Automotive group assures great customer service, improved productivity, enhanced security with Microsoft 365

Hendrick Automotive Group prides itself on providing premium customer service for everyone who enters its dealerships. With a new breed of informed, always-connected customers, the company wants to assure its dealerships provide a modern, transparent experience. By implementing Microsoft 365, Hendrick Automotive Group has improved communications with customers, sped sales and service interactions, and lowered operating costs, all while being less invasive than any other upgrade in company history.

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“Moving to Microsoft 365 was important to us for broader functionality, improved security, and more transparent conversations with customers.”

- Amy Frost, Director of Engineering, Hendrick Automotive Group

Hendrick Automotive Group is one of the largest privately owned automotive dealership groups in the United States. The Charlotte, North Carolina–based company operates more than 130 dealerships, collision centers, accessories dealership installers, and support offices across the country and employs more than 10,000 professionals. At its core, Hendrick Automotive Group is dedicated to serving its employees and delivering a premium experience to its customers, whether on the showroom floor, in the service center, or in the parts department.

Though this guiding principle has remained the same since the company’s inception in 1976, the way Hendrick Automotive Group goes about exceeding its customers’ expectations has changed drastically with the times. “Our customers today are more educated about our products than they’ve ever been in the past,” says Robert Taylor, Vice President of Information Technology at Hendrick Automotive Group. “They’ve fallen in love with a specific vehicle, so they know every single nut and bolt. It’s our job not to diminish that level of excitement, and the Microsoft 365 experience is an important part of how we meet expectations.”

For Taylor, part of the premium experience that Hendrick Automotive Group delivers is technological. This includes the way customers access the internet at dealerships, the solutions that enable employees to share information with customers, and the familiarity that comes with modern operating systems and devices.

Traditionally, businesses looking to update their technology will wait until their hardware needs replacing and then opt to switch over to the newest, most feature-rich operating environment. Without the presence of an alternative, Hendrick Automotive Group had undergone this process a number of times itself. Installing up to 400 new computers in each of the company’s 96 locations across 14 states had been a slow process, which demanded the involvement of a sizable onsite IT team.

As a result of these time-consuming rollouts, leadership at Hendrick Automotive Group found it difficult to operate the business from a single, unified platform. The search for a better solution was on.

Moving to the modern workplace

Windows 7, the company’s existing operating system, will reach the end of support in 2020. With the concepts of easing future technological transitions and providing a premium experience to employees and customers, company leadership chose to implement Microsoft 365—a complete, intelligent solution that includes Windows 10, Office 365, and the Enterprise Mobility + Security suite. Because the capabilities of each of these are constantly expanding, companies can more easily keep their operating environments current.

“Moving to Microsoft 365 was important to us for broader functionality, improved security, and more transparent conversations with customers,” says Amy Frost, Director of Engineering at Hendrick Automotive Group. “We also wanted our end users to have the same computing experience at work that they do at home. It increases efficiency right from the start. We’ve even had employees teach us a few new tricks, just because they were already familiar with the solution.”

One such employee is Retail Operations Manager Jhoda Edquist. “I’m an Excel fan, an Outlook fan. I use Word all the time,” says Edquist. “I’m copied in real time when we get a new lead. When new customers come in, I can print out a spreadsheet that shows them the percentages of price, miles, and of certified preowned vehicles. It’s all about making our customer conversations convenient, transparent, and full of value. And we can do that with Microsoft 365 technology.”

Easing the transition

The next hurdle for leadership was finding a way to minimize the disruption that comes with hardware replacement. Starting with a handful of the company’s newest computers, leadership began to explore the concept of in-place upgrades. “With an in-place upgrade to Windows 10, our end users keep their files,” says Frost. “Everything remains just where they left it, including their computer. The upgrade is done overnight, and they can hit the ground running first thing in the morning.”

To help assure that Windows 10 was configured for every aspect of the company’s work environment, Hendrick Automotive Group engaged with Microsoft for assistance. Microsoft helped the company build a baseline configuration that worked well with all of its third-party applications, after which deployment began. “When we started this project, we thought in-place upgrades would be useful for a handful of newer computers, but that most of our hardware would need replacing,” says Frost. “But when we saw the benefits of those upgrades, we stopped replacing hardware. We decided to use that budget for something else.”

Even in the most rural of dealership locations, where download speeds are limited, Hendrick Automotive Group has been able to complete its upgrades overnight. By making use of peer caching, a refinement to the upgrade process introduced with Windows 10, the company can download Microsoft 365 update files to a single computer and then distribute the update to the rest of a dealership’s network Thanks to peer caching, Hendrick Automotive Group has reduced its dependence on download speeds and assured quick, seamless adoption.

In-place upgrades have been a sweeping success. No longer do dealerships need to manage a large IT presence or prolonged installation periods. Instead, a single IT representative arrives on the morning of the upgrade to answer questions and assure deployment. For the Hendrick Automotive Group IT team, this has meant a dramatic reduction in work hours for each upgrade and a faster overall adoption rate. The process of upgrading every compatible computer across the company, which took years in the past, has only taken months this time. Furthermore, future updates will be a single night’s work, with minimal support from IT needed in the morning.

Modernizing operations

To take advantage of the unified, cross-device user experience created by Windows 10, Hendrick Automotive Group has introduced more mobile devices to its dealerships, including Microsoft Surface and HP devices, smartphones, and tablets. “We chose Surface over other devices because Microsoft has, over the last few years, moved the market,” says Taylor. “We wanted our technology to come from a company capable of seeing a need and creating the device to fill it. That’s what Surface does.”

Sales representatives can now take their devices to the lot with customers, meaning conversations concerning options, pricing and inventory can take place on the hood of the buyer’s potential new car. These firstline employees frequently manage single-use devices provisioned to keep them and their customers focused on the task at hand. “I think we’re all guilty of distraction from notifications and texts these days,” says Taylor. “These single-use devices allow our workers to keep those distractions at bay, while assuring us that the device will work as intended 100 percent of the time. If a device breaks, we can easily replace it with a new one that operates exactly the same way.”

By using Office Mobile apps, these employees can pull up Office 365 ProPlus to access Excel sheets detailing the specifics of a potential sale price and share them with customers, increasing transparency. Similar gains in transparency and communication have been realized in dealership auto shops. “We’ve empowered our technicians with the latest and greatest Surface devices, so they can connect to the vehicles, troubleshoot any issues, and directly communicate with our customers as the work is being done,” says Taylor. “All of that is made possible through the use of Windows 10 and Office 365.”

Realizing change

Hendrick Automotive Group has implemented the Microsoft 365 experience, easily adopted platform across multiple devices for its employees and customers. The transition has come at a much lower cost in terms of IT working hours, hardware maintenance and replacement, and dealership productivity loss.
“Moving to Office 365 meant we didn’t need to operate Outlook or Skype for Business from on-premises servers or hire a massive server maintenance team,” says Frost. “Instead, Microsoft created and maintains our server infrastructure for us.”  

The company has also enhanced the partnership between employees working in its headquarters and those in dealerships. “The ability for us to remotely deploy and manage our new platform has been a godsend,” says Taylor. “We’ve been able to automate more than ever before, allowing our 51 IT employees in Charlotte, North Carolina, to support each of their 10,000 teammates and a $9 billion entity. We’re in our fortieth year of operation, and the work that we’re doing now is helping lay the groundwork for the next 40 years at Hendrick Automotive Group.”

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.