“We take the dealership through an overview of why we’re trying to do this. It’s not just, ‘Here’s a tablet; go out and change the way you’re doing things.’ ” Gary Kalk, CEO,Dealer-FX
TORONTO — Service technology provider Dealer-FX hopes a “new coat of paint” on its signature wiAdvisor product will help win over some dissatisfied Fiat Chrysler Automobiles dealers.
CEO Gary Kalk conceded that wiAdvisor, the tablet-based software used at about 1,700 FCA dealerships mostly in the U.S., needed an update to appease dealers who grew frustrated with glitches and a lack of new features.
He’s banking on wiAdvisor 3.0, as he calls it, to change that.
From the moment a vehicle enters the service lane, wiAdvisor gives dealers access to real-time data and analytics about a dealership’s fixed operations while helping to connect customers digitally.
Dealer-FX has experienced growing pains as it has rolled out wiAdvisor and similar products branded for other automakers while expanding employee count to 448, up 51 percent since the end of 2016, at its Markham, Ontario, headquarters outside Toronto.
But Dealer-FX positions its products, which compete with the likes of Cox Automotive’s Xtime and CDK Global’s ELead1One, as unique in their ability to inject technology into the customer’s entry into the service lane while allowing dealerships to glean real-time data about their business.
WiAdvisor was an early success for Kalk at Dealer-FX, which he founded in 2007. But as the company launched software for other automakers in recent years, often with newer, better features such as multipoint inspection tools and e-payment service, wiAdvisor lost some luster.
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“When FCA said, ‘We’re starting to lose a few dealers and the sentiment out there isn’t overwhelmingly positive about wiAdvisor,’ we said, ‘Yes, because over a period of time, we haven’t put a new coat of paint on it,’ ” Kalk told Automotive News.
Searching for why
Dustin Lee, service director at Lee Auto Malls in Maine, said integration issues with dealership management systems plagued wiAdvisor.
“We like the interface. We like the ability to write the customer up from the tablet,” he said. “I can’t say that there haven’t been any issues because there certainly have been some technical issues that stem from wiAdvisor’s ability to properly communicate with our DMS.”
It was unclear whether those issues would be addressed, as Lee said they largely stem from the DMS provider. Kalk says integration issues on Dealer-FX’s end have been resolved. Still, the updated wiAdvisor offers a host of new features, including electronic inspection tools and the ability to text service customers about such things as when their vehicle is ready.
Kalk says Dealer-FX, which sells its products for between $1,500 and $3,000 monthly, wants to convert all wiAdvisor customers to the new version within a year and to get another 400 or so dealers on board. Kalk said 57 dealerships signed up the day it launched in September. FCA did not respond to a request for comment about the updated product.
Software and service
- Company: Dealer-FX
- CEO: Gary Kalk
- Founded: 2007
- Headquarters: Markham, Ontario
- Users: About 2,500 dealerships in the U.S., Canada and the Middle East
- Automaker partners: Fiat Chrysler, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, Lexus, Volkswagen, Audi
- Products include: WiAdvisor, a tablet-based program used by FCA dealers mostly in the U.S. The software allows service advisers to quickly download information such as vehicle history and active recalls and to complete write-ups in the service lane.
- Big picture: With a digital record of each visit, dealers have the data to analyze their entire service operation and pinpoint improvements. /li>
Kalk, who has more than 25 years of experience in the automotive sector, is confident when talking about his company and its future.
He immigrated to Canada from South Africa as a teen and studied at York University in Toronto. Before he founded Dealer-FX, he was CEO of Marketrend Interactive, which offered marketing and customer relationship tools to about 3,000 dealerships. He sold that company in 2004.
He calls himself a fan of Simon Sinek, a motivational speaker, organizational consultant and author of the book Start With Why. Sinek argues that effective leaders and businesses know not just what they do and how to do it, but also why they do it.
The “why” for Dealer-FX?
To use mobile technology to transform the dealership service experience for customers.
In all, Dealer-FX provides fixed ops software to more than 2,500 dealerships in the U.S., Canada and the Middle East, notably stores representing Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, Mazda and Mitsubishi.
How it works
A customer who pulls into a service drive equipped with wiAdvisor is greeted by a service adviser. The adviser plugs a “micropod” into the vehicle’s on-board diagnostics port. The micropod downloads data about the vehicle, including its identification number, mileage, warranty information, warning messages and whether it is under an active recall.
Using a tablet, the adviser can complete a service write-up in minutes and review the repair order with the customer. As soon as the customer signs off, a service technician can start work.
“It’s very easy for the adviser to present the maintenance to the customer with pricing because of the podding system,” Lee said.
Dealer-FX products including wiAdvisor and its MiCar program for about 125 Mitsubishi dealerships give dealers precise metrics about such issues as customer wait times and how long each step of the service process takes, Kalk says.
Frank Ferrara, a senior adviser to Dealer-FX and a former executive vice president of customer satisfaction at Hyundai Motor America, says the kind of data produced by wiAdvisor allows dealerships and automakers to pinpoint areas where they can improve.
“You can pretty quickly look at the data and determine if the dealer has solid processes,” says Ferrara, now principal of the consulting firm Traction Labs.
The ability of Dealer-FX to compete with rival vendors might not be entirely in Kalk’s control, he acknowledges. It could come down to whether service departments buy in to the company’s value proposition.
Kalk insists that DMS integration with his company’s products has been “no issue” in recent years, though some dealers who spoke with Automotive News said it remained an issue at their dealerships. Lee, for instance, said wiAdvisor does not integrate well with Lee Auto Malls’ Reynolds and Reynolds DMS, particularly when it comes to reassigning a VIN to another customer.
“What I’ve heard is that Reynolds and Reynolds makes it somewhat difficult for outside vendors,” he said. “They don’t play as well with outside vendors.”
Tom Schwartz, a spokesman for Reynolds and Reynolds, disputed that notion. He said Dealer-FX is one of more than 150 third-party providers in the Reynolds Certified Interface Program. Schwartz said the program is “tailor-built” by Reynolds for each third-party product to help move data seamlessly.
“If a third-party vendor sees an integration issue with their product, they contact us, and we work with them to resolve the issue,” Schwartz wrote in an email to Automotive News. “To the best of our knowledge, there is no open issue around product integration with Dealer-FX.”
Lack of familiarity
Kalk pins many of the problems dealers report on a lack of familiarity with wiAdvisor’s technology, though he said it is on his company to make sure they know how to use it.
“We take the dealership through an overview of why we’re trying to do this,” Kalk said. “It’s not just, ‘Here’s a tablet; go out and change the way you’re doing things.’ ”
Lee said he finds wiAdvisor to be a net positive for the service department and is looking forward to improvements. “We love the idea of the electronic multipoint inspections,” he said.
Although he’s concerned about DMS integration, “We’re going to give it a go and see how it works.”