What’s in it for you to perform courtesy checks? Plenty. But getting your techs into the habit takes planning and effort. Here’s how.
A lot has been written about the value of the courtesy-check process – mostly about how important it is to your shop’s profit. Yet many owners find getting their technicians to do them consistently is a huge challenge.
In this article, you’ll discover why courtesy checks are critical to profit. Next, you’ll learn why many shop owners are frustrated because their courtesy checks aren’t being performed consistently. And finally, I’ll discuss how to create consistency with every car and every technician by establishing optimized procedures and effective accountability.
Why are courtesy checks so critical to sustained profit in your shop? Let me give you three reasons:
1. They help increase sales.
2. They help increase productivity.
3. They help create higher margins.
A typical auto repair shop’s sales are a 50-50 mix of parts to labor. Maintaining this mix is crucial to maximizing your shop’s productivity and your profit. You buy labor hours from your technicians, but you sell auto repair and auto service, which is a combination of labor and parts sales. When you buy an hour of labor from your technician, how much do you want to sell that hour of time to the customer?
Your sales goal, per hour, per tech, is your labor rate divided by labor percentage of sales. For example, if you have an $85-per-hour labor rate, and labor is 50 percent of your gross sales, then you need to sell that hour of time for $170 parts and labor – not just the $85 for labor.
If you focus heavily on diagnostic and electrical services, you may find your labor percentage of sales is substantially higher than your parts. This could actually reduce the potential value of every hour you have to sell. If your labor rate is $85 per hour, and your labor percentage of sales is 60 percent of your gross sales, every hour you have to sell is worth only $142 – $85 in labor and $57 in parts.
If you see yourself in that scenario, your technicians have to be 20 percent more productive just to produce the same gross sales as if you had a 50-50 mix.
How do courtesy checks help? By helping you sell easy-to-install parts add-ons, along with most of your labor operations. Highly profitable add-ons include brake springs, fuel additives and wiper blades, as well as cabin and engine air filters. They also help increase your average repair orders, and larger repair orders reduce the number of cars you need to work on each week to reach your sales goals.
Productivity increases because your technicians spend less time moving cars in and out and spend more time fixing cars and making money. And higher productivity means a higher effective labor rate.
Courtesy checks also help you make more money by creating higher margins.
Selling parts used mostly for auto repair drives down your potential parts margins. Why? Because most repair parts are expensive, including electrical components, computer modules, engines and transmissions. Courtesy checks drive the service side of your business, where parts cost less and margins are much higher.
Courtesy checks also help increase labor margin by creating higher shop productivity, which means a lower labor cost per hour if your technicians are paid hourly or on salary. Courtesy checks help you sell more work that your apprentice technicians can do at a substantially lower labor cost than your “A” level technicians.
So what’s the catch? If you’re like many shop owners, you probably face many challenges getting your service team to perform courtesy checks consistently. How do you fix a dysfunctional system and get your service team accustomed to doing them on a consistent basis?
Begin by identifying the four key processes involved in turning customer visits into higher sales.
1. Your technicians inspect the car.
2. Your technicians document what they saw and make recommendations.
3. Your service adviser creates a complete estimate.
4. Your service adviser offers these additional recommendations, along with other work requested, to your customers using effective selling skills.
The hardest part of the process is getting your entire team onboard, which is ironic because courtesy checks help make everyone more money.
Should I pay my techs incentives?
One question I get all the time is, “Should I pay my people to do courtesy checks?” My response is that whether your people are paid by the hour or they’re on salary, you already are. If you pay them a flat rate or commission, paying them to do the checks is up to you. But I don’t think a financial incentive will change their long-term behavior.
To create consistency, you’re better off by giving your service team a “noble mission.” Most people have three core needs. They need to make enough money to survive. They need security, knowing they can count on a consistent income and a predictable work environment. And they need to feel significant. They need to know their life means something and has value. And that’s exactly what your noble mission would give them.
We don’t do courtesy checks just to sell something. We do them so that customers can have peace of mind, knowing their cars are safe, predictable and reliable at all times.
What if your team believes in your noble mission, but they still don’t perform consistent courtesy checks? Maybe it’s because they don’t know how you want it done. Ideally, you train your senior people and they train your junior people and new hires. How much time have you invested in hands-on courtesy check training with your team? Simply telling them what you expect or handing them an employee handbook has virtually no lasting value.
Here’s what people actually retain from four common training methods after just 24 hours: 7 percent from lecture or verbal instruction, 15 percent if you give them a handbook and they actually read it, 25 percent if they watch a video and 30 percent if they watch you demonstrate what you want.
Get your team involved
The bottom line is that training just isn’t all that effective at changing human behavior long term. You have to get people involved. People retain 50 percent of what they learn during a discussion. They learn more by feeding what you want back to you, rather than by hearing you tell them what you want. They retain 70 percent of what they learn, when they practice with hands-on training.
More than any other process, teaching others creates the highest rate of retention: 90 percent. The best way to help your senior team members grow is to get them to teach and mentor your junior employees and train new hires. By the way, practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. I’ll cover that later.
The third reason your team may not be performing consistent courtesy checks is that they can’t, because they don’t have the time or the form is too difficult to use. There’s no point demanding compliance when they can’t possibly give you what you want. Your job is to remove the roadblocks that are blocking their way.
First, you must define your vehicle inspection procedures. Most shops need at least three or four. Two, you charge for; two are usually free.
Let’s start with inspections you do for a fee. If you are a state-safety inspection station, you have to follow your state’s procedure, and most of you probably sell a detailed used-car pre-purchase inspection.
Your two free inspections are what ATI calls your courtesy check. I believe you need a full 30-point inspection procedure when you have the time to pull the wheels and check the brakes, and consider a quick-check procedure when you don’t have time to pull the wheels and check the brakes.
You might be thinking: Why do I need two versions of the courtesy check? Have you ever seen a courtesy check form filled out where all that your tech did was draw a line from the top of the page to the bottom? This happens in shops all across the country. You try to stop it, but it just keeps happening. So why does it keep happening?
Because, that is what you get when your technician simply doesn’t have time to complete the check. You might want to remove the time roadblock by creating a quick-check procedure. Your technicians may not have time to pull all four wheels on every single car.
Know what customers want
Waiting oil-change customers want to get out the door in 30 minutes. To sell add-ons to this customer, you have to start the oil change and complete a quick-check in less than 10 minutes. That way your service adviser can create an estimate and bring it to your customer’s attention within the first 15 minutes of their visit.
Remember, your customer plans to be gone at 30 minutes after the hour. If you try to sell additional services at 25 minutes into the oil change it will delay their departure. They’ll turn you down because they need to leave in five minutes. And even if they give you authorization to do some of it, a delay in their departure might mean they never come back.
Tire customers often decide to buy tires at the last minute. They often expect you to put four tires on their car in 59 minutes or less. If you’re not able to do it, they may go to your competitor who says they can. So here are four good reasons to create a quick-check procedure:
1. Take care of waiting customers.
2. Take care of tire customers.
3. Reduce technician time on waiting client vehicles.
4. Give yourself the ability to implement your 100 percent courtesy-check percentage of car-count goal by requiring every car gets a courtesy check, either your full or your quick version.
Why consistency is the key
Consistency from car to car and tech to tech is crucial. When inconsistency creeps into your system, it goes off the rails. Excuses tarnish your noble mission and your brand’s integrity. So how do you create consistency?
First, you’ve got to clearly define your procedures – in writing. I suggest you get your lead tech to help. Document how he or she does the courtesy check from beginning to end. Then, you have to create your operating procedure (SOP) form.
Most shops don’t have them; they have sales tools. Sales tools don’t define how your tech does the inspection. They just show the results. They’re fine to help your service adviser sell the job, but I believe you need to develop an actual procedure form that details exactly how you want your technicians to check cars. I believe your form should detail what your tech should check on every car and when they should check it.
Once you have your 30-point check and quick-check procedures defined, it’s time to roll out your new courtesy-check program to your entire team. First, sell your noble mission to your service team and next, hand out your new procedure forms. The lead tech can demonstrate how to perform the new procedure, step-by-step, using the forms.
Then, give them time for some hands-on training. Practice with several cars, ask each tech to fill out a form for every car and compare the recommendations made by each tech.
Discuss your standards with your team, expecting different opinions on what’s needed and what’s not. Listen to the disagreements and offer your opinion, which becomes the law of the land, unless you change later. You’ll need to reinforce your new standards with additional hands-on training and have your team fill out the forms on the same multiple cars again. The meeting ends when every form is the same.
If the courtesy checks start getting inconsistent again, hold another meeting. Do the entire meeting again. The longer it takes, the better. Your team will get the message that you’re serious and will hold them accountable by creating a paper trail. Then start doing weekly work-order audits.
Check out all your tickets at least once per week, and perform one-on-one counseling with employees when they don’t meet your standard and schedule follow-up SOP meetings when one-on-one counseling isn’t effective. Get your lead tech or service writer to counsel junior employees.
Creating a consistent courtesy-check process is critical to the success of your business. It can increase your sales and your profits. It can also enhance your reputation and build customer trust by creating a consistent customer service experience.