Get on track with your customers

Ordering a hot pizza on a cold winter night always sounds like a good idea. But the actual experience often doesn’t live up to expectations. It’s not that different than the boat service business.

You place your order, and they give you an estimated delivery time, but you don’t really know when you’re going to get your dinner. By the time you order, you’re already hungry. And as the minutes tick by, you wonder, “Where are they? Did the delivery boy get stuck in a snow bank? Did they deliver it to my neighbors? Did they lose my order altogether?”

Pizza delivery companies have tackled that problem with online pizza trackers.

“Want to know what’s happening with your order right now?” one such website reads. “The delivery experts at Domino’s have specifically engineered the Tracker to keep you up to date on the status of your order, from the moment it’s prepared, to the second it leaves our store for delivery.”

Soon, the boating industry may have a similar solution for its customers.

When BMC Boats co-owner Paula Fulton first encountered a pizza tracker two years ago, it sparked an idea in her mind. Like a pizza shop’s customers, a boat dealership’s service customers place a repair or parts order, and then are left wondering (for days and even weeks) about its status. The stops and starts in production at many boat part plants since the recession have only added to the boating business’ supply chain challenges.

Dealership employees attempt to call and update customers, but when the sun is shining and you’re stuck without your boat, it’s never enough. The resulting phone tag is inefficient and leaves customers frustrated.

“If you have a boat in service for a week because of parts, it is inevitable that the customer will call after two days,” explains Fulton. “Even if you say it will take two to three weeks, they’ll call you once a week to see if their parts came in yet.”

Fulton saw another way. If service and parts customers had a website where they could track the status of their orders, not only would it lower customer frustration levels (and thereby improve CSI scores), it would help marine dealerships, many of which are running lean, be more efficient.

“Employees won’t always have to stop what they’re doing and make a phone call,” says Fulton. “The customer can be updated within 30 seconds. This doesn’t eliminate having to talk to your customers. It’s just another way to touch them and keep them informed.”

That was the birth of the concept behind My Service Tracking Pro, a software application that uses e-mail and Web messaging as a direct means of communicating with the customer.

Fulton – and partner Randy Young, managing partner of Web application software development firm Web Application Forge – have spent the past two years developing the concept and plan to launch it in the marine marketplace this spring.

From concept to finished product

As Fulton and Young have brought My Service Tracking Pro to life, the concept for the product has evolved.

The primary reason for setting up the service tracker was to communicate with customers while they waited for their parts or repair order to be fulfilled. And through the software application that has been created, dealers can do so by logging onto a simple dealer console through which they can send standard or customized updates with a few clicks of their mouse.

However, the customer console has also been designed to store information about each parts or repair order in an area called “Service History.” By doing so, not only can the customer look back at work they’ve had done to determine if it’s time to set up their next oil change, for instance, but they also can print out a service history to share with potential boat buyers, should they want to sell their vessels. In addition, this tool gives managers and owners a record of their dealership’s communication with the customer, allowing them to better respond to customer concerns and better manage the communications process.

“Every dealer I’ve ever talked to has communication issues between their people and their customers,” comments Fulton, president of My Service Tracking Pro. “This industry needs a tool that helps the dealer communicate better with the customer.”

Customers can also use the customer console to request an appointment from the dealership, which the dealer then can accept or reject, depending on availability.

My Service Tracking Pro can be used by dealerships to send customers automatic reminders about such items as the need for safety checks and the expiration of warranties.

A separate section of the site is designed to allow dealers to share info with customers about events and promotions they are offering.

Finally, a CSI survey component is being built into My Service Tracking Pro, which will automatically send customers a link to a survey once their PO or RO is closed out by the dealership. The idea behind this is to get the surveys to customers sooner and make it easier for customers to respond in hopes of increasing survey response rates.

While all of this information – service and part order updates, appointments, reminders, promotions and CSI surveys – is available to the customer online by logging into their console, the system is designed to send the customer an e-mail to alert them to each piece of new information, unless the customer asks to disable this feature.

Phase One and Phase Two of the software development, including the development of the service tracking function, the customer console, the dealer console, reminders, promotions and appointments, were complete as of November, explains Fulton. The final phase, which involves integrating the CSI survey functionality into the product, is expected to be complete this spring.

In the meantime, BMC Boats, Longwood, Fla., has begun beta testing My Service Tracking Pro, as have four other dealerships, including Hayes Marine, Appling, Ga., and Davey Marine Center, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The vision

My Service Tracking Pro is initially targeting the marine industry with its software application. After all, with 11 years of marine dealership experience under her belt, including eight years as a board member for the Marine Industry Association of Central Florida and her current role as its president, Fulton lives and breathes this industry. And this new company is her passion.

“The dealership is my husband’s dream,” explains Fulton. “I feel this is something I’m meant to do for myself and for dealers.”

But Fulton’s vision isn’t limited to the marine industry. She believes her company’s product could help improve B2C communication in any service industry. She imagines, for example, that through My Service Tracking Pro, consumers one day will be able to track the service of all of their vehicles, including RVs, motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles and PWC.

In fact, that’s one of the advantages of the application: it has been designed to be easily customizable to meet each dealership’s – or each industry’s – unique needs.

Another advantage is that it’s a tool that can set a dealership’s parts and service operation apart in the eyes of the consumer during a time when that revenue is a significant contributor to many dealers’ bottom line.

Ultimately, the results that can be achieved through My Service Tracking Pro depend on the team that is implementing it.

“It is only going to be as successful as the dealership that uses it,” Fulton concludes.

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