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By Mike Esposito

Dealers often look for new technology solutions to help them solve a problem, and rightfully so. When a well-trained staff follows a well-documented process, technology saves time and money and makes it easy to analyze data so you can make smart business decisions.

However, if your staff isn’t well trained and your processes aren’t well documented, a computer is nothing but a rapid idiot. If the data entered into a device is incomplete or wrong, technology can’t do its job and can even make the problem worse.

I remember a time that I was working with a dealer during the installation of a new dealership management system (DMS). We were reviewing reports and the dealer told me he was having trouble finding some data. Specifically, he was looking for names of wholesalers from whom he had purchased used vehicles. The DMS had a field for it but in all the reports he pulled, that field was blank.

I did a little investigation, starting with the title clerk. What’s your process for when you put a car into the system? Stock number, check. Amount paid, check. VIN, check. Year, make and model, check. Purchased from? Oh, I didn’t know I had to do that.

Problem solved, and it had nothing to do with the DMS or reports.

Technology can’t replace process. In fact, I always recommend that before you set up a process in a new technology solution, do it analog-style first, using a good old-fashioned whiteboard and erasable marker. Once the process is perfected, write it down on a piece of paper and put it into a training booklet for new employees.

If a process isn’t documented, every employee will do it differently. When employees leave, new employees will learn the process from someone who doesn’t know the most efficient or correct method. New employees may also forget an important part of the process, which will result in a whole bunch of incorrect or incomplete data.

I realize that documenting processes takes time and will be viewed by whomever the task is assigned to as incredibly tedious. I doubt you’ll have many volunteers. But time spent on the front end will yield double or triple that time on the back end.

Having documented processes comes in handy with:

New employees. When a new employee starts, hand them a book of documented processes. It’s important for them to understand how everything they do is part of a bigger process, and how all parts of the process are connected.

One-on-one training is still very important, but is even more effective when the employee has a documented process to reinforce what they learn.

Existing employees. When employees aren’t held accountable to following a process, they can get lazy or make mistakes. This could result in weeks or months of data entered into the wrong fields, or not entered at all. How much time and resources must now be devoted to fixing the problem?

Managers. Your managers should be managing your employees, not doing their jobs for them. When processes aren’t documented, mistakes happen. When mistakes happen and especially if customers are unhappy, managers often feel compelled to jump in and take a hands-on approach to fix the mistake.

A better solution is to have your managers document every process in their department, with the help and input from employees. Then, when a mistake happens, the manager asks the employee to go back through the process until he or she discovers where the mistake occurred.

When an employee is held accountable for their own mistakes, and understands the consequences of not following a process, he or she will be more likely to follow the process next time. Remember that problems tend to be either a Process Problem or a People Problem. 

Before you expect a new technology solution to solve a problem, make sure you have an offline process to prevent and address the problem. Without a documented process, all technology will do is screw things up faster.

On the other hand, if you provide your technology vendor with a well-documented process, it can be set up correctly in the system from the get go, saving you countless hours, dollars and possibly your sanity.

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