The title of this series of articles is “Technology for Profit” and is aimed at giving equipment dealers concrete examples of how advanced technology is being adapted to the day-to-day operations at machinery retailers to improve their bottom line. While previous articles have focused on GPS, smart phones, remote security, systems for fleet management and other “high-tech” methods and products for improving productivity and efficiency, this month’s column highlights two simple, yet practical applications of technology that we’re increasingly seeing in machinery dealerships. These are also fairly inexpensive to implement, and have shown to significantly improve employee communication and customer responsiveness.

For any dealership personnel whose job function relies on the use a computer, the first application we’ll describe is using dual displays. This involves the ability to view two displays or monitors attached to one computer. This is becoming increasingly popular because it provides for much more “real estate” for viewing electronic information. Think parts counter people or administrative staff.

The second example is for anyone who must speak on the telephone and move around within the dealership. It’s hands-free headsets that allow staff to talk on the phone and move around at the same time. Think parts counter people, service manager and, in some cases, technicians.

Two Displays Improve Productivity

As in any office, more and more dealership employees spend much of their day working with electronic information on computer screens. With the trend toward the expanding use of more electronic data and less paper, the use of display monitors is also increasing. Some manufacturers now offer parts catalogs or schematics only electronically. Dealers who also want printed versions are charged a premium for the privilege of having something to put on their bookshelf.

Very often, computer users need to see two or more different sets of information or switch between two of more applications, and will have several “windows” open exploring and comparing the data. For example, this is often the case when cross-referencing an inventory of obsolete parts with what is about to become obsolete, or a schematic of a machine with a list of available parts.

Another good example comes with the increasing use of email. The user may need to keep the email window open and while working in an application like Excel or accounts receivable.

Often times, when working with only one display, the user must either minimize the size of each window he or she is working in or close it all together, and switch back and forth. Also, smaller windows are more difficult to view, and switching windows requires the operator to remember what they saw in the window they just closed or minimized.

Another trend is for machinery dealership employees to use laptops, where the dedicated display is small. Consider providing them with another, larger monitor to work with their laptop to provide a more detailed view of information or data when they need it. This is especially helpful when viewing things like schematic drawings or comparing different sets of data.

“Get a 44% productivity boost for text-related tasks and a 29%
gain for spreadsheet assignments by using dual monitors ...”

Utilizing two displays is a clear trend for knowledge workers. Research on the subject clearly demonstrates that dual displays save time and increase accuracy. Workers state they much prefer two to one.

One study pointed to a 44% boost in productivity for text-related tasks and a 29% improvement for spreadsheet assignments. Another study showed a nearly two-and-a-half minute improvement in a specified set of tasks. This may not sound like much until you calculate it across an entire workday, which resulted in 40 minutes saved.

An additional monitor works well for administrative staff and for parts counter people. When taking care of a customer at the parts counter, you should also consider mounting the display on a flexible support arm so that the second display can be turned to allow the customer view it.

Calculating the Payback

Productivity improvements using dual monitors have been proven. You can calculate the payback for yourself. With proven improvements in productivity and time, the payback on investing in another display is easy to calculate. Consider the following scenario:

Parts personnel sales per person objective=$600,000 annually

Parts margin=30%

Cost for additional computer monitor=$250
(includes support arm and cabling for a 17-inch flat screen)

Increase in productivity=10% (a conservative estimate)

Increase in gross profit=$60,000 x 30%=$18,000

Payback=less than two weeks

Staying Mobile Inside the Dealership

Another very practical application of an available technology that is growing in use at dealerships is hands-free telephone headsets. You’ve seen these devices used at fast food restaurants where the employees at the drive-through windows wear them to take and assemble orders and not be tied to one spot. Their use is also growing in other retail environments, and the military utilizes them to improve communications and response time in combat situations. These are easily connected to telephone systems, which allow employees to respond to incoming calls while also communicating with other personnel in the dealership.

We’ve seen two types of dealership staff who effectively use hands-free headsets in their daily responsibilities. Most often it’s the parts counter people who take customer calls and need to check inventory parts availability. With a hands-free headset, he or she can check bins and carry parts back to the counter while still talking to the customer.

We’ve also seen dealership management assign parts counter people to make outbound marketing or customer satisfaction calls during the slow periods. Instead of tying up a desk or making calls at the counter, parts personnel can call from any convenient place in the dealership.

The frequent application of headsets in dealerships is with service managers or service writers who need to be able to field phone calls from customers and are often in the shop and away from their desk or office. Think of the time saved when a customer calls to ask about a repair order and the service manager can walk back to speak with the technician and stay in direct contact with the customer instead of having to walk back to his desk and telephone.

As with dual displays, the payback for a hands-free headset is fairly quick and easy to calculate.

The only downside of implementing this idea is that some people aren’t comfortable wearing a headset. However, those that use them are very positive about how they improve overall productivity. Some staffers are more comfortable using the smaller Bluetooth style that fits in one ear and are less bulky and visible.

These two simple and effective applications of technology can be utilized in any dealership.