It’s one of those days, weeks, months.
Customers keep coming in waves and your shop is crazier than it’s ever been. The bays and parking lot are completely full, your waiting room has guests who are waiting to speak with a service writer and you can’t catch your breath trying to keep it all organized.
In other words, your policies and procedures broke down. The systems that worked when business was slower fell apart as you grew, and now you’re left trying to pick up the pieces or the shop morale will take a dive and your customers’ trust will fall right along with it.
This scenario is as frustrating as it gets in the auto repair industry. You always dream of a steady stream of customers, but when they start arriving, your production pipeline breaks down, leading to backups, frustration, and, ultimately, dissatisfied customers.
What is the only way to break these production bottlenecks and efficiency problems? You need to have the proper policies and procedures in place. Unless your team knows their roles and how to help manage the huge wave of customers, the problem will keep recurring.
But how do you accomplish this?
First, I want to acknowledge that “policies and procedures” can seem like a bad word. Nobody wants to make rules, and not many people like being the “bad guy” who has to enforce them.
But, when you do it right, policies don’t have to be a negative thing. In fact, they help improve your work environment, your employees’ job satisfaction, and your shop’s level of customer satisfaction and employee retention.
If you’ve ever felt that your employees didn’t care, or didn’t want you to succeed, you’ve experienced the perfect moment for establishing policies and procedures.
Because until you’ve set expectations — that is, created the policy and educated your team so everybody understands their responsibility and you hold your team accountable to following that policy by revisiting it with the group whenever there’s a violation — how can they know what you expect them to do?
Getting your team to work as a well-oiled machine, even when there’s a line of customers out the door, doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because you have established clear expectations for the team and they execute according to those expectations.
How does setting expectations help to maximize productivity and efficiency?
All Hands on Deck
I’ll get to that in a moment, because I first want to give a word of warning. Beware of the trap of giving employees an easy way to avoid helping the company.
For example, when we train service writers, we don’t give them a box of job responsibilities to hide inside. We make it clear that their responsibilities include a catchall that says, “all other duties as required.”
This makes sure there is no misunderstanding that their job is to protect the company, the customer and the employee, whether or not the job posting they applied to specifically mentioned a particular task.
If a service writer points to their job description to avoid taking out the trash to help keep the front desk looking professional, I’ve set poor expectations.
Does that mean service writers should be left alone since the expectation is that they’ll do everything asked of them to help the business? Of course not!
As mentioned earlier, the key to having a team that follows established policies and procedures is enforcing them. And, when it comes to the kind of policies and procedures that affect your shop’s productivity, enforcing comes down to measurement.
Measure, Measure, Measure
At the start of this article, I mentioned how busy days can lead to breakdowns. But how do you know? If you’re paying attention only at the end of the month, your busy days can fade into the background.
But if you have ongoing measurement, you will see what suffers most and on which days, and then you can fix your systems, set clear policies and train your team.
Do your technicians pencil whip inspections just to get through all the cars? Teach them the value of thorough inspections and set a clear policy about what each vehicle must receive.
Do your service writers pick and choose what they recommend at the front counter on busy days? Teach them why we educate the customer about every recommendation and set a clear policy about your estimating procedure.
Unless you’re measuring the thoroughness of your inspections or the effectiveness of your service writers so that you can see when procedures are breaking down, you can’t create a fix for the problem, or enforce the fix.
Accountability & Rewards
Measurement is critical for making sure policies and procedures are followed. The other part of that equation is properly incentivizing
To be clear, I’m not proposing you create incentives for the policies you’ve created for protecting your business. Simply following the rules isn’t reason enough for increased pay.
But an incentivized pay structure is critical for making sure your employees are properly motivated toward generating sales and taking ownership of their work. If your service writer isn’t expected to thoroughly educate every customer, but is rewarded when they do so and increase sales, they are empowered to grow business for your shop.
(Again, beware. Incentivizing the wrong numbers or incentivizing the wrong way can hurt the shop and cost you employees. You can’t plug in any pay plan and improve your team; it must be built for your shop and your needs.)
Make it Official
Correcting a problem or finding a way to improve by measuring doesn’t make you the bad guy. The opposite is true.
I can’t stress enough the importance of accountability. If you’re not willing to teach your team when a policy isn’t followed — or willing to measure to make sure your team is doing what is expected — your team will quickly learn that you don’t care and that the policy isn’t important.
This means documentation is critical. When a policy is created, it must be signed. When it’s deliberately ignored, it must be documented. When benchmarks aren’t met, the team must be trained how to improve and their commitments recorded.
If that seems like a lot of paperwork, consider that by giving clear expectations and holding the team accountable, you’re removing all the chaos discussed at the beginning of this article. Those days when the bays and waiting room are full don’t lead to breakdowns, and that feeling of being out of breath from running around putting out fires goes away.
What you’re left with is a team that knows their responsibilities and your expectations, has the tools to execute their job, a business that runs more smoothly and a customer base that appreciates you for it.
In other words, the shop you’ve always dreamed of having.