How Promise Times Help Improve Your Processes

Continuing our journey toward better processes, I recently spoke with a frustrated shop owner about a point of pain in his business.

His concern was the time he spent dealing with upset customers. His example was the day he had follow-up conversations with two unhappy customers – one because his vehicle was not finished when promised and the other disappointed that he hadn’t been called with a status update on the repair.

Bill Haas

I reminded the shop owner that the situations might represent a larger problem. More customers might be having similar experiences at his store than he was aware of, and, without saying anything, some of them might not be returning to do business with him.

It’s important to understand that customers willing to take the time to communicate are a gift. Without them, we’d have a false sense of the effectiveness of our customer service. We should never view these people as picky, demanding or expecting too much. The reason they take the time to share their feedback is that they see something we don’t: our potential for improvement.

Maybe they’re longtime customers and recall the great customer service you provided when you started the business. They like you and want to see you succeed, but as they’ve witnessed your growth, they’ve also seen the level of personal attention and customer care deteriorate as you maintained and repaired more cars. It’s a common occurrence.

The opportunity you have as a shop owner is to improve your processes so that every customer has an exceptional experience. I like to use the “promise time” as the way to ensure that customers’ communication is exceptional.

The promise time establishes the next point of contact with the customer. Don’t confuse it with the “delivery time,” which is when the customer expects you to return the vehicle. The promise time is your assurance that you’ll connect with the customer throughout the service visit. It’s a process that allows you to manage your workflow and volume of phone calls, as well as meet customer expectations.

Setting the promise time takes place as part of the vehicle check-in process. After you’ve checked it in, reviewed the service history, confirmed the customer’s street address, phone numbers (home, work and cell) and email, the service adviser sets the promise time. It should sound something like this, “I’ll have your car looked at and be ready to talk with you at 10 a.m. Will you be available, and what is the best way to reach you at 10?”

The promise time creates an expectation for the customer. They know you’re going to call, email or text at 10 a.m. But without a promise time, the customer has no expectation when they’ll hear from you, and, often, they’ll call before you’ve even had a chance to look at the car.

There should be no reason for that call. It’s an interruption that takes the service adviser away from a task and wastes time for both the customer and the adviser.

When you promise a customer you’ll connect with them at 10 a.m. several other things must happen for you to fulfill this promise. You must get the car into the shop, give it an inspection, evaluate and test it to determine a repair plan and write an accurate estimate.

At 10 a.m., the adviser is then able to have a meaningful conversation with the customer and provide information that will help him make the best decisionspossible. After the adviser has answered all of the customer’s questions and obtained authorization to proceed, the adviser sets the next promise time, which will communicate progress on the repair.

Several promise times might be set in cases of large repairs. And you don’t set the final promise time until you’re ready to communicate completion of the work and set up a delivery appointment for the vehicle.

Setting promise times is a process improvement opportunity that impacts many aspects of the business in a positive way. They establish customer expectations, improve workflow, make employees accountable, reduce inbound-call volume and elevate customer care and communication.

Your store’s goal should be to provide every customer with an exceptional experience. The effective implementation of promise times is another step toward achieving this goal.