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Aug. 16, 2004 – Computers: Helping to run your business or run you ragged?

August 16, 2004
Filed under Features

Most of us have a computer system. That computer is designed to help you control every facet of your dealership and allow your employees to work faster, smarter, and more productively — or that’s what the software company told you.
You might find that your computer is no longer providing you with good information and that you are, instead, spending a great deal of time providing the computer with information. At some point the computer system stopped being a tool to help you run your business and became just one more of the many tasks that you have to contend with. Rutherford Rogers, a librarian at Yale University, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “We’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.” While he was referring to the enormous number of books, periodicals, and documents published each year, his quote seems to hold true for us as well.
Even the best software program is only as good as the data that it receives. Over the years your database has had a lot of information added to it: new customers, new part numbers, new units, and new work orders have all been diligently recorded. How much of that data is incomplete or totally useless but has never been removed or corrected? You continually tell your customers that regular maintenance on their units will keep them running as “well-oiled machines.” So, when was the last time your database had a tune up?
Your database can easily become burdened with incomplete or useless information: A new customer comes into your store and your counterperson takes his name and adds it to the database but fails to get the address or zip code; A work order is written up but the customer changes his mind. Did anyone cancel or remove this useless data from your system? You may blame this omission on an employee who did not follow policy, but even the most conscientious employee will get busy with customers and forget the clean-up duty. After all, it is about satisfying the customer, not about satisfying the computer.
Here are some signs that your computer system is now running you ragged instead of helping you run your business:
– Do you have part numbers in your system that were special ordered for one customer one time, and have never been ordered or sold since? These old, inactive numbers fill your inventory reports, cloud your suggested orders, and can add thousands of detracting lines to your physical inventory count sheets.
– Do you have old work orders in the system waiting now for months or even years for the customer to come in with the bike? These useless RO’s cloud the current picture and add confusion to the service manager’s job. That manager should be able to follow-up on current work orders in progress and move them along without wading through years of clutter.
– Does your service history show every single repair order that your shop has ever performed? There is a balance here. You want to make sure you can look up service history, but do you really need every single RO you have ever completed? Too much data in any system will at some point affect the performance of that system.
– Does your customer database have customers with no address or missing zip codes? Direct mail advertising is rather difficult without addresses!
Steven R. Covey, in his book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, paints the following picture:
Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”
“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”
“Well why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”
“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”
Take a hard, critical look at your database, and clean it up. Some will say they just don’t have the time to do this. But you must make the time because it will hurt you eventually and cost you time later on. To be profitable you must have your finger on the pulse of the business. You will miss business opportunities, or worse, make costly mistakes, if your information is not accurate, or if it takes too long to gather and understand. The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it.
Hopefully you have partnered with a software company that can offer assistance in how to clean up your database and will provide advice on what to keep and what has to go. I’ve helped many of our customers in this area, as have many of my co-workers. But whether you do it yourself or you get help from someone else, you must take time out from sawing, and sharpen the saw. psb

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