Systems for SuccessPosted 3/26/2004
By Alexis Gross
On a typical day, you might walk into your shop in the morning intending to check the progress of repairs and then get to work in your office. As you're walking through the shop, a tech stops you and asks if you can you order a clip for the car he's working on. Then you stop to answer a question for a painter. On your way in your door, an important call comes in for you. By the time you sit down, you've forgotten about the clip, and then the job's not done on time.
So what can you do to make sure all those questions get answered and the part gets ordered? Since it's unlikely that sudden questions will stop needing to be answered, you can put a process in place to handle routine procedures like ordering a part.
How do fast food restaurants deliver their product in consistently the same way through every order in every location? Standard operating procedures, or SOPs, form the backbone of such an operation. They give each employee in each location the same guidelines for delivering their product and service. SOPs are a tool that have helped many businesses, both product- and service-oriented, increase their profits and improve their customer and client relationships.
"Consistency limits chaos and stress, and enables consistent quality repairs," said Mike Anderson, owner of Wagonworks Collision in Alexandria, Va. "Our mission is 'Quality on time, every time,' and our SOPs help us meet that goal."
At Wagonworks, everything in the shop runs on a system, and parts ordering is no different. In fact, Wagonworks has SOPs for ordering parts, receiving parts, entering received parts, receiving special and back order parts, entering stock material and returning materials. Each procedure is written down and is part of every employee's training. In addition to helping the shop meet its mission, Mike said SOPs ensure the success of new hires.
"We can take an entry-level parts guy or painter and get them up to speed a lot quicker than we could if we were just meeting every new scenario as it comes along," he said.
Jesse Anderson, Wagonworks' director of training and education, explained it as "consistency of purpose."
"A lot of people need explicit directions," he said. "It takes the 'You're not my boss' attitude away. At least people know what their basic functions are."
When the order comes in, everything is documented all the way through. Detailed descriptions are taken as part of the estimate, along with pictures, and placed in a working folder for that order. Folders are placed in wall trays according to where they stand in the process.
"There is a paper trail, but that's a necessary evil," said Jesse. "Too often you have five people in a parts department, and they all operate differently. If you have consistent procedures, anyone can follow up on a parts order."
Mike echoed his statement, saying, "You've got to make it so that if you're not there when someone has to order a part, it can still be done in a way that everyone will understand. People have to be able to verify what other technicians have done. I should be able to pick up a job and run with it."
Consistency is the key, not only for the employees in your shop but for insurance companies and vendors as well. Clearly defined and documented procedures help eliminate or alleviate problems that arise with these outside influences as well.
"You need to consistently send all information through the same way every time," Mike said. "The biggest problem is insurance communication and verification. It's important to be very detailed and gather all the correct information. You have to be consistent with parts numbers, what side they belong on, etc. With documentation, a person has all they need to answer all the questions right the first time.
The paper trail shouldn't stop in your shop. Wagonworks faxes about 90 percent of its parts orders, and with good reason.
"If I fax an order instead of calling it in, I've got a record if they send the wrong one," Mike said. "We follow up with a call for more specific questions. We would like to e-mail more because it enables us to send pictures if we're not sure of a part, but the majority of parts departments don't even have e-mail. A lot of them share a fax machine with other departments."
No paper is lost in Wagonworks' trail either. Fax verifications are stapled to the parts ordering form, and they require vendors to call back for follow-up within two hours.
"The biggest key is the vendor agreeing to do the things that we've laid out for them," said Jesse.
To facilitate cooperation, Wagonworks holds a parts vendor meeting.
"We bring all parts managers and sales reps and have lunch together," said Mike. "We tell them what we're doing, and ask them what we can do to be better customers. We also tell them what we'd like out of them. We even have a questionnaire we have them fill out. It's a great networking thing for all of them and us.
"It's a great thing, and I would invite any shop to do this," he said. "It shows goodwill, puts a face with a name, and I would encourage every owner to do it once a year."
So how did Wagonworks determine the procedures that would help keep their shop running smoothly?
"Trial and error," said Jesse. "You create a process by getting people together and asking them what they need."
Learning from other shops, both their failures and success, increases the learning curve in your development.
"I tour a lot of shops as part of a 20 group and see how different shops are doing things," said Mike. "In some cases, they're having the same problems and I take a little nugget of information from each one."
It doesn't happen overnight, either. Wagonworks has been creating and refining its SOPs for nine years.
"It's a living document," said Jesse. "We can change it at a whim when a new problem comes up."
And with new cars rolling off the line every year, those problems are likely to continue. SOPs will help Wagonworks meet the challenge.
"We have a problem and we can complain about it," Mike said. "Or we can come up with a solution to make sure it doesn't happen again."
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