Separating Yourself With Procedures: Now is the Time to Review Them

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As you begin a new year with hope that this will be the year you separate yourself from your competitors, it may be time to consider what is unique about your operation. It is easy to allow yourself to become another “us, too.” What is an “us, too” operation? It’s when you run your business just like your competitors. What do you need to do to separate yourself from the pack?

As the quick oil and lube industry continues to grow and move toward a more total car care model, it is important from time to time to review the goals and look at the big picture.

It is the opinion of many industry analysts that there will always be a place for quick service. As our society continues to look for faster and more efficient ways to live, the needs and desires of our customers change, too.

It wasn’t that long ago when many of us were asking ourselves if we wanted to provide Wi-Fi for our customers. How many of you had a policy of “no cell phones allowed” for employees? Most shop owners have changed their policy on that one, also. A few weeks ago, I observed a pit technician take a picture of a leaking transmission line and text it to the hood technician, who, in turn, showed the customer the leaking line. The customer, who had noticed “something dripping,” was so impressed that he made an appointment to return to the service side of the shop to replace the leaking line.

Now, it has become common for our shops to reduce inventory by having web links to their local parts company. By the time a customer decides they want an additional service, the technician can link to the parts store and have the needed part en route before they remove the old part. No one disputes that, with the proper use of technology, shops can be more efficient. In fact, the most important ingredient to being more profitable is improved efficiencies.

As most general managers will tell you, it all starts with policy and procedure. Although we didn’t know it at the time, life was much simpler in the early ‘80s when this industry started. Early in my career, I remember going to my boss with a three-page typed memo of policies and procedures we could use to grow and improve. After patiently listening to and reading my ideas, my boss looked at me and said, “Around here, we have an easier policy — go to work when the sun comes up, quit when the sun goes down, roll your sleeves up and work as hard as you can in between.” Simple enough: A whole policy in one sentence. A few years later, companies all over the globe started creating mission statements that would somehow define themselves. I always thought my wise boss had all that mumbo jumbo figured out long before the Wall Street types came up with mission statements.

Today, that one-shop operation has grown into the 900-pound gorilla in its market, still based on the same fundamental approach. However, like everything else, a few things have changed. This same operation now has a 20-page document that details its policies and procedures. I am sure if they haven’t already looked at their policies and procedures and adapted new concepts, they will soon. One thing good operators understand is that nothing stays the same, and if you are going to grow, you have to change.

Policy and Procedure — Still the Bottom Line

As mind twisting as all this sounds, it is good to know there are some tried and true policy and procedure ideas that are still appreciated by customers.

• Honesty

First and foremost, people still want respect and honesty. Convenience and speed of service still rank high on the consumer’s list of desirable traits of a service provider. But, the big three are still true and I suspect will always be — provide quality products and quality service at a fair price.

• Cleanliness

More good news is customers still want their vehicles serviced by professional, well-trained technicians who are clean and in uniform. Shops that are clean and organized still appeal to our customer base as a reflection of the service of their vehicles. Clean and properly supplied restrooms are a must for our customers, as more and more shops are performing services that are taking longer and, in most cases, require a customer to wait in our waiting rooms. Men and women are equally disgusted by filthy, smelly restrooms.

• Professionalism

Often, when dealing with an unhappy customer, the lack of satisfaction has to do with issues other than the vehicle service itself. In many cases, these other issues are the difference as to whether a customer will return. Having a clearly defined policy in regards to these issues is mandatory in today’s shop environment.

• Greeting

What are your procedures when a vehicle pulls onto the parking lot of the shop? Many studies suggest people want to be recognized within seconds of coming in. Does the procedure manual address this critical issue? Many times, an easy wave with a smile is all that is required. Sometimes a simple hand gesture as to which bay a customer needs to drive toward will put the customer at ease. The old adage of first impressions is still an important one for our technicians to be aware of.

• Waiting

Are your customers waiting in their vehicle or in the waiting room? This is a fundamental step in procedure that gets overlooked. Most people would prefer to get out of their car while in the parking lot and prior to coming into the shop.

Does your procedure guide have clear instructions for the staff to understand? If customers are waiting in the car, is there a courtesy offering for them, and how is it to be presented? If the customer stays in their vehicle, does your procedure discuss the importance of clear and easy-to-understand hand signals for guiding a customer over the pit railing? Once the vehicle is over the bay, what is the procedure the techs need to follow? Start on the driver’s side, or start with the air filter housing?

Having clarity in this will help eliminate costly mistakes and help technicians not to overlook anything on a customer’s car.

• Communication

If there is a single most important procedure guideline, it would be the communication. Good communication between the technicians is the No. 1 factor in a successful service. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true: The No. 1 reason for an unsuccessful experience is caused by the lack of good communication.

To help ensure successful communication among technicians, I like to recommend the echo system. What is the echo system? Most industry trainers suggest having a procedure with the actual words technicians need to use, and every “call out” gets a return “call out” in response.

Many trainers also suggest there be word tracts for technicians to use when communicating with customers. Everything from what they need to say when greeting a customer all the way through the service until they say goodbye.

Consumer studies show two communication desires from customers: Customers prefer to be called by their name, and they want to be told thank you. It is staggering how often these simple rules are ignored. What do you want your techs saying to your customers?

Separate Yourself With Procedures

More often than not, the quickest way to separate yourself from your competitors is a clearly defined set of policies and procedures. Like most things in business, these documents need to be updated as your business changes.

Hoping you have a fantastic 2018!

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