Volume 14, Issue 1 - January/February 2012

Feature

Currently Trending
Where is Auto Glass Software Headed?

by Penny Stacey

Getting paid—it’s really what all business is all about, and industry software solutions play a major role in getting paid in the auto glass business.

“Most shops’ biggest use of software today is invoicing,” says Mark Haeck, sales manager for Mainstreet Computers in Belleville, Mich.

Gary Hart, CEO of eDirectGlass in Phoenix, agrees. “There’s no doubt that all of the software available in the industry has to cover the most important item—transmitting an invoice to get paid,” says Hart. “That’s the primary function. However, the need for supporting information is quickly becoming a necessity.”

What’s Needed?
One major emphasis in today’s market is time. “With all the technology out there, today everyone’s wanting things in real time,” says John Wharton, who handles accounting and software development for Digital Business Controls in Salt Lake City. “Probably number-one would be online quoting. For years they’ve had [systems] where you could put in your email or phone number and then the shop would contact you with a price, but now people want this instantly.”

What follows is another crucial need, says Haeck. “The growing need is contact management—in other words, customer management,” he says. “This is moving toward email communication, and has been growing over the last year or so.”

Haeck suggests this may be a trickle-down effect of the current state of affairs in the world.

“A lot of it has to do with the economy,” he says. “It’s almost like [shops are] scrambling for dollars or business.”

Contact management solutions also can allow businesses to track relationships with larger customers. “[It’s] becoming more important because it allows salespeople to track what they’ve promised customers and when they need to follow up,” says Wharton. “We even track gas cards, etc., to make sure they really are getting to the customers themselves. This shows [salespeople] their trends, how they’re doing—it’s a very involved module that a lot of our customers are using these days.”

Along the same lines, Brian Elmi, product manager for Mitchell Glass in San Diego, says consumers are now finding their own auto glass shops in many cases, due to the online availability of such information—another extension of how technology is changing the industry.

“Historically, of course, shops have relied on [direct repair programs] to receive jobs, but that is changing as consumers do more shopping around,” says Elmi. “Resources like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare help consumers find and make informed decisions.”

Wharton sees a similar phenomenon as online quoting grows. “[Consumers] can go in and get their price and schedule a job without talking to anyone,” he says. “That’s what people are looking for. They’re used to shopping online.”

Mobile Techs?
No matter what technological innovation brings a shop and a customer together, there is one crucial, nearly universal, need in software solutions for auto glass businesses: mobility.

“There is no doubt that that mobile technology has liberated businesses—in the auto glass industry, specifically the technicians—from being tied down to the shop,” says Elmi. “Therefore naturally businesses have and will continue to gravitate toward this trend.”

Rob Rust, national sales manager for Quest Software in St. Johns, Mich., agrees. “We’re seeing fewer brick-and-mortar businesses, and even for the brick-and-mortars out there, everyone wants to quote from the field,” says Rust.

This can work to the tech’s—and company’s—benefit in several ways. “ ... Mobile technology is creating new paradigms for doing business due to the inherent advantages of using a mobile device,” says Elmi. “In addition to mobility, being location- aware and always connected provides new opportunities for business especially when it comes to interacting with consumers (policyholders).”

It also can increase efficiency. “Naturally, the next-generation consumer will require a vastly different form of engagement. Soon all mobile devices that consumers carry will be smart devices. This enables a level of interaction between the consumers and the shops that wasn’t feasible even a few years ago,” says Elmi.

This can include everything from interacting with customers to going paperless. “For instance, shops will be able to electronically exchange receipts on the job site without having to print or email any artifacts,” says Elmi. “This mobile culture will also create additional business opportunities. For instance, if I’m a mobile installer and my job gets cancelled, because my mobile device is location-aware, I can search for consumers in my vicinity that need my services. These types of interactions provide a completely new level of customer engagement.”

“Eventually the software will be intelligent enough to make certain decisions for the shop or recommend certain things to the shop when a customer comes in.”
—Brian Elmi,
Mitchell Glass

Today’s technicians are equipped with a range of tools—from laptops and netbooks in some cases, to tablets in others. The majority of technicians also have smartphones.

“We’ve gotten to the point where [technicians] often can send text messages to a call center to alert that the work has been done,” says Wharton.

And just as location-aware devices can help a business gain customers, as Elmi suggests, they also lend themselves to creating efficiency. “Businesses use those phones as GPS tracking devices as well,” says Wharton. “Business owners know where their installers are and if [a customer] calls and says ‘where are you now?’ the owner or CSR can actually go to their screen and find out.”

Likewise, routing can be made easier through software. “Our software incorporates mapping and figures out the most efficient route for the technician,” says Wharton. “That allows technicians to get more jobs done during the day and allows them to save gas. If a new job needs to be added later, the CSR can figure out which installer can fit it into his route the best.”

Mobile technology also can help companies to save paperwork—and the headaches that sometimes accompany it. GTS Services in Portland, Ore., is one company that is focusing on this area—through a mobile application designed for Google Android and Windows devices. “Instead of having to carry paperwork back and forth and make multiple calls to do credit card processing, the technician has everything he needs in the mobile app to wrap things up and move on to the next job,” says Mike Jones, president of GTS.

Work orders also can be transmitted through the system. “The technician can roll out of bed and he has everything he needs to start his day,” says Jones. “There’s no need for him to get a bunch of faxes or have to drive into corporate. He can get everything he needs, including information on what vendors to pick up the parts from.”

Hart agrees. “Technicians in the field today are faced with completing a job the same time it’s procured because a lot of technicians act as salespeople for their organization,” he says. “They need to have an electronic connection to their suppliers so that they can order or have the glass delivered while in the field. It’s also crucial they have access to electronic billing authorization.”

Inspection Issues and More
Hart also sees a major need in the area of mobile technicians’ abilities to take photos of damage and share these with insurers—in an effort to cut down on the number of pre-inspections that some insurers now require. His company has introduced a software system, ClaimsVerse, designed specifically for this. “It only makes sense to do this electronically,” says Hart. “Once the technician documents the loss with digital images/video, in 10 to 15 minutes the insurance company or third-party administrator can verify the loss and its extent, thus eliminating the need to dispatch an inspector.”

The same is true of the type of glass installed, says Hart. “Techs are able to take a picture of the stamping on the glass to say, ‘if we billed you for OE glass, here’s proof that OE was put in,’” he says.

“We’re seeing fewer brick-and-mortar businesses, and even for the brick-and-mortars out there, everyone wants to quote from the field.”
—Rob Rust, Quest Software

The auto glass industry and the software it utilizes have come a long way, but what’s in the future?

“More and more with the mobile technology,” Wharton says. “I think there are going to be more features in the mobile technology that we can even imagine now—things like FaceTime where business owners can interact with their installers face-to-face, electronic signatures—I’m guessing that’s going to become something that’s more routine, especially with insurance work.”

And what about the move toward a paperless workflow? “Now many businesses are scanning invoices in, but I see that all becoming 100 percent electronic,” adds Wharton.

Elmi predicts less reliance on user input in the future. “As software becomes more and more connected with easy access to information, the reliance on user input will decrease,” he says. “The software will then be intelligent enough to make certain decisions or recommend a course of action to the user. In fact workflow can automatically change depending on the type of consumer being served.”

Hart looks for technology to expand so that it not only plays a role in business management, but also vehicle management. “Glass retailers are looking toward a future where it won’t be a vehicle owner/insurer reporting a glass claim, but by virtue of the vehicle telemetry system such as OnStar a glass claim, but by virtue of the vehicle telemetry system such as OnStar or a competing system combined with ‘Smart Glass’ reporting it. The consumer will be able to set a vendor preference in their vehicle profile of their preferred or favorite glass retailer for automatic dispatch,” predicts Hart.

With these changes, the auto glass software sector has its work cut out for it.

“Everything’s changing and we try to do our best to keep up with it,” adds Wharton.


If you are looking at installing a new software solution in your business, following are a few tips for locating the right solutions—and using them effectively.

• Spend wisely.
“There’s a lot of stuff out there and you need to find the smartest way to spend your money,” says John Wharton, who handles accounting and software development for Digital Business Controls in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Be careful to make the right decisions.”

• Adjust your marketing efforts to match your technology efforts.
“It’s not just [that you] to go to your website and turn on online quoting—you’ve got to redirect your marketing to direct people to the website,” says Wharton.

• Study your options.
Brian Elmi, product manager for Mitchell Glass in San Diego, Calif., says a business’s research is largely dependent on the education provided by software providers such as his company. “We’re very interested in helping shops take advantage of mobile opportunities available,” says Elmi.

• Find a solution that works for you.
“Managing workflow and creating a personalized workspace enables shops to make decisions about what is important to their businesses today,” says Elmi. ”The old one-size-fits-all model does not work anymore. It’s a very outdated approach that has been replaced by technologies that empower customers with tools that simplify and streamline processes and help them achieve best possible outcomes in today’s changing environment.”


Penny Stacey is the editor of AGRR™
magazine/glassBYTEs.com™. Follow her on Twitter @agrrmagazine, read her blog at http://fortherecord.agrrmag.com, you can like AGRR Magazine on Facebook to receive

 


 


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