3 Questions: E-enabling traditional small businesses

The president and CEO of OnStation weighs in on the benefits in revenue and customer feedback of CRMs for small businesses.

By Susan Kuchinskas

With Phillip Whalen, president and CEO of OnStation. The company just released a new version of its OnStation ShopConnect CRM product for automotive service shops. It's a hosted application priced on the utility model.

This interview originally appeared in the IT Business Edge weekly report on Ebaling Electronic Business. To see a complete listing of IT Business Edge weekly reports or sign up for this free technology intelligence agent, visit

Question: Often, companies that are not running as full-blown e-businesses can actually get greater benefits and ROI when they enable applications like CRM. Do you agree?

Whalen: Shops using the system are seeing tremendous results in revenue and in customer feedback. Shop managers are finding that OnStation ShopConnect CRM is generating approximately $60,000 in annual revenue. The average repair order in response to each maintenance service reminder is $280. Shop owners are getting a 15 to 20 percent actual service rate on the e-mail reminders, and a nearly 25 percent response rate on customer satisfaction surveys.

Question: How does the hosted service work for this type of business?

Whalen: While over 50 percent of shops do have computers, these are folks who have cars to fix. They don't want to be computer experts or spend all day on the computer. We recognized that and designed the service to be what I like to call "touchless." Utility computing solves this industry's problems, and they don't have to worry about "Where's the next CD?" or, "How do I do my upgrade?" We integrate with major shop management systems, provide a little wizard-based install and our system automatically links with the shop management system and extracts all the customer info.

Question: What are the challenges of offering an e-business app to an industry that isn't highly automated?

Whalen: One potential challenge is that businesses like these have had absolutely no reason in the past to collect e-mail addresses. Therefore, as part of our offering, when we get our first download of customer information, we do a match against a national database of e-mail addresses. We end up getting about a 20 percent match rate [of e-mail addresses for the shop's customers]. Then, we send a customized e-mail from the shop saying that they're initiating this new program and asking them to opt in.

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