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Tully's Words of Wisdom

Tully's Words of Wisdom
October 5, 2022

His enthusiasm for his work, his people, and his customers is the first thing you notice about Tully Williams, Fixed Operations Director at the Niello Company in Northern California. Get him talking about his “hours not dollars” formula for shop capacity and profitability, or his love of new technology, or how he’s in the “repeat and referral business” and you’ll understand why many who know him compare his exuberant style and passion to the best color-commentator of all time: John Madden.    

Tully’s career in fixed ops began while a student at California’s De Anza College where he enrolled in a General Motors Service Tech education program. Upon graduation, he went to work as a tech for a Pontiac, GMC, and DeLorean dealership. With a few years of experience under his belt, he became an entrepreneur, opening Auto Clinic with a partner. Over 15 years it grew to employ eight technicians. 

Ready to return to the dealership fold, Tully took a job as Service Manager at Anderson Chevrolet, moved up to Service Director at Courtesy Chevrolet, and then to Fixed Operations Manager at Del Grande Dealer Group in San Jose. In 2018, he joined the Niello Company. For nearly four years, he’s been in charge of fixed ops for 11 luxury stores, including BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche, Acura, and Volvo. 

It’s all about the hours

Tully is a self-described “disrupter,” and that starts with his belief that fixed ops success is all about the hours. As he said, “We don’t sell dollars, we sell hours. Everything starts with our hours forecast for everyone. This includes techs, parts managers, writers, you name it. Everyone is paid off our hours forecast.” He learned the formula from well-known dealership consultant Randy Brenckman, and as Tully said, “I loved the idea and never looked back.” 

How does it work? Tully adds the hours per day per flat rate tech with the hours per day per hourly tech to find the total available hours for each shop. Next, he adds up the days each writer works to find total working days. Divide total available hours by total working days and you have your hours per day goal. 

Employees know exactly where their shop stands every day because Tully publishes the numbers, and bonuses are tied to hours sold. The formula is simple, encourages everyone to work together, and improves shop efficiency. “Our BMW store, for example, sells an average of 198 hours per day between 27 techs,” said Tully. “Our shop is 130 percent efficient, which means everyone is making more money and we’re serving more customers. It’s a win-win.” 

Don’t get stuck in a rut

Part of being a ‘disrupter’ is embracing change and Tully love change. “Most humans do not like change but you can get yourself stuck in a rut,” he said. “Refuse to change and you miss out on new tech and processes that can help your business.” 

For example, when electronic inspection technology hit the scene Tully embraced it 100 percent. He saw it as a way to deliver a more thorough and professional customer experience. The addition of photo and video capabilities was icing on the cake. “For a customer to see what’s wrong, instead of just being told? That’s the best thing ever,” he explained. 

Tully was also an early adopter of Xtime, the cloud-based service management platform. The technology improved the guest experience, communication between the service team, and the efficiency of the shops. All Niello service departments use the live, online appointment scheduler to have control over their drives. 

“Before, customers went to our website and filled out a form, but now we have real-time access into our appointments,” he said. “Setting up your scheduler is the most important thing a service manager can do because then you can sell capacity. You can load your shop to be successful.”

Jumping into AI

When faced with three BDC employees at Niello’s BMW store leaving for maternity leave at the same time, Tully made one of his biggest technology decisions yet. He implemented Brooke, the customer-facing digital voice assistant (DVA) from Proactive Dealer Solutions of Huntersville, N.C., to answer inbound service calls. 

Tully chose Brooke in part because it integrates fully with his Xtime software. Brooke is also one of the only solutions on the market that leads customers through making a service appointment from start to finish. Others simply text or email customers a link to an online scheduling tool. 

“We were honestly scared about what would happen on the phones while employees were on leave,” Tully said. “We had a 92 percent overall service department call answer rate and we couldn’t let that go away.” Tully found that Brooke was simple to implement, and early customer feedback has been good.

“Customers like the process because it’s easy and they can make an appointment faster than online,” he said. He went on to add, “Our CSI has been great and we are seeing a cost savings as well.”  

Tully understands that it can be scary to take the leap with a DVA, but makes the point that most customers are used to interacting with virtual assistants. “Call any large company and you’re not talking to a human,” he pointed out. “Why should auto repair be any different?” 

Ultimately, Tully counsels his peers not to be scared of new technology. A DVA, just like electronic inspection technology, is there to enhance your people, not replace them. “Humans are our best asset, so any solution we bring in has to help them serve our customers better,” he said.  

The repeat and referral business

Every decision Tully makes goes back to his goal of making it easy for customers to do business with the Niello Company. As he says, “We are in the repeat and referral business. We don’t want to oversell anybody. We do not want to push the envelope. We treat our customers with respect and act with integrity so they trust and enjoy the experience and want to come back.”

Tully understands that employees are the backbone of a great customer experience and the company’s most valuable asset. That’s why he’s committed to fair pay and a positive work environment where there is cooperation, support, and trust. When asked about the current tech shortage plaguing our industry and what to do about it, his answer is to treat people with respect and give them pathways for success. “We have a pathway to $55 per hour for our techs. It takes time and training to get there, but they can do it. We mandate reviews to get them raises and encourage them every step of the way.” 

The drive to succeed

Tully is driven by his passion to deliver the best service experience for his customers. He’s a bold visionary who’s not afraid to implement new technology and processes that challenge the status quo and keep Niello Company moving forward. As John Madden once said, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.” Tully is running at the head of the pack.

Featured in Fixed Ops Magazine

To hear more from Tully Williams check out our Fixed Ops Roundtable Panel: Brooke.ai Meets the Roaring Demands of Roaring 20-Twenties Customer Expectations