiting for the parts department.


Integrated service pricing guides (SPGs) also save time by providing advisors and techs with instant, current information for estimates. Integrated SPGs greatly increase the accuracy of estimates, improving professionalism and boosting related sales.


5) Adaptability for the Future


Your dealership and the technology it requires are constantly evolving. If you buy a DMS today, will that system evolve with your needs? Or will the vendor try to charge you for every upgrade and new feature? Ask potential vendors about their fees for upgrades, software enhancements or any other new features that may come out in the next few years. If they want to charge you for every little upgrade, you may want to consider a different vendor. Many DMS vendors strive to keep up with current and future trends, and provide all their software enhancements and upgrades to their dealership clients at no charge.


For service managers exploring new dealership management systems, these features will greatly help maximize profitability by increasing efficiency and reducing the time associated with manual tasks that can, and should be, integrated with the DMS and other service functions.

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