Assistant or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Field Ops

Buying and selling cars isn’t easy. Not only is it a large transaction, it’s a highly regulated one. To top it all off, here at Shift we believe you shouldn’t have to complete it at a dealership. You should be able to buy a car on your own turf whether that’s your home, your office, or your SoulCycle. Luckily we have a crack team of Car Enthusiasts (CEs) to make this possible. To make their job possible we have Assistant. Assistant is the internal iPad app used by our field teams on all types of appointments. Throughout the development process we keep three core tenets in mind.

One Stop Shop

Being a CE at Shift is complicated. On any given day you could have multiple test drives, evaluations, seller or buyer returns, deliveries, pickups, and vehicle transfers. Beyond the time spent with the customer, each of these appointments involves travel, some kind of preparation work and some follow up such as writing notes about what happened during the appointment and next steps. It’s our job to make Assistant the only software CEs need to complete these complex tasks.

This starts with the Agenda, a schedule view of upcoming appointments, breaks, and miscellaneous tasks. From here, CEs can access general information about an appointment, including notes on prior communication and car details like the CarFax report. They can also cancel appointments from the Agenda in case something comes up last minute, either for the CE or the customer. Finally, they can start the appointment flow and follow its specific processes.

Looking ahead, Assistant will become more than just the tool for each CE’s day to day job, but their one stop shop for all things Shift. This starts with schedule management, including setting a preferred schedule, requesting time off, swapping shifts, and picking up extra shifts.

Simplicity vs Flexibility

Flexibility was king when we designed and built the first version of Assistant. At the time, every sale and acquisition was unique, and an app that enforced a rigid process could cause more harm than good. So we decided to push the responsibility of knowing what to do next onto the CEs. The result was a dashboard style app where any action you might perform on an appointment, such as checking an ID or collecting a cashier’s check, was available at all times. This worked well for the experienced CEs, but not so much for new folks, and even our most experienced CEs could and did make mistakes.

Things have changed since we first launched Assistant – car sales and acquisitions follow consistent and predictable processes, quickly training CEs is a priority to expand to new markets, and Los Angeles has not one, but two professional football teams. All of these have led us to redesign Assistant for all of our workflows. Our new mantra is simplicity, and our goal is to build an app that’s so easy to use that our CEOs can sell a car. Now when a CE opens a test drive or delivery, they enter a wizard-like flow, directing them through the car sale process. While this has been successful at reducing errors and training time, there are downsides to losing flexibility. We’re continually working to strike the right balance between simplicity and flexibility. For example, we just added a slide out menu with information and actions that are useful throughout an appointment such as calling the customer, collecting a deposit, or reading the inspection report.

Analytics and Telemetry

The final piece of Assistant, and the one in which we’ve invested the least so far, is its capabilities as an analytical data source. With reliable data about what happens when on appointments, we can improve our processes and software in a number of ways. We can make more accurate predictions of how long appointments will take when scheduling, understand the difference between predicted and actual travel time, and prioritize which parts of Assistant need to be streamlined for quicker appointments and a better experience.

Beyond using Assistant data to measure and improve future performance, this data will have huge implications for managing our day to day operations. As soon as an appointment is running late or a CE gets caught in traffic, Assistant will inform our scheduler which will be able to manage these delays on the fly and re-assign any future appointments if necessary.  

Built on these guiding principles, Assistant delivers a delightful experience not only to our customers but our CEs as well. Of course there’s still an almost limitless amount of work to be done – whether a new feature like financing integration in test drives, a whole new project like the aforementioned schedule management system, or something we haven’t thought of yet. If you’re interested in helping build this exciting future, we’re hiring.