Three technologies which could offer dealers multiple routes to serving your customers better and commanding their loyalty for longer

Paul Smith, Director of network key management systems provider for car dealerships - Traka Automotive, explores how three new technologies – RFID, video content analytics and Bluetooth, are already offering routes to improving workshop productivity, asset tracking and in-dealership customer experience.

This month, I decided to take a closer look at which communications technologies could be pressed into service to help keep track of exact location and status of vehicles coming into your dealership. If our key management system can help find keys more quickly, it will be very helpful if it could be fully-integrated into other systems that collect and store exact vehicle location and status – thereby helping speed up processing of vehicles further still.

One such technology being pressed into service is radio frequency identification or RFID. RFID uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. The tags, which might be fitted to a car’s rear view mirror as they enter your dealership, can be easily programmed to gather vehicle number plates, vehicle type, registered owner and time of arrival on site.

It’s worth looking deeper at how RFID-based vehicle location systems could improve in-dealership customer experience for those waiting for a test drive, or servicing of their vehicle to complete. There is a great little video online on the RFID system, configured and installed by systems integrator Dimension Data in BMW’s Niederlassung Frankfurter Ring service centre in Munich.

The customer is given an RFID tag as they arrive. The tag contains the details of the vehicle, driver name and number plate which is collected at the entrance as they arrive. Once the tag is active, it transmits its RFID information and exact location to 70 sensors which are located carefully around the parking areas, workshop bays and elsewhere around the Frankfurter Ring site.

The system is integrated with a WhereCall push button system which sends the location information to a central point which triggers a driver to move the vehicle onto the next stage in the service. As cars are moved through various servicing stages, this intelligence is displayed on a real-time dashboard in the customer waiting area so that they can keep an eye on progress without having to bother front desk staff to make enquiries. The end-result is a very slick, location-based vehicle tracking system which works brilliantly to speed up vehicle processing, enhance workshop productivity and improve overall customer experience.

However, RFID is not the only technology for this sort of vehicle-locating system in dealerships. You could instead have an IP camera-based system like the sort of systems now being widely deployed in some of the swisher car parks across the UK. One Chinese vendor called Hikvision has developed an end-to-end smart parking solution which shows the potential of network camera-based systems to manage vehicles in, out and around your dealership. The system uses video analytics-based intelligence now built into the latest IP cameras.

The solution I looked at offered cameras that both collects the number plates of vehicles as they enter the car park but also uses cameras as motion sensors to detect all cars’ position, which in this case is programmed to report parking slot availability and guide the driver to remaining free slots via overhead LED displays.

It clearly requires careful planning (and a good systems integrator) to get location of cameras correct so that the cameras capture cars passing through key way points and ultimately stores the exact bay location of the car prior to servicing for example.

However, on larger sites where modern IP cameras are already installed – it’s worth exploring whether they can be re-used to keep track of exact location of all vehicles on your sites.

Finally, there is an option to use Bluetooth-based Onboard Diagnostics (OBD) devices like the Innova 3150e OBD2 to keep track of vehicles, improving productivity and information flow to after sales customers. An OBD device, fitted to all cars as they come in for a service, could provide all key diagnostics information to workshop team members who can view it via their Android or Windows-based laptops, tablets or smartphones.

Armed with this information, workshop managers could estimate time needed to carry out servicing and repairs and perhaps provide an estimate of works required to customers within a few minutes of arrival. Following a visual inspection, a video recording of any issues that need fixing can be sent to the customer’s smartphone to reassure them of recommendations for more expensive part replacements for example. If customers need further reassurance they could be walked around the vehicle while it’s up on the ramp.

The Smart Driver Club On-Board Diagnostics (OBD)-connected app is just one data-driven way of improving customer experience, relatively cost effectively. The Smart Driver Club is happy to allow you to white-label their mobile app-based service which gives OBD-based vehicle usage information to your customers via an app on their mobile phone. They can set it up to tell them how many miles they are doing on an average month, when their next service is due, and get maintenance warnings.

This diagnostics information equals power for the customer but could also deliver extra servicing revenue for you, if handled proactively and correctly to alert customers when their car genuinely ought to be booked in to get some specific work done.

By sharing this OBD data, a potential dealer-customer trust issue also evaporates. No longer will customers feel press-ganged into potentially unnecessary servicing. The Smart Driver Club app will confirm to them that the work that the dealer is recommending at your next service is indeed required.

I’ve discovered over Bluetooth-based payments systems which could also help dealerships sell more and will detail more in this area next time, but suffice to say, as the Internet of (Dealership) Things penetrates deeper into dealerships, we are likely to see much more car location, usage and maintenance data at our fingertips. It will then be in the dealer’s gift to turn this data flow into value added services - commanding greater customer loyalty.