SHOP SOFTWARE GUIDE – How Does Auto Shop Writer Compare ?

The new AutoInc Shop Software Guide is arriving in mailboxes around the country, and many service managers will turn to it for information about the latest technology offerings in their business. Only 4 systems elected to buy into the list, so now you have to do some work to see if some of the others may offer a better fit for your business. We’d like to help a bit by telling you how Auto Shop Writer would check off the various capabilities, in summary form, and then tell you what else we offer that is not mentioned.

Computer System Functionality

That whole first section refers to the computer operating systems, and Auto Shop Writer was designed for Windows, and runs on any of the operating systems. It also will run on the Apple Mac computers using Parallels. The program is NOT Cloud based for a very specific reason. If your internet is down, slow, or intermittent, you cannot manage your business. Far too many shops have pretty poor internet service, so we keep all of your data local on your computers. Yes, we do operate on desktops, notebooks, 2 in 1’s, tablets, and you can even run remotely ( like from home ). We even have clients who work from multiple locations.

Pricing

We’ve been doing this a long time – over 35 years actually – and we don’t need to cost you a small fortune. We now provide Auto Shop Writer for a very low monthly fee, just $195. That includes use of the FULL program ( including accounting ), tech support, and ALL updates. There is a small, one time, installation fee, and you might elect to buy Client Server software for a larger installation, but there are no extra costs or charges by us. Of course we do provide interfaces to many popular 3rd party products, and you may elect to contract with them for CRM or other services, but we don’t charge you extra for the interface. Why so low a price ? Because we can, and we know you, and your employees, will benefit from the significant savings. Is this a junior model ? Absolutely not. It is 100% of the full feature offering. Is there a long term committment ? Nope – just monthly – billed to your credit card. If you stop using it at any time, the charges stop. No hassle, no hidden fees, no contracts, just service by a company that knows how to run a business efficiently.

Inventory, Labor, Technician, Customers, Vehicles, Point of Sale, Management Features, Management Features, Customer Follow Up

Lets make this easy … just check off all those features because Auto Shop Writer does them. Yes, we can show you how.

First, lets consider that whole topic of CRM. There is a big focus on someone else doing the job for you, and that is fine if you want to spend the money. We interface with the best, and likely some you haven’t heard of that do an awesome job. However, maybe your budget would be better without paying hundreds for CRM services. In Auto Shop Writer we provide all of that internally, and although you have manual control, we also have automated email. It sends a thank you, follow up notes monthly, reminders of services that will be due and even appointment reminders. The one time setup is easy, and thereafter, this fully integrated system keeps you in touch with your clients for free, and without wasting your time.

You also have a full set of Marketing services and reports that help you understand you client base, their location, your earnings from them, and even maps of their locations. You can use this to improve sales through targeted marketing by email, mail, phone, letters, or postcards. None of these services have a fee. We also interface with myCarfax, and one button sets up your client with their own tracking and notification system – free to them, free to you – and it brings them back to your shop.

Communication is important, and you can call, email, or even text your clients. If they want a copy of an invoice from 3 years ago a couple of keystrokes can have it on the way to them via email, and a response like that builds customer loyalty. When the customer walks into your shop, one button can tell you all about their record with you, their vehicle, it’s service history, the services needed, and even when other services should be performed … all on one easy to read screen that can remain up while you add details to the service order.

It’s nice to know about those vehicles. You not only have a complete detail about them, but also their complete service history at your shop, and through the free CARFAX services, what work was performed elsewhere. Consider the possibilities this knowledge provides in actually working with your clients, especially on their first visit. Auto Shop Writer will also allow you to track individual services, and project when they need to be performed in the future. There is no limit, and one button will add an included labor item for automatic tracking from then on. Reports and follow-ups allow you to keep your client informed when these services are needed, and emails will be automatically generated to do this work … at no cost to you. Of course you’ve seen those nice checklists provided to the client’s after the service that indicate the inspection you’ve performed. That’s part of Auto Shop Writer and when they return, those values are automatically included in the Analysis of the Vehicle needs ( think 1 button gives you all of this ).

How about some organization. Step up to the computer at the beginning of your day, and a single button provides you a TO DO list of work you should perform. It’s not just the vehicles sitting there waiting for service. It includes scheduled appointments, and suggested contacts you should make about vehicles that will need service in the near future … all on one screen with one keystroke, with no setup or extra input required. It’s all derived from the information already in the system based on work you have performed.

Where Do We Go From Here ?

Auto Shop Writer is the result of input from shop owners, like yourself, who use it daily and have great ideas for how it can be improved or expanded. Updates come out regularly, and automatically. Customer Service is personal. Are you interested ? Send an email to Support@MasterLinkSoftware.com or call 949 589-3186. We’ll answer your questions, discuss what we provide, and NO SALESPERSON WILL BE CALLING ON YOU. We know you are busy, and we have no intention of being a nuisance or giving you a sales pitch filled with promises. We’ll tell you what we offer, if you like it, we’ll get you setup, and you can use Auto Shop Writer as long as it works for you ( and saves you a lot of money ) for just $195 / month.

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Will Your Shop Benefit From A Tablet ?

WP_20140418_002Tablets are popular everywhere, and are often advertised as the solution to all of life’s tasks.  In fact, they are compact, light, go with you, and can do quite a few things.  This leads to the question:  “Will your shop benefit using tablets to handle data ?”

Let’s first distinguish between the types of tablets.  There are two.  Android and iPad tablets run small applets that are specific to individual tasks.  They are popular for reading the news, sharing on social media, playing games, and perhaps with photo work.  Windows tablets are quite different.  They are actually full computers with touch screens.  They usually have slightly larger screens, and can run full business applications just like your desktop and notebook computers.

A Windows tablet can be great for working in your business, if it uses software that takes advantage of the touch screen, and onscreen keyboard.  To make this work you will want a tablet that has a docking station ( for wired internet, connection to a large monitor, and that keeps the tablet charged ).  It also should have Windows 8.1 installed.  You will also want a bluetooth keyboard and mouse.  The tablet resides in the docking station, and it’s screen is off, but your program displays on the large monitor.  This is particularly effective for a service writer’s workstation.  The bluetooth keyboard and mouse make it quite easy to use as a regular workstation, and the monitor makes it always easy to read.

When a client comes in, the Service Writer can simply grab the tablet off the dock, walk out to the vehicle, make the inspection, take photos, and create the Estimate.  The tablet remains in the program and seamlessly connects via the wi-fi.  It’s functioning is always live, so all lookups, and data entry, are immediate.  In fact, from the car, the service writer can send the Estimate to the printer, and the customer can go back to the front desk, sign the master, and receive their copy.

The service writer can move from one client to another very quickly, initiating individual workorders as they go.  When the “outside” work is done, they simply put the tablet back on the dock and continue their work at the desk.  There are no switches to throw or complicated procedures to follow.  The screen automatically comes on when the device is removed from the dock, and transfers to the large monitor when it is replaced.

With this in mind, what type of tablet works best ?  Look for those answers in the next post on this site.

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Do your advertising dollars return profit ?

RouletteFor some companies, business is booming.  Others report they are struggling to keep the doors open.  What makes the difference ?  How can you increase your profits and make “doing business” worthwhile?

One huge contributor will be the quality of your work.  Another is charging enough.  Perhaps the least tracked, however, is the money you simply throw away.  Advertising ( marketing ) is one of those investments that may, or may not, be paying off.

As a business owner, or manager, you will be contacted regularly by someone who wants to sell you a marketing service, guaranteed to grow your business.  In these situations, the sales pitch is glorious, but the results may be quite muddy.  In fact, if the “plan” doesn’t work for you, be assured the sales rep will quickly confirm you must not be using it correctly!

To make wise decisions on marketing, you need to know exactly what you invest, and exactly how much return it brings.  The costs are easy because you pay that bill every month.  It is important, though, that you also track every job you receive when it results from a marketing campaign.

Auto Shop Writer users can mark each workorder for the source.  It may be a returning customer, or it might be from one of the campaigns you are using.  Reports show the breakdown of work based on how it is characterized.  You can track as many resources or campaigns as you want.

You also need to know the profitability on the jobs in order to appreciate the value of the campaign.  Lets say you run a postcard campaign.  You spend $300 to send out the cards.  Then, your customers respond by coming in for a service.  50 people respond to the “special” and that may sound great.  However, when you look at your actual profit, you only net $5 on each special.  Thus you spent $300 and got back $250.  Your campaign actually cost you $50.  Salespeople will tell you there is a “carry over” effect that increases your customer base over time, and their might be.  That is something you can’t measure.  You can be sure that a good percentage of those people who responded simply jump on bargains.

If you want to increase profits, you need to know where your money is being spent effectively.  If you don’t get the results you need from a marketing campaign strategy, its time to refine the audience, or to look at other methods.  Ultimately it’s all about bringing you to the attention of probable clients, and then motivating them to come use your services.

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Staying in touch is a two way street !

Business owners think that retaining clients is all about the reminders they send out about pending services due.  They also think its about fancy fliers and post cards, incentive marketing, and maybe expensive websites.  Those are all good, but they don’t do the full job !

Clients want to know that you care about them and you are available when they have a need.   This doesn’t come in the mail, or by email, or a discount coupon.  Showing a client they matter happens when you are receptive to contacts they initiate.

If you go on a website, fill out a form, and don’t hear back, what is your impression of the company you wish to contact.  If you call and spend 10 minutes on hold or wading through a complicated phone tree, are you impressed that the company cares about you ?  If you send an email request for help, how valuable do you feel when you get no response?

Sending out the reminder cards and letter really helps.  However, how do you expect the client to respond ?  Is that channel open ?  Will they find getting your help is prompt, easy, and friendly ?

Consider the person who receives an email from you about a service due.  They “Reply” to the email and ask when it would be convenient to come in.  You don’t reply.  They know the service is due, and you had your chance.  Now they call someone else, then when you finally respond, you’ve already lost them.

I always encourage shop owners to be sure their email is checked throughout the day.  I hear way too often “I just don’t have time.”  I encourage them to make sure anyone answering the phone takes a message, double checks the name and number, gets it to them immediately, and the call back is performed in minutes, not hours.  Again, “but I’m so busy”.  If that’s the case, you’re understaffed and in trouble already.

If you are going to send out any communications, make sure you respond to the reply you receive, and do it quickly.  As for those annoying phone trees, don’t use them.  The time you think you save may equal the number of clients who are offended and take their business elsewhere.

jf you hire a company to do your follow-up, make sure they also have great incoming communication capability.  It does make a difference.  Don’t let the money you invest in your original communications be wasted because you have failed to open a dialog quickly and easily.  The business you save will make a difference in your bottom line.

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Working With Windows 8–Whats The Big Deal ?

en-INTL_M_Surface_Win_8_Pro_64GB_9SR-00001_mncoPeople often ask if Auto Shop Writer is compatible with Windows 8, and especially with tablet computers.The answer is simply YES !  Auto Shop Writer works very well with Windows 8 ( Pro ), and it also works appropriately on touch screens.  So what does that mean exactly, and why is it important ?

With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft did what no other company has accomplished.  They provided a structure that spans the full spectrum of technology, including Servers, Desktops, Notebooks, Tablets, Smart Phones, and even gaming devices ( xBox ).  Essentially, if you can use one of those devices you can use them all because the operating system is consistent across all of them.

That’s nice, but what does it mean for the business owner ?  It is significant because all of your devices will now work seamlessly with each other.  Of course we love the addition of the new Windows 8 tablets because it will make life more personal for shop service writers, inventory control staff, and even managers.  Simply grab the tablet, walk to the vehicle ( or stock area ), do your work while chatting with your client, and never break to “work on the computer”.  Because Windows 8 tablets are actually full computers ( unlike the other brands which just run limited capability apps ), and they stay intouch with your data through your local wireless network.  Of course, if you use a docking station for the tablet, and that connects to a large screen monitor plus a mouse and keyboard, you now have a “full sized” workstation when the tablet is back on the desk charging.

The other benefit to Windows 8 is the new philosophy Microsoft adapted.  They aggressively seek input from clients and developers, and apply those results to ongoing enhancements to the system.  These are released weekly so the millions of users will not have to wait for long periods of time to get bug fixes, or important modifications.

There is a lot more and we’ll discuss other benefits in the near future.  If you are using Auto Shop Writer and want to add a tablet, feel free to call us for specific information on what’s good, and what’s not.  At MasterLink Software, we want you to have the most frustration free technology you can find.  We do check out the options, and talk with the pros, so we’d be happy to share our findings with you.  Call us at (949) 589-3186 today.

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Welcoming Carfax Service Histories

Carfax

Auto Shop Writer has long enjoyed a relationship with CARFAX, the automotive industry information system  We not only continue this in 2013, but now we have added a new feature, service histories from other repair facilities.

Originally we offered the CARFAX VIN database within our decoding system.  This is, without a doubt, the most comprehensive source of information identifying all of the assembly facts on a specific car.  It includes the make, model, submodel, and manufacturing information.  To that it adds the specifications on the engine, drive train, transmission, body, and wheels.

About 2 years ago we were able to integrate QuickVIN.  With this feature, its not necessary to enter that long VIN number.  Simply enter the License and State of a vehicle new to your service center and CARFAX will provide the VIN which ASW will then decode.

Now CARFAX has added service histories to the feature list.  A single button in the Vehicle edit screen, workorder, or appointment scheduler will show you what services were provided previously, and when, even if they were done at other locations.

Throughout, CARFAX has only asked that our clients submit services performed on vehicles.  Auto Shop Writer handles this automatically each day.  The information is added to the full CARFAX reports which are purchased by interested people when your client sells the car.  It also includes information about the shop who performed the service which is an excellent free advertising method.

CARFAX services are provided to all Auto Shop Writer users at no extra charge !

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