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Auto/Mate: The “By Car People, For Car People” DMS Provider

As featured in the February 2010 issue of Digital Dealer
 
Auto/Mate CEO Mike Esposito established a simple mission statement for the dealer management system (DMS) company when he took its reins four years ago: “provide the best software and the best support for dealer customers.”
 
The statement speaks equally to Esposito’s belief in how any software company should treat its customers and the company’s “do it right or die” business model. “We don’t have any long-term contracts with our customers,” he says. “We have to earn our stripes every month, and we strive every day to do just that.”
 
Auto/Mate’s rapid growth in the past several years-since 2005, the company has added more than 300 new customers for a total of nearly 600 dealerships-is owed to efforts to evolve and upgrade its system offerings to meet the ever-changing needs of today’s dealers and provide top-tier support when customers need assistance or guidance.
 
“Ours is a different philosophy than other DMS providers,” Esposito says. “I think it shows in the satisfaction ratings and comments we hear from our customers.”
 
Indeed, Auto/Mate and its Automotive Management Productivity Suite (AMPS) earned top ranks from dealers in NADA’s bi-annual survey of dealership system providers in the fall of last year. The company earned industry-best rankings in 12 of the survey’s 16 DMS satisfaction categories- a showing that surpassed any other DMS provider in the survey. The categories include “overall customer service department satisfaction,” “availability of customer service representatives,” “maintenance of the dealer’s daily business with minimal interruption,” and “prompt follow-up to handle the needs of dealership staff.”
 
Esposito views the results as affirmation that the company’s 100 employees are committed to its “best software, best support” mission. “The results are a real endorsement from our customers,” he says. “They validate the work we’ve been doing to improve the caliber of our service and support.”

 

Auto/Mate customers applaud one-on-one support

The top-tier satisfaction ratings Auto/Mate received in the NADA survey match feedback from Auto/Mate customers. “I love Auto/ Mate’s customer support,” says Pat Scheurer, office manager for Garvey VW/Kia, Queensbury, N.Y. “I can call them anytime and they’ll work with me through every step I need.”
 
“It’s nice to get a real person who’s able to help you,” adds Gardiner Reynolds, CIO for Saccucci Honda, Middletown, R.I. “With our previous DMS vendor, I’d have to go through their automated phone system and I’d spend hours in the hold queue.”
 
Esposito says the satisfaction from dealer customers flows from the company’s strategy for staffing its customer service group. “Our ‘by car people, for car people’ slogan is true,” Esposito says. “We have a combined 300 years of dealership experience on our team. The chances are strong that when a customer calls with a support question, the person they talk to will have sat in the same chair in the dealership.”
 
Dealer Ron Poulin of Poulin Auto Country, Rochester, N.H., appreciates Auto/Mate’s “no charge” approach to providing day-today support. “With our former DMS vendor, every call we made to them was a service call and they’d charge us accordingly. It felt like they were taking us for granted, or for a ride.”
 
Esposito notes Auto/Mate has worked hard to enhance its customer training and support through the launch of its “Just In Time Training” feature, which provides task-specific help menus if a customer encounters a question or issue when using the system.
 
“It’s not like other software products where you have to drill down into help menus to find the task or topic for which you need assistance,” he says. “Our help prompts are ‘screen-sensitive,’ which effectively feeds the information a customer needs at the moment they need it.”
 
Auto/Mate also provides “update alerts” to ensure customers are aware of system upgrades as they are launched. “The improvements we made to our customer training can be seen in the 20 percent reduction we’ve seen in support calls in the past year,” Esposito says. “We’re working on additional improvements to ensure new managers and staff at dealerships get any training they need on our system as they move into their new roles in a dealership.”
 

History and overview of Auto/Mate’s AMPS Package

Auto/Mate’s roots date back to the F&I system developed by Wang Industries that became an industry standard in F&I offices across the country years ago. Following Wang’s closure in the 1970s, the company’s chief software architect, Steve Fullum, founded Auto/Mate with his three brothers and a vision to build a DMS that would offer a more affordable and user-friendly alternative to systems offered by the industry’s two top DMS providers.
 
“The company’s origins fit the classic mold of entrepreneurs literally scratching out their ideas on a napkin,” says Esposito “The company’s founding principles of providing best-in-class software at an affordable price have not changed since then.”
 
Under Esposito’s leadership, the company has continued the evolution of its software package, providing more robust modules to suit the needs of individual dealership departments and maintaining its “no long-term contract” approach to providing its system to dealers. AMPS also costs 75% less than other DMS solutions.
 
“We’re different than our competitors who are constantly charging for items that the dealers are not aware of when they sign their contracts,” Esposito says. “There are typically no surprises when our invoices arrive.”
 
While Auto/Mate’s approach to its customers and pricing has remained constant, the company has continued to upgrade the AMPS system to meet dealer needs and leverage advances in technology.
 
For example, in early 2009, the company launched an integrated electronic time clock to make its Payroll module more efficient. The time clock gives all employees the ability to clock in and out on their PCs, and lets administrators seamlessly load employee times into the payroll system. Auto/Mate released this time- and paper-saving upgrade to customers free of charge.
 
Auto/Mate has also continued to improve its ability to convert and integrate data from other DMS providers and systems as dealers make the switch to AMPS. “We believe we do the best job of converting data,” Esposito says. “Dealers don’t have to maintain and reference hard copies of past customer information when they switch to AMPS.”
 
Another AMPS upgrade: CRM functionality. As dealers have become more aggressive about maintaining relationships with their customers, whether they’re in sales, service/parts or F&I, Auto/Mate has updated its Customer/Mate module to offer a one-stop repository for customer data. The company is working to integrate this information with marketing tools to allow dealers and managers to launch and manage e-mail and other marketing campaigns to reach specific customers for select promotions.
 
“Ours is a process of continuous improvement to our system,” Esposito says. “The beauty of the car business is that it’s never static or routine, and we understand our system must meet this ever-changing evolution at every turn.”
 

AMPS Reporting: Part of the evolution to a ‘paperless’ store

About six years ago, Brian McBride of McBride Chevrolet/Subaru, Plattsburgh, N.Y., was tired of seeing increases in his monthly DMS bill. It had reached $6,000 a month and, when his provider contract was due to expire, he went shopping. He chose Auto/Mate as his new vendor, due in large part to the $4,500 a month savings he’d achieve by making the switch.
 
But McBride had a secondary issue that also drove his decision to select Auto/Mate. “The reporting tools were an afterthought on the previous system,” McBride says. “I’m a technically literate guy and I couldn’t get the information I wanted. With Auto/Mate, the ease of access to your data through the dashboard is a night and day difference. You don’t need to learn programming language to build your first report.”
 
The AMPS system dashboard allows dealers and managers to customize “widgets” or indicators to track the information they care about most- sales gross, service gross, parts gross, product penetrations in F&I- in near real-time. The dashboard effectively replaces the paper reports many dealers and managers have relied on for years.
 
“I hate seeing paper on my desk,” says dealer Ron Poulin. “The Auto/Mate dashboard gives me all the things I need right there on the screen.”
 
Esposito believes Auto/Mate’s reporting functions, which integrate with Microsoft Excel for easy-to-do creation of charts and graphs, will help more customers meet their goals of “paperless stores,” while allowing dealers and managers to run their stores and departments more efficiently and effectively.
 
“We know we’re doing something right when dealers tell us they’re creating their own widgets on the dashboard,” he says with a laugh.
 

Auto/Mate and AMPS for the future

Esposito expects strong growth for the company in the coming year as more dealers feel the pinch of a slowed economy and look for ways to reduce monthly expenses and provide greater efficiencies. “For many dealers, a change to a different DMS provider can bring significant savings,” he says, estimating the Auto/Mate system runs 25 percent of the price tag for larger DMS providers.
 
The company also plans enhancements to its customer training and support as new technologies enable greater use of online and remote-connection services. An example: Automated notification of training needs when new personnel become system users in dealerships.
 
“We’ve got a bright future ahead and look forward to being the DMS partner-of-choice for more dealers,” Esposito says.
 

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