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IT in focus: DMS can improve service

Dealer management systems (DMS) are vital tools in increasing business, improving customer relationships, driving retention and streamlining processes. This is the message starting to be echoed throughout the industry.

Christopher Walkinshaw, business development director for Marshall Motor Group, believes a fundamental change is taking place in the way DMS is used. The group has been with Kerridge since 1995.

“Traditionally, DMS has been vehicle based, rather than customer based, so it can perpetuate the poor standards and procedures within the industry that need changing,” he says. “I believe DMS is going through a period of change, and needs now to provide us with a clear understanding of who our customers are and what they buy, not just record what we have done.”

Walkinshaw says the industry has been guilty of seeing the car as the customer and the customer as simply the delivery driver. But with the shift of emphasis on what DMS is and how it is used, dealers will reap the rewards of a more customer-focused approach.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Understanding customers’ needs

Marshall’s seven-strong in-house DMS team works closely with Kerridge, resulting in on-going training. The Group is also helping Kerridge to develop its customer relationship management (CRM) system, Autoline Revision 8.35.

“The key to achieving professional standards of CRM is to understand your customers better. Not only do we need to know who our customers are and what they drive, we need to know what products and services they buy, when they last bought them, for how much and when they are likely to repurchase,” says Walkinshaw.

He wants to understand the elements that make up customers’ motoring budgets, typically 12 factors that include F&I, warranties, parts and accident repair, and establish what the issues are when they don’t buy those services from Marshall.

“If we know what they drive and how many miles a year they drive, we are in a strong position to predict every line of their motoring budget. This allows us to have more appropriate, regular contact with customers,” says Walkinshaw.

The issue of contact time with customers is one the industry must work hard to address. Improved product quality and increasing service intervals have helped to reduce contact with customers from around six times a year in 1980, to a figure today heading below once a year.

Not only that, but dealers now face a far more savvy buyer than in the past. As Walkinshaw points out: “Customers are sophisticated. They know how they are handled by other retailers and it is vital they receive quality service from us. It’s a basic, good retailing principle.”

Of course, for DMS to be embraced fully, it must be intuitive and easy to use and provide seamless access to information.

Swindon-based Pebley Beach Group first adopted Pinewood’s CARS DMS in 1995 and upgraded to the company’s latest Pinnacle web-based system two years ago.

Dominic Threlfall, managing director of Pebley Beach says: “The old system was good but being web-based is better. It simplifies our hardware requirements and makes the system much more flexible to the needs of the business. We think all DMS providers will eventually head down this route. We are certainly not the biggest dealer group but we do believe that we run our business properly."

The company says its locations generate very little natural footfall, so it is a matter of ensuring they do everything possible to encourage customers to come to them.

Neville Briggs, managing director at Pinewood, says: “It would be difficult for us to find a dealer of any size that makes better use of their DMS than Pebley Beach. It recognizes the business benefits that stand to be gained from fully embracing the potential advantages that a good DMS brings.”

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Quick to install and easy to use

A good DMS is not just about ensuring that the running of the business takes place as smoothly as possible on a day-to-day basis. It is also about driving up levels of business and taking your CRM to a new level. Briggs says Pebley Beach is proof this approach works.

South coast-based Hendy Group changed from its previous DMS provider to DCS Automotive in 1999, as a result of seeking a Y2K-compliant system. The main benefit the group has experienced from its DMS is streamlining its operation by centralizing previously dispersed elements of the business.

John Hendy, director of systems and resources for the Hendy Group says: “It was extremely fractured before, with five separate accounts departments and between three and four different administration departments. Our DCS system allows us to run everything from one centre, which has not only simplified things greatly, but also saved us money.”

Hendy says a newly acquired dealership can now be fully integrated into the Group’s DMS network in just three weeks. “When we acquired a Mazda franchise last year, it was a simple as dropping in the coding disc and the DMS was integrated with the rest of the Group.”#AM_ART_SPLIT# Top tips for getting the most from DMS

  • Work closely with your provider. Create a personalized system that meets your exact requirements
  • You get out what you put in. The quality of the data you input directly affects how useful the resulting information will be to your business
  • Look to the future. Which as yet unused elements of your DMS can you utilize to get the edge on the competition?
  • On-going training. See panel (left)
  • Embrace, don’t resist. For a DMS to be of maximum value it needs buy-in from every user in the company
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