Great Day in the Morning

How one shop eliminated the hassles of ‘getting in the door’ by setting up their jobs in advance.

One of the biggest dilemmas I’ve faced, and solved, as a busy small-shop owner was the stress of getting in the door. This means opening the shop, assigning the work and getting the jobs started, while the phone was ringing and people with broken cars were waiting to talk us.

For someone who is not a morning person, this resulted in a stressful, hectic way to start the day. It probably would have done me in – or the shop in – if we hadn’t solved the problem.

I began by addressing the concern with our technicians, explaining the stress potential as they stood behind the counter waiting for the service adviser to assign them a job or get a question answered. At this time, the adviser’s focus should be completely on the client in the shop or on the phone.

So we implemented a system in which jobs were set up the day before, complete with file folder, key tags, parts needed, etc. This way, the techs could take the next assignment if they were held up on a job. They understood the customers pay our bills and paychecks.

The next thing we addressed were the broken-down cars, the ones that started out as a brake noise and turned out to be a water pump, belt, tie rod, tires or something else that wrecked havoc on their schedules and ours.

We solved that issue by implementing top-to-bottom maintenance checks, collecting ideas from other shops’ checklists and having our technicians design one they were comfortable with. This allowed the techs to be part of the process, own the idea and understand the benefits of offering a complete check to find and address small concerns before they became a breakdown problem.

Lastly, we addressed appointment scheduling. We typically were booked out three to six weeks, which was not convenient for clients wanting quicker service. So we came up with the idea, taken from dental scheduling, to offer clients the opportunity to book their next six-month appointment before they left with their cars. We were shocked how quickly the program caught on.

Today, we run our shop exactly like a doctor’s or dentist’s office, and 90 percent of our existing clients comply with the six-month maintenance program.

We have it down to a science: The client leaves with a prescheduled appointment for six months from the day of their current appointment. We write it for them on one of our printed appointment cards and on their invoice, while the service adviser logs it into our management software calendar and the client’s account. Our management software automatically produces the reminders and keeps client retention at a premium.

This has resulted in a calm, efficient shop, with well-maintained vehicles and happy clients. It’s also created a stable business, with six months of pre-booked appointments that are handy to take to the bank or when structuring a business sale.

The lessons learned:
1. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box or to borrow a successful idea from other trades or professions.
2. Allow the entire team to be part of creating the system.
3. Learn to ask the client for the next appointment.
4. Maintenance rocks, for both the client and the shop.