As technology has become more pervasive, so have the opportunities to leverage that technology in the shop. One way that shop owners have done that is through company-issued smartphones, which can increase efficiency, vendor and customer communication, and ensure more thorough documentation, says Brandon Tripp, owner of Driven Collision in Lansing, Mich. Tripp’s 12-employee shop, which works on 100 cars per month, has used company-issued smartphones for more than three years.
“I decided to switch over because I was sick of plugging cameras in, taking out the chips, etc,” he says. “I started using it for my estimates and I realized it was actually working really well, so I switched everyone in the shop over.”
Tripp outlines a primer on everything you need to know to set your team up on the same platform, with the same apps and training.
We use the phones for a number of purposes. First, we take pictures when the car comes in for an estimate and we do a check-in video. It’s a one-minute video that starts on the dash, pans down to the repair order to show the customer information, and then a quick walk and talk, which pans through the inside of the car to point out any damage. All the lights are on and we’ll say, “Scratch on the left fender. Left fog light’s out.”
From there, once it comes into the disassembly area, we go over it again and we take photos are we’re disassembling the vehicle of any additional parts that are broken. Or, if we have a vehicle that’s complicated to take apart, the production estimator will video the process of taking that apart. That way, you can look back at that video and see what you previously did. We use a mobile app that automatically drops those videos into our server.
We also use the phones to stay in touch with customers and vendors. We can do that through our management system, which has a texting function. When a customer comes in to drop off, we ask how they would like to be kept updated and how often. Usually the answer is text or email, which we can do from our phones. We’ll make a note in their file and follow up as often as they are comfortable with. It makes it really easy and the customers really appreciate it.
Every department has at least one phone that’s available for everyone to use. We have two in the office, in the blueprinting area, body and paint, etc.
There are a few different ways to set up the phones but the way that I’ve done it is purchased them through Craigslist and “for sale” Facebook sites. All you have to do is post “In search of Android or iPhone. Cracked screen OK as long as the camera works.” The way I see it, techs are going to drop them or smash them on accident, so for our purposes, a cracked screen is OK. And that really drives down the cost. Normally, they’re in the $20-$40 range.You can also buy phones on eBay, but I’ve found those are more expensive. At $20 a pop, if you use the phones for a year, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. And these days, because phones and the cameras are so high quality, I haven’t replaced a phone for quality issues in three years.
I don’t put the phones on a plan. Instead, I switch them to airplane mode and turn on the Wi-Fi. The reason I did that is because if you had all those phones on a plan and uploading/sending photos, you would be going through so much data. Instead, I installed a WiFi system that reaches through the whole shop and 20 feet outside the shop. I did that by having two extenders installed at various points throughout the shop, which cost $200.
Finally, the way we stop abuse of those phones is two fold: One, we empower our people and hold them accountable. That doesn’t happen overnight, of course, but it ensures a sense of trust. And second, I have language in our employee handbook discussing appropriate/inappropriate behavior with the phones. We’ve never had a problem with someone abusing our phones.