Time is Money
Everyone deserves to be paid for the work they perform. Don't let your shop's procedures, employees or customers sabotage your success.
"We have one thing to sell. I'm talking about the stuff we get paid for. And that's time," said Donny Seyfer, co-owner, Seyfer Automotive, an ASA member shop in Wheat Ridge, Colo. "The customer service and all those other things are what encourage people to buy our time. So it's important that we look at all of our time, and we get paid well for our time - or we won't be around."
During his session at the Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) last October, he demonstrated to a group of shop owners procedures, policies and techniques employed by his business that allows him and his staff to get paid for nearly every minute of time they put into a vehicle, all while giving the customer full control to stop work when it reaches a predetermined threshold.
A more profitable workflow
Seyfer outlined his shop's standard operating procedures for dealing with vehicle repairs. "When you go to the emergency room, do they fix you there?" he asked. Sometimes they do, he said, but that's not the emergency room's purpose. It's to do triage, tackling immediate problems and referring patients to more specialized personnel when necessary. Seyfer pointed out shops should view their bays in the same light.
When a vehicle enters his shop, service advisers collect complaints and other information from the customer, as well as authorization to perform up to $100 of diagnostic services. This authorization prequalifies the customer, Seyfer told us later in an interview: "If they can't spend $100 on their car to diagnose it, they can't afford to fix the car."
When the vehicle moves to the bay, technicians aren't allowed to lift the hood or pick up a tool. The first thing they do is get the vehicle identification number (VIN) and start searching online for related problems, technical service bulletins (TSBs), etc., through the shop's service information subscriptions. This system, says Seyfer, is an excellent way to bring up a new, young tech through the ranks, teaching him or her to research the problem before jumping in blindly.
ASA member Tom Piipo, owner, Tri-County Motors, Rudyard, Mich., and session attendee, wholeheartedly agrees with Seyfer. "We don't do that [checking service information] every time, and it kicks us in the butt," he told us. But it gets easier with repetition, and his staff is catching on.
Once triage is complete, an estimate is compiled, highlighting additional tests and other work that may need to be performed before a repair can be made. Service advisers then contact the customer - usually before noon - giving a full report and obtaining the necessary authorization to move forward.
Calm afternoons in the shop
Seyfer credits this system with creating a calmer and less stressful work environment for him, his employees and his customers:
Techs will log at least four hours of billable diagnosis time by lunch, and they don't waste time doing work they're not authorized to complete.
Service advisers are calling customers early in the day, knowing that if they have bad news, the customer is in full control of stopping work and the shop hasn't invested much into the vehicle.
Customers are informed in a timely fashion about the status of their vehicles and aren't calling in the afternoon for updates.
Parts can be ordered sometimes before noon, allowing plenty of time for them to arrive to start the work.
The biggest benefit is that customers don't have sticker shock at the end of the day. They know the shop won't be spending a lot of their money until there's a better idea of what work is involved. By allowing the customer to be in control of the repair process, your business is perceived as being fair and honest. In addition, Seyfer said even though work may be stopped, the customer usually comes back at a later date to have the work completed when finances allow.
Tools and equipment are key to productivity
Seyfer advises purchasing two types of laptops for various uses in the shop. With four techs, he provides the same number of laptops for use during the service information triage. He recommends not investing a lot of money in these machines and estimates a shop can invest less than $400 per machine.
Douglass Kirchdorfer, AAM, president and owner of Downing Street Garage, Denver, Colo., agrees that each tech needs his or her own computer: "My technician efficiency is probably close to 90 percent on average. When it comes to looking up information, including labor times for repairs, they [techs] are at the individual computer looking it up and not waiting for others to finish on the shop computer."
First, the laptops don't need a DVD player or killer video card. "As a matter of fact, the less of that stuff it has, the less likely it will end up with a virus," Seyfer said. "Second, the likelihood of damage to the laptop is very high: Gravity experiments happen all the time in the shop."
He does recommend a machine running Windows XP Pro, Windows 7 or Mac OS X. Wireless Internet capability is a must, as well as 15-inch screens, 1 Gb of memory and an Intel processor of 2.4 Ghz or more. Seyfer advises checking out refurbished machines with retailers for some great deals.
For reprogramming machines - and his shop has two - Seyfer said he recommends Windows XP Pro with Intel processors. He also advises having serial-to-USB connectors for the vehicles. Most reprogramming processes are not yet available in Windows 7, but that is changing.
Your reprogramming laptop(s) should be separate from your service information machine, allowing techs to continue working on other vehicles while a reprogramming process runs. This unit will also take more time to set up, as well as keep updated, so you may want to invest a bit more in the unit to keep it around longer.
Finally, Seyfer advises taking a close look at your car count to determine exactly which OE-specific scan tools your shop needs. He breaks it down into percentages, and anything that falls into a double-digits area becomes a needed tool. But if there's a compelling reason to buy the OE tool - it's going to make that 6 percent of certain vehicles turn from headaches to profits - then he advises you consider purchasing it.
Does it really work?
Seyfer and his team developed this system to give customers a feeling of control in the repair process. "Surveys say customers feel like we don't give them an out," he told the audience. "So give them an out. You'll be surprised how many of them don't 'out.'"
He explained that in the 1.5-mile radius around his shop, there are approximately 53 other repair facilities. His shop sees a number of their unhappy customers - the worst of the worst he calls it. They've got bad attitudes and no money, and the vehicle has a tough problem that the other shops haven't fixed.
Some customers may balk initially at the system, but it's usually short-lived. "We tell people, 'If it's going to take us five minutes to find the problem, we'll only charge you five minutes of diagnostic time,'" says Seyfer. "You can't afford to give away hours of your time; you can afford five minutes if you want to be the hero. That's cheap marketing. The other is just expensive losses."
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