A simple digital camera is a valuable asset to any modern automotive service department.
A camera is useful for a variety of chores. For instance, it allows service personnel to document existing damage on a vehicle or to show failed parts. Of course, demonstrating failures also means documenting them for both the vehicle owner and for your shop records.
Also, technicians can use a camera to record locations and/or orientations of components on the vehicle. So, overall, a camera may be a potent sales aid for service writers up front — not to mention a time saver for techs out in the bays.
Over the years, I've seen several savvy service managers use “instant” cameras for some of these tasks. Some readers may be old enough to remember the classic Polaroid Instamatic camera.
Today, most service personnel probably have “smart” cell phones that double as digital cameras. Typically, these sophisticated devices even take digital movies.
Certainly, using these phones is one path to effective in-house photography. However, some bosses tell me they're fighting tooth and nail to stop cell phone usage during business hours. A bit of business usage, they've said, may lapse into unnecessary personal usage.
Instead, these owners and managers have acquired new or used digital cameras specifically for the front sales counter and the service department. Having multiple cameras minimizes or eliminates the risk of an employee waiting to use a camera.
Today, powerful but practical digital cameras cost $100 or less. What's more, many used, basic digital cameras usually have minimal resale value but are very suitable for a service facility's purposes. So, a friend, neighbor, relative, employee or customer may give you a workable digital camera for nothing — or perhaps for lunch money.
Let's review some practical examples of digital photography in your tire dealership or service shop.
Countless times over the years, owners and managers have told me about conniving consumers who tried to blame their businesses for existing damage on vehicles. For example, a windshield is cracked or a piece of exterior trim is falling off. Or perhaps the car's upholstery is torn or an alloy wheel is badly scratched or otherwise damaged.
Proactive managers require service writers to perform a “walk-around” of each incoming vehicle—much as a rental car company does — photographing existing conditions that could lead to trouble later on. Then they download their digital photos into a computer.
They also may elect to email them to the car owner. The few minutes you invest in these steps ultimately could save the business untold time, money and aggravation — not to mention ill will with customers.
Service sales pros also use digital cameras to photograph conditions such as frayed or broken drive belts, coolant leaks, bent or leaking struts, failed suspension bushings and so forth.
In many instances, the sales person downloads the pictures and emails them to the customer. This speeds up the entire transaction by validating the damage for the customer.
What's more, it builds trust—which brews referrals and repeat business.
Some techs also take digital photographs of unfamiliar systems and components for future reference. For example, reconnecting vacuum hoses or reinstalling wiring harnesses is a breeze. But other times, techs may not recall the ports to which vacuum hoses were connected or how wiring harnesses were routed.
Certainly, a tech could refer to a shop manual for the proper harness layout or correct vacuum hose hookups. However, experience shows that the photos and/or illustrations in manuals may not be as clear or as specific as what the tech had hoped. Nothing beats the clarity of your own photos of the OEM wiring and hose layouts.
In the long run, a camera can be essential for the goal of documenting conditions on a customer's vehicle. Don't underestimate its value because, as the saying goes, seeing is believing.