A telephone doesn't help your business unless you answer it promptly and effectively when it rings.
Likewise, facsimiles (faxes) and electronic mail (e-mail) aren't really effective unless someone retrieves them punctually.
As far as I'm concerned, far too many businesses I encounter cannot or do not handle faxes and e-mail efficiently. Consequently, an extraordinary amount of time is wasted because faxes and e-mail are either overlooked or routed to the wrong person. Everything from repair jobs to inventory adjustment/replenishment to parts warranty claims languish because people aren't responding to faxes and/or e-mails.
Owners and managers reading this publication may have noticed that we're living in an era of instant gratification. Whether the person is a vendor, a consumer on the other side of the service desk or a tech out in the dealership's bays, people want answers NOW!
One of my colleagues summed it up this way: ``Used to be that tomorrow was soon enough. Then they wanted answers the same day. Any more, folks seem to think you should have had the answer for them yesterday!'' he observed.
Furthermore, providing prompt service on everything from tire changes to maintenance services to diagnostics may be the only trait that distinguishes your dealership from your closest competitors.
``Okay Dan,'' you counter, ``If this stuff was so darn important, why didn't that person just pick up a phone and call my dealership?''
This very sensible question leads us to the precipice known as the technology divide or tech gap. This is the giant, perceived chasm between computer-savvy people and those who aren't. These savvy types wholeheartedly embraced fax machines and e-mail early on and rely on them very heavily for both business and personal matters. They recognized and exploited a world of dirt-cheap, immediate communications.
On the other side of the great technology chasm are people who gradually began using fax machines and the Internet simply because they had to. Privately, they'll comment that they believe anyone who's glued to a keyboard and monitor is some kind of anti-social geek.
The thing to remember is that workers in this second group don't instinctively check either a fax machine or the Internet for new messages. Ask them about it-or better yet, work alongside them for a while. They expect the phone to ring when someone has information for them.
Internet use for daily communications of all kinds is burgeoning. If you doubt it, ask yourself how often a colleague or vendor volunteered to e-mail you something five years ago. Then try to count the number of times this month that someone said, ``I'll just e-mail it to you,'' or ``Oh, just watch your e-mail!''
Coping with faxes and e-mail-leaping the technology chasm, if you will-is easier than most of us fuddy-duddies realize. Let's deal with the ol' facsimile machine first. I recommend calling a team meeting and explaining to the entire staff that keeping an eye peeled for new faxes is everyone's job. After all, most fax machines I see are situated out where staffers are walking by them all the time. They just have to discipline themselves to look at the darn machine and pass a newly arrived fax on to the recipient. How hard is that? How long could it take?
Some owners and managers told me that relocating the fax machine to a more-convenient, more-visible place inside the dealership is critical to success. Another way to improve efficiency is to add a dedicated phone line and number for the service department's fax machine. Any service manager using one will vouch for the usefulness of a separate fax machine.
Meanwhile, some managers have handled the e-mail issue with software that flashes a notice on the worker's monitor whenever an e-mail message arrives. That's about as immediate as it gets! Others have urged or cajoled employees to check e-mail at their workstations hourly or every other hour. Only experience can teach you how often is actually often enough to check it and where necessary, notify the coworker recipient.
Last but not least, consider giving the service department its own unique e-mail address using the same phone line as the fax machine. Many managers have reported that this is a very effective compromise.