The centerpiece of the modern parts counter is the electronic catalog terminal. Never before has such a concentrated wealth of information and functionality been as accessible and convenient to our employees and our customers as it is today.
While many of our younger co-workers never have experienced a world without “computers,” a considerable number of us remember the good (?) old days of card files, double-decker catalog racks and handwritten invoices. If you sold paint, those mixing formulas were stored on microfiche, and every parts store had cabinets full of paper files arranged for rapid retrieval of old invoices, packing lists and customer credit information.
Today, all of those functions and more are readily available through our POS systems, and great parts specialists across the country use the wealth of information found in our e-cats to provide superior customer service every day. Cataloging is sophisticated enough that even the general public can follow along with the prompts and walk-throughs to select and order parts for their own vehicle online. But for all of the ease and information contained in our e-cats, we still are limited to the information supplied by our vendors. Like paper catalogs, e-cats are finite resources containing only what the suppliers have instructed the coders to include.
Cataloging parts can be a lot like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. No problem if all of the pieces are in the box, right? But what if some of those pieces slipped off the table, or even worse, your cat batted one under the couch? Where else are you going to look around for those missing pieces? Outside the box, of course!
There’s still a world of valuable information beyond the e-cat for parts specialists who have the desire, drive and skill to search for it. The most obvious is the internet. You probably already use your vendors’ websites for additional information. Your store undoubtedly has an online presence with additional resources, but so do all of your competitors. Have you ever taken their websites for a test drive?
Consider the Competition
If you’re having trouble finding something within your own “usual” catalog options, consider looking for it through your competition. Other manufacturers may use different criteria to identify their part among multiple vehicle options than those used by your company. Sometimes a customer can’t answer the questions you’re prompted to ask, so ask a different question! It also gives you some insight into any features and benefits of competitive products, and allows you to compare your product to others on the market. While most e-catalogs have an “all-brands” search option allowing you to search for competitive products – and an interchange to convert those back to your own brands – sometimes a wide-open internet search will uncover brands and components that you never knew existed.
The internet also is full of photos, diagrams, forum conversations and videos that can aid the parts specialist in making a sale or assisting a customer with installation or identification information. I’ve always been blessed to have open access to the web in order to do my job, and I know this isn’t always the case at every store. But I have to wonder, for those employers who tightly restrict web access, if you can’t trust your counter staff to use the internet responsibly, then why are you trusting them with your inventory and your customer base?
In addition to the many (legitimate) uses of the internet, we also work closely with a network of experts and enthusiasts every day – our co-workers. We also deal with shop owners, technicians, dealership parts departments and hobbyists on a daily basis, and you likely have a friend or two who owes you a favor at one of these accounts.
Think of how many times you’ve taken an “information-only” phone call from a valued customer. They wanted advice, a measurement, fluid specification, confirmation of a part number, or some other piece of information that you had access to but they didn’t. Those calls work both ways! Seek your customers’ knowledge in the same way they seek yours, and never be too proud to ask for help. Technicians keep their toolboxes stocked with many different kinds of tools, each well-suited for performing different repairs. Our “toolbox” needs to be just as well-stocked with knowledge and information, and sometimes we need to loan a tool here and there too!