These days, dealers are bombarded by companies that claim to have the next best idea in customer relationship management (CRM) software, but most dealers already have pretty much what they need to do effective CRM on their current computer systems.

“We get calls once or twice per month,” says Jean Demers, systems administrator for the Orlando-based Automotive Services Network, which operates 10 stores in central Florida. “We tell them we're all set. We're using what we have.”

AMR Research Inc, a market analysis firm in Boston, predicts that the CRM software market will top $7.5 billion in 2002 and $16.8 billion in 2003. That's an amazing prediction considering the CRM component is among the high percentage of un-used information technology at dealerships.

“We just started using the UCS (Universal Computer Systems) CRM software five or six months ago,” says Glen Gibson, general manager of Central Florida Lincoln Mercury in Orlando. “We saw an impact as soon as we started.”

Although, admittedly, the Automotive Services Network uses its CRM capability more to improve its CSI scores, the end result are more-satisfied customers and dealerships in closer and more regular contact with those customers.

“We're addressing customer concerns in a more timely manner, instead of waiting for the manufacturer surveys to come back, which can take four to six weeks,” says Ms. Demers. “The system helps us isolate areas and people that need improvement.”

The more-common definition of CRM is the collection of information every day from every customer and prospect in every department. Then that information is sorted and used to generate new business and build closer relationships with existing customers via mail, e-mail and one-on-one contact.

Automotive Services Network does a bit of this kind of CRM, could do more and is looking at becoming more aggressive in using this data for marketing purposes, says Ms. Demers.

Central Florida Lincoln Mercury is using its UCS system to do more of the standard CRM activities. Mr. Gibson's system already had the CRM package, yet the dealership was using a third-party's software to do things like maintenance reminders. Then he hired a computer-savvy employee who found the UCS software. She was sent to UCS school to learn how to use the system.

Now, the system helps the dealership perform sales and service follow-up calls as well as maintenance reminders. The results are CSI sales scores of 83%, whereas the Lincoln Mercury group average is 67%, and service scores around 50% whereas the average is 38%.

The UCS system, as well as others in use today in dealerships, requires salespeople to enter specific information at specific points in the sales process. If they don't, they're unable to continue.

To encourage salespeople to enter prospects, UCS' On-line Traffic Control Log shows sales managers how many prospects each salesperson enters per day.

Once the prospects are entered, they appear on the system's Daily Work Plan, which reminds salespeople that follow-up calls need to be made.

The work plan also provides appointment tracking, which allows managers to easily call and confirm appointments to increase the ratio of prospects who keep their appointments.

In addition, UCS' Telephone Cost Control software allows managers to monitor the contact efforts of salespeople. This can improve telephone contact with prospects and increase the productivity of a dealership's sales force.

Basic owner retention is aided by the system when it automatically inserts previous buyers on a salesperson's Daily Work Plan, based on intervals defined by the dealer.

Dealers can use the UCS system to “clean” the information in the database by eliminating duplicates and correcting address information. Some data-cleansing practices of the UCS software include:

  • Record search and retention methods that prevent duplicates.

  • Automatic decoding of city, state and county from zip codes.

  • Automatic decoding of year, make and model from VIN.

  • Validation of model number, body, color, trim and PEP/QSPEC codes.

  • Automatic creation of “households” from multiple records with the same phone number.

  • Electronic scanning of name and address information from a driver's license.

Once the information is collected and refined, dealers can use one of many UCS reports to sort it into a usable format to target a particular segment customers or prospects.

The system also helps people relate with customers. When a customer enters the dealership, computer screen windows can be set up to display detailed information, such as service dollars spent, to alert dealership personnel when they are dealing with a valued customer.

This information also appears on the Daily Work Plan so a dealership's staff is armed with the information when making regular contact with customers.