How many hours have service writers everywhere lost because of a missing wheel lock? How many frustrating hours have been wasted on getting the wrong parts because of incorrect VIN numbers? Little stuff like this really adds up!
As a shop owner, I know from personal experience how easy it is for service writers to lose between 20 minutes to an hour on every repair. The really discouraging thing is, this is only one area of the shop. The breakdowns in efficiency and productivity can happen at every stage in the repair process.
And it’s not just the shop that loses hours each day; customers lose those hours, too. When the service writer loses an hour of time fixing a mistake, it slows up the tech and, ultimately, slows up the customer. All of the little things cost the customer time and money, and cost the shop time, money and customers.
The problem is that the busier we get, the more rapidly our systems can break down.
For years, our systems would break down every time we tried to grow to a new level. As our car count increased, one by one, the systems would grind to a halt. The technicians would start to pencil-whip inspections, service writers would stop fully advising customers, our customer service would plummet, and we’d end up losing our best customers in the effort to bring in new ones.
Acting as a fire fighter to put out each of those burning problems didn’t stop a new one from cropping up wherever full attention wasn’t being given.
By the time our shop hit $1.5 million, we were easily losing $50,000 per year because of broken systems. Each busy day, we had communication problems, inspection breakdowns, poor service advising and pitiful customer service. And our average repair order reflected all of these problems.
And this happened every time our car count grew. We were stuck in old habits and old ways of doing things. Even when we were working hard, we couldn’t keep up with the increased load because we weren’t working smart.
Does any of this sound familiar? It doesn’t have to be this way! Your shop doesn’t have to go through similar growing pains. It took years of painful growth, sleepless nights, trial and error — and later, a dedication to measurement, tracking, training, adjustments and accountability — before we were able to find the key to making the shop more productive and efficient.
The Right Policies & Procedures
How do you fix these problems with efficiency and productivity? How can we begin to work smarter in our shops?
That requires a bigger answer than a single article can cover, but if there’s a place to start, it’s here: communication is critical.
If your techs and service writers need to have a face-to-face conversation in order to process a repair order, your system is broken. How many minutes does it take to talk about each part of an inspection or repair? You could easily spend 20 minutes to an hour for each RO just talking! And that doesn’t even include the time it actually takes to perform the repair.
Think of your auto shop as one of the cars in your bay. Unless the individual components and systems are working properly, it won’t run smoothly.
In other words, in order to start working smarter, you need to have the right policies and procedures in place.
There is no one-step solution. There is no easy button. You have to look at the situation in your own shop and apply solutions based on your needs. When a new problem arises, choose a solution that fits. Compare it to a leaking hose — as soon as you plug one leak, it’s going to be obvious where the next leak will crop up.
If your techs consistently have to get more information from the customer, create a checklist your service writer can follow when checking in customers. If one stage of the inspection gets lost or skipped, create an inspection form to keep techs on track. If papers, keys and service bulletins are getting mixed together or lost, start using folders or bags to keep each RO organized.
Getting these systems in place and sustaining them will help you work more efficiently. Fewer mistakes, faster repairs, and better service — you’ll be able to work faster and get more done.
Finding the right policies isn’t enough. A good system is nothing unless your employees are willing to follow procedures and work within those limits. You can share all the training you have, use every form you can find, but if your employees are pencil-whipping their training or ignoring your policies, you won’t make any progress.
Part of the problem is that policies too often seem like a negative, a “do what I say or else!” doctrine handed down from the powers that be. Leading like a dictator usually means things are done exactly as you want when you’re there, but those systems quickly fall apart when you’re not.
Instead, when you introduce policies, explain why they’re there to protect everyone involved: the employees, the company and the customers. For example, conducting a thorough inspection and taking the time to address every concern helps keep the customer safe, helps them trust the shop more and helps keep them coming back.
After you teach the why, you need to empower your employees. Let them know that they have responsibility, and hold them accountable. Measure the results for each individual and consider establishing incentives for achieving results.
Measurement, Training, Accountability
Of course, the idea isn’t just that you measure the employees, but that you listen to what the measurement tells you. More than once, I’ve had to remind our shop owner clients and myself: the numbers don’t lie, and they don’t get emotional.
In other words, you don’t have to go through emotional gymnastics in order to hold people accountable for following your procedures. Do the numbers say they’re following your policy or procedure? Then, react to the numbers, rather than how you feel about the person.
Accountability isn’t about them; it’s about their performance.
But that means you have to measure every day because you have to keep score to even know if you’re winning. Finding out your service writers were neglecting your policy or procedure well after a month is over doesn’t do you any good. Unless you know daily how your team is performing, you can’t make adjustments daily, can’t make good decisions daily, and can’t hold them accountable daily.
For me, that ultimately meant taking a night course in Microsoft Excel so I could learn how to start tracking my own numbers. And then it took daily measurement and hours of looking over the numbers before I learned where to look for answers. Eventually, between knowing where my shop stood each day, and finding an expert in accountability (like my business partner David Rogers), we built sustainable systems. We built the policies and procedures that enabled us to work smarter.
Even though those spreadsheets have grown into an entire online measurement and accountability system, it comes back to a simple idea: address problems when they come up with solutions the team understands, and make sure those solutions are working by measuring, tracking, training and holding your team accountable daily.
In other words, the numbers don’t lie. Pay attention to them. Learn from them. And start working smarter.