Enterprise retail solutions provider Tomax and WHI Solutions, a specialist in technology for automotive retailers and wholesalers, are integrating key solutions to improve the customer experience of the automotive service business.
Announced July 9, the partnership integrates the Tomax Retail.net and CXA (Customer Experience Architecture) applications with the WHI Nexpart e-catalog and e-commerce modules.
"Most retail POS (point of sale) solutions don't understand the concept of order management," said Steve Klingler, senior vice president of Tomax. "Our system has the unique capacity to perform order management in the service retail space, which includes automotive service retailers."
Klingler said automotive service retail is a high-touch customer service environment that requires live associates to interact with and assist customers.
"Associates can be enabled with technologies that help them offer recommendations, locate products and place special orders," Klingler said. "In retail, it is often said the 'magic moment' occurs during the transaction. We think this is after the magic moment; for us it's during the interaction that leads to the transaction."
According to Klingler, the integrated Tomax-WHI product suite will enable automotive service retailers to provide a rich customer experience as soon as a shopper pulls his or her car into the parking lot.
"The retailer can meet the customer in the lot and start consulting and selling products and services right there," he said. "We make the experience personalized based on a retailer's image and the type of experience they want to offer."
While the Tomax solutions perform tasks such as merchandise planning, store operations management, CRM, work force optimization and exception-based performance management, the WHI modules will manage data content functions, such as parts ordering, as well as e-commerce and ERP tasks.
Kevin Culpepper, vice president of data content solutions for WHI, said the Tomax partnership will help automotive service retailers stay current with their technology infrastructure.
"Most players [in the automotive service technology market] are small, regional systems providers running legacy systems," Culpepper said. As a result, "Automotive services retailers are years behind the rest of the market."
Brett McVey, director of service retail for Tomax, said service retailers differentiate themselves in how they interact with customers before the transaction.
McVey said for automotive service retailers, these interactions can include greeting and identifying customers, identifying customer vehicles and vehicle service histories, obtaining information on recommendations and bulletins from vehicle manufacturers, and creating and delivering service price estimates.
"It's not configuration management, but a framework to integrate these requirements with other requirements that don't differentiate the retailer from their competitors," McVey said.
George Lawrie, an analyst with Forrester Research, said the Tomax-WHI integration will help automotive service retailers create the sense of trust and expertise that is necessary for a successful customer experience in the automotive service industry.
"It's partly about getting the right data and partly about the way that data can be configured as a flow," Lawrie said. "The associate becomes an expert, but can show you where their information comes from."
He said the underlying architecture of the integrated solution will enable automotive service retailers to configure data flows and easily change how consumers are walked through data.
Lawrie said with many aspects of retail being commoditized, customer experience is one of the major remaining means by which retailers can differentiate themselves. He said this is especially important for automotive service retailers, since many consumers are not familiar with how their cars work and tend to be suspicious of service recommendations.
"The next thing that would be interesting is allowing customers to do this experience at home before they go anywhere," he said. "We're still a little way off from that happening."
Dan Berthiaume covers the retail space for eWEEK. For more industry news, check out eWEEK.com's Retail Site.