A car dealership’s customer-relationship management system should touch virtually every profit center, from the new-car showroom to the service department.

But employees of some departments are easier to train on the high-tech systems that are designed to cultivate and keep customers.

Service department staffers in particular catch on faster, says Brad Perry, founder of Dealer Socket, a CRM firm based in San Clemente, CA.

He cites three reasons. For one thing, service employees, such as technicians and advisors, are more technically oriented, and therefore more adaptable to learning how to use a new software system. “They are used to dealing with computers,” Perry tells Ward’s.

Secondly, they work in a department that is more process oriented, making them more inclined to use a process-driven system, he says. “Sales is arts and science, but a lot of sales people lean more towards the art side.”

Finally, service department employees tend to stay at their jobs longer. The turnover rate for dealership sales personnel is much higher.

A big obstacle to implementing a dealership-wide CRM system is training employees, only to have them quit soon afterwards.

Perry sees a vicious cycle: “A lot of dealerships don’t use CRM systems because of high employee turnovers, but often the turnover is because employees aren’t succeeding at their jobs, and they’re not succeeding because they aren’t using CRM.”

As a prelude to designing their CRM technology platform, Perry and business partner Jonathan Ord went to work at a Southern California dealership. For free. For one year.

“We’d sit together and unload all the ideas and insights we had absorbed and come up with ideas to make things work better,” Perry recalls. “Then the next month, we’d move to a new department.”

He says their research convinced them a successful CRM system has much to do with the culture of people in different departments that make a dealership work on a daily basis.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com