The Unofficial Start of Summer: Bite-Size Pieces

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It is finally May. Although the official start of summer is a month away, we all know summer starts when the kids get out of school, which is typically in May. Of course, there is also the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day. Either way, summer is coming and it is time to get ready for the summer driving season. By most estimates, based on the fact that last year’s holiday season was the largest driving holiday on record, this summer should be good for those in the maintenance and vehicle repair business.

Some good advice I got when I first started training employees years ago was to teach in bite-size pieces. As I travel around training in various shops, I keep this in mind. Here are two bite-size tidbits for this month’s shop meeting: honesty and clear communication. Being honest means not bending or manipulating the truth or withholding information. Clear communication is the ability to verbally explain your thoughts and suggestions so the person listening can understand. Regardless, if it is with our coworkers or customers, the key to quality service is honesty and clear communication.

When I first started this gig of writing a monthly column, Steve Hurt, publisher of National Oil and Lube News, suggested that I write a column titled, “Who Are You Gonna Be?” Are you going to be a shop that performs multiple services or are you going to be a shop that focuses on speed? The truth is, in 2016 you have to be both. Our customers demand we offer a one-stop shop, but all of us have time limits as to how long we can afford to spend on any one project. When I am training in the shops, I always say, “Give a customer back their time, and you will make a customer for life.”  So, depending on where I am, I always encourage faster bay times. From time to time I get asked by traditional service center shops that have customers leave cars with them and take all day or even several days to repair a car, to come out and conduct an operation evaluation of how to improve their shops. In most cases, what I tell them is what I tell everyone else — do it faster. Most shops don’t want to hear that and will try everything else before they finally concede. The rule for a successful repeat customer is, give a customer back their time, and you will have a customer for life. Every shop is different and every community is unique, but the one thing we all have in common is time, and no one has enough of it.

Once operators agree that to improve their business they need to improve their bay times, the next question is, “What is the right amount of time?” It depends on how much time you are spending now. If you are taking an hour, set a goal for 30 minutes. If you are taking 30 minutes, then shoot for 15 minutes. In theory, if you can speed up your bay time, you will double your production. Unfortunately, that is normally not the case. I have never seen a shop that decreased bay time and did not improve car count and production. Once everyone agrees faster bay times are fundamental to success, the next question is, “How do we get faster bay times?”

The first step is what this month’s shop meeting is all about — honesty and clear communication. At the beginning of summer — which for us is the peak of driving season — it is important to reevaluate, “Who are you gonna be?” This is a great time to encourage your staff. They will have some opportunities to make some life-long customers during these few months.

It is time to get the shop in shape for summer driving. Hopefully, last month you finished up the spring cleaning and spruced up the place. If you haven’t, stop reading and go finish. To be an effective time manager, you must finish one project before starting another.


Honesty and Communication

Summer driving offers several opportunities to provide added value to your customers. Starting this month, you should have those value-adding ideas firmly ingrained in the staff.

For added impact, a few new posters and signage around the shop will help. Many vehicles have not been serviced since the winter, and our customers may not be aware of the summer condition needs of their cars and trucks. The cold winter has an affect on our vehicles, and we do not want our customers to have any issues while traveling this summer.

For example, I remember several times when a technician would tell customers about the vehicle’s tire condition that meant they needed to be replaced. They thanked the technician because they had planned on a summer trip and needed to budget for the tires. Telling them gave them time to replace the tires and, hopefully, didn’t affect their vacation budget.

I also remember it was about this time of year that one of our longtime customers called as I was closing the shop. He and his family were stranded on the side of the road, and it was nearly 7 pm. He had been in the shop a few weeks prior to that fateful day and specifically told the technician he was getting his vehicle ready for his vacation. When the technician completed his pre-check, and again on the invoice checklist after the service was completed, he indicated the serpentine belt was in good condition. Guess what snapped on this longtime customer while he and his family were traveling through the panhandle of Oklahoma? The serpentine belt frayed and broke, leaving the customer stranded on the side of the road with his wife and three kids. In his understandable frustration, he said, “I know it is not your fault that my belt broke, but I specifically asked for the technician to check it.” Since I knew this customer, I asked him to bring the broken belt back to me when he returned from his vacation, which he did. I used that as a reminder and a training tool for a long time after that. I also asked the technician if he remembered the conversation he had with the customer. The tech told me he thought the belt was starting to show wear issues but didn’t want to alarm the customer. In the technician’s opinion, he thought the $85 we charged for the belt was too expensive anyway, and he didn’t want to bother the customer with it. I told the technician the $85 the customer would have spent turned into $395 after the customer had his suburban towed into the closest town, then paid for a hotel room and a $95 replacement belt.

Long story short, your customers are depending on you for a quality and honest service. As I told the technician that day, honesty means honesty. Telling a customer what you think he wants to hear is not being honest. Besides that, whenever we are having a conversation with a customer, or anyone for that matter, and they ask a question or make a statement, sometimes people have other reasons for why they ask the question or make the statement. Your No. 1 priority is to communicate honestly and clearly, so you are not misunderstood and your customers get the information they need.

Summer is the driving season, and your customers are depending on you to perform your job and exceed their expectations. Vehicles have become more complicated, and the driving public is not always fully aware of what questions to ask. Being honest with your customers will pay back dividends. Having effective communication skills will prevent and solve almost every issue that comes up in the shop.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand your customers do not want to be stranded on the side of the road during their vacation. An honest service while communicating effectively will put you on the path for success this summer. Do you want to improve the bottom line? Honesty and clear communication are the first two steps.

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