Software Solutions July/August 2022

Choosing a System That Works for Your Business

By Rebecca J. Barnabi

The days of writing an order on a piece of paper are long gone. Auto glass software makes it possible for technicians, particularly when mobile, to fill customer orders and provide services with the push of a few buttons. Glass Biller owner Nick Minard says people think auto glass software is a billing and invoice platform. “And that isn’t really what it is. It’s a job management system,” Minard says. A technician manages each job from providing a quote for a customer, placing a parts order, tracking it through the system, and creating an invoice.

According to Minard, a great deal of information provided by auto glass software is specific to auto glass jobs, such as mobile work, scheduling, and the length of time to perform an installation. Access to NAGS part numbers and pricing is also key.

Only for Auto Glass

Omega EDI offers software for repair and replacement technicians that allows users to select NAGS parts, review pricing, create quotes, manage scheduling, integrate with vendors and communicate with insurance carriers, explains Aric Haarala, vice president and co-owner.

Haarala says auto-glass-specific software is unique because it provides access to the NAGS database. “It’s catered to our industry,” he says. Access to the NAGS database and the ability to integrate with parts suppliers is very particular to auto glass. Technicians can find where parts for repair and replacement are available, what parts will cost and send invoices to auto insurance companies.

“Technology systemizes things and makes it more efficient and more accurate,” says Haarala.

Mark Haeck, vice president of business development for Mainstreet Computers, explains that the company offers different solutions for auto glass and flat glass due to the intricacies involved with the former.

According to Haeck, auto-glass-specific software provides access to the right parts for starters. Non-auto glass products do not allow looking up the right vehicle and finding parts, including OEM and NAGS. “The auto glass software is really the best,” Haeck says. Non-auto glass software also does not provide auto insurance billing through EDI.

Haeck adds that Mainstreet provides a tech app for technicians on their smartphones and other mobile devices to view information and save additional details about a job. Technicians can also scan VINs, upload photos, and further document the vehicle’s condition.

Mainstreet provides payment management with credit card payments. “You don’t have to use multiple systems to get your job done. Our goal is to streamline your business, so everything flows into one place,” Haeck says.

The Good, the Bad and the Cost

Haarala recommends evaluating what you like about your software when thinking about switching. Is efficiency, accuracy or speed important for your business? “And make sure you’re choosing something that accomplishes those things,” he says. He also suggests thinking about what your business will need in a few years. “You don’t want to make a change again,” says Haarala.

Technicians and shop owners should make sure the software they are considering is the most up-to-date with today’s code language and ready to accept update changes later. “That’s the benefit of modern software,” he says, adding that it is essential to challenge pricing. “Make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.”

Haeck suggests trying the new software by asking for a demo version and spending time with it to see if it fits your needs. “Ask questions,” Haeck says. “The only dumb question is the one not asked.”

Peter Brown, president of Tiny & Sons Glass in Pembroke, Mass., suggests paying attention to storage parameters. “Because now we have to store the [data] up to five years,” he says.

Haarala strongly encourages technicians not to switch software companies to save money. “Switch to better your business,” he says. He says to differentiate between products that provide job management, and those that provide accounting services. If you look for sophisticated accounting information in the job management software, you will be disappointed. And if you’re looking for job information in your accounting software, you will also be frustrated, he says.

Consider Data Access

Minard says if a customer wants to leave Glass Biller, their data remains in the system, and the company does not use it. Glass Biller stores different data for technicians, including scheduling of jobs, vehicle information, parts needed and costs. This also includes customer information such as emails, addresses and insurance information to allow easy access for technicians.

“It’s very easy, we think, to import all of your customer data and [the technician’s data],” Minard says of switching to his software company. The difficulty in switching is importing job details. Minard says he encourages customers who come to his company to prepare to create new job data but gather old information on an Excel sheet or other storage space for future use.

Minard says having enough information is not the problem. The dilemma is helping users understand how to use it then make changes to improve their business.

He suggests starting with simple information gathered that may benefit your business. An example might be: how much does your company make on cash jobs versus insurance jobs? “That would be a pretty simple way to use your data to help your business,” he says.

Before changing software suppliers, Haarala suggests finding out if they own their data from the previous software and if they can access it. He says some competitors make it difficult for customers to retrieve their data and leave a software company. “You own your data,” Haarala says. “If a customer wants their data, they can have it.” This includes a shop’s customer history records, parts purchased when and for what, appointment times and when appointments ended, financial and business process data. Shops should also look at data that can inform technicians about a customer’s history with the shop and how best to take care of that customer now and in the future.

Haeck says Mainstreet keeps customer files for shops on the Cloud, including invoices. “We maintain that data indefinitely, and adds that Mainstreet does not share customer information. Every customer quote, invoice and insurance billing process is saved. “Everything is maintained and kept for the customer on file,” he says.

A Technician’s Wish List

Vic Ng has owned and operated Express Auto Glass in Hoboken, N.J., for 20 years. He says he switched software providers a few years ago when his current system did not update enough to keep up with NAGS information. And according to Ng, the VIN look-up was not good either. “You have to keep modern with the times and what the [auto glass] customer wants,” Ng says. Some customers do not even know what their vehicles have, such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and Lane-Keep Assistance. Ng says the system he uses now, eDirect Glass, frequently upgrades and allows him to serve his customers better. Ng says he wants to be able to use software to confirm parts before he spends gas money to drive out to a job.

Sean Dodson opened Hoodoo Glass in Farmington, N.M., on June 1, after 15 years in the business. Before starting his own company, Dodson worked with a few different software providers but knew that one of them would best fit the needs of his new business. GTS offers GlasPacLX, which he says is windows-based, user-friendly and integrates well with Quick Books. “It’s a no-brainer,” Dodson says.

Brown says he worked with several software suppliers, all of which are now out of business, before finding a good fit with Mainstreet 15 years ago. “It was the best thing I ever did,” he says. The company’s software allows integration with Third Party Administrators, and suppliers, all while providing mobile access. “It’s perfect,” says Brown. Each technician at Tiny & Sons has a cellphone and tablet with access to the Mainstreet app.

A good software company also provides customer support. “What impresses me the most with Mainstreet is service,” Brown says. If there is an issue with the software, the company handles the problem right away so Tiny & Sons can get back to business.

By the VIN: Decoders Provide Efficiency for Technicians

Behind the work of every auto glass technician are the tools necessary to accomplish windshield replacements and repairs. The technician’s job is more complex since the introduction of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). Still, Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) decoders greatly assist in helping get the job done right the first time. These tools eliminate the ordering of inaccurate parts and misquoting incorrect information. Returning wrong parts can require paying a surcharge, going to the customer twice and spending extra time on a job. For these reasons, VIN decoders are becoming increasingly important to shop owners.

“[VIN decoders are] extremely helpful to get the correct car parts,” says Jacques Navant, technical director of Don’s Mobile Glass.

According to Aric Haarala, vice president and co-owner of Omega EDI in Utah, VIN decoders decode a vehicle out of a VIN and have been around for 20 years. What people are looking for today is VIN to part identification services, which are different than a VIN decoder, he explains.

“We actually launched our VIN-to-part match before we launched our auto glass software. It was always our intention to start there,” Haarala says.

Rick Valentine owns Intermountain Auto Glass in Boise, Idaho, and began using VIN decoders three years ago. He says a VIN must be run through a decoder before ordering any glass part, especially with newer vehicles.

For that reason, he uses three decoders. “We use all three and hope we get two that match,” he says.

“Most customers have no idea the features that are in their vehicle,” Valentine says. The customer cannot accurately tell a CSR which windshield is necessary for their vehicle. Valentine says most customers say: “‘Oh, it’s just the basic model,’ and most of the time that’s not true.” Some vehicle manufacturers require calling a dealership for the part number. “There are a lot of parts that don’t pull up on VIN decoders,” he says.

Better and Soon to Be Bigger

In 2018, Neural Claim System (NCS) created an artificial intelligence-based application for insurance companies to validate claims. NCS president Jim Larson says policyholders submit photos of vehicle damage to the application. On replacements, technicians would sometimes order the wrong windshield part for a vehicle. “On the backend, we found that insurance carriers were getting billed for the wrong piece of glass,” Larson says. “We realized the glass industry as a whole needed this,” Larson says of the development of Neural Glass Solution (NGS), which started back in August 2020. Testing and building a database followed. In April 2022, NGS began beta testing with auto glass shops such as Don’s Mobile Glass.

“It’s fantastic, especially with so many [new ADAS] features,” Navant says of NGS. Navant says any vehicle may have multiple windshields that fit an opening, but the windshield correct for that vehicle is the windshield that matches the vehicle’s ADAS features. “Products like [NGS] streamline that process.” When a VIN is entered, the technician receives a build sheet.

A customer service representative at Don’s Mobile using NGS reached 100% accuracy for the month of beta testing. “Which, I guess, had never been done before,” Larson says.

Larson says NGS is different than other VIN decoders because it utilizes vehicle build sheet data, which usually is only available from dealerships, in conjunction with NGS proprietary part matching. Larson says it encourages glass manufacturers and vendors to use NGS as insurance companies are already using it. Larson says he was surprised that the auto glass industry did not adopt the use of build sheet data sooner.

“Because that’s the most accurate and efficient way you can determine for certain which windshield goes into that vehicle,” Larson says.

He adds that NGS will inform a user when calibration is necessary. In the third quarter of 2022, NCS hopes that NGS will also determine which kind of calibration a vehicle requires and parts availability through distributors.

Safety First

Navant says many first go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s VIN decoder when searching for a part. “We actually use that as well because if there are issues with ADAS features, they are great about posting TSB’s [technical service bulletins],” Navant says. A technician searching for a vehicle part can first try NHTSA’s decoder to check for safety recalls before replacing a windshield. For example, Subaru’s mounted camera has been known to get too hot and stop working. Acura has also announced recalls on windshield mounted cameras.

“One of the most important parts of calibration and working on a vehicle with ADAS features is a pre-scan,” Navant says. After a pre-scan, technicians check with NHTSA for recalls before proceeding with a job. “That way, you’re acknowledging the problem before you get started,” Navant says.

Software Smarts

Mainstreet Computers provides auto glass software, and Mark Haeck, vice president of business development, says in 2004, the company added VIN lookup to its software at customers’ request. The ability to quickly lookup VINs was a convenience, not a necessity.

“It wasn’t as critical as today,” Haeck says. “It’s pretty tough [today] not to have a software with VIN lookup.”

Haeck says manufacturers sometimes have half-year models of vehicles in the past. A new model might come out in the middle of the year and be considered 2022 1/2. “The only way you know you have the right part is if you have the VIN,” he says. The average technician could not know by looking at the vehicle that it was a half-year model.

The difference between VIN decoders with a software system like Mainstreet’s and NAGS is that NAGS requires the input of the vehicle’s year, make and model. Mainstreet’s software will provide access to NAGS, which lists glass options. “But the VIN helps drill down [the exact part],” Haeck says.

Decoding the Future

Haarala says VIN-to-part match data will always be a work in progress. Each year, information for new model years is added, and errors can happen at any time along the way, including data sourced directly from the dealer. “We just don’t have enough data to reliably say what glass goes into every vehicle,” Haarala says.

“I think it’s going to become as common as a caulking gun in glass shops,” Navant says of VIN decoders assisting shops to run their businesses efficiently and effectively. “It can be the difference between a five- or 20-minute conversation with your customer.”

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