Operational Training: The Checklist

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Can you believe we’re already halfway through another year? As they say, where did time go? Summertime is coming, and if history repeats itself, we need to get ready for summer driving. Our customers have been planning their summer vacations. Soon, they will be rolling into the shop. An inside joke we used to play between shops during this time of year was counting the number of times we heard, “My family and I are going on vacation, and we need to make sure everything is ready for the car,” or some variation of that. It was as if they were the only ones traveling during the summer months.

This time of year, our customers are driving more. They want to be prepared. The family car has become a household priority, and our customers want to make sure they’re safe and ready for the road.

The checklist we use when a car comes into one of our bays is of utmost importance. You can be sure, now more than any other time of year, our customers are reading their receipts to verify we have checked, topped off or replaced the different points on the checklist. As I travel around our industry and visit with various shops, one of the areas of concern is training our technicians to pay special attention to our checklists. It is on the receipt to give the customer a written detail of the services provided.

We have all seen the technician who holds down the enter key on the point-of-sale system and breezes through the list just to save time. Once the customer gets the receipt and his or her questions begin, to your horror, you realize your service technician has put in writing things he did not do. When you question the technician, the blank look on his face normally explains it all — the technician did not check, top off, replace or even recommend anything. They simply held down the enter key and let the POS system apply the defaults to every point of the checklist.

If you haven’t already held your monthly shop meeting, or have and forgot to mention this, then let this be a reminder to have a 10-minute staff meeting before you open one day soon. Remind your technicians the checklist is written on the receipt for the customer’s benefit. For a technician not to pay careful attention to how they respond to every point of the checklist, on every car they service, will not be tolerated in our “new normal” era of operation.

Remember, our customers assume you are an expert. (See the February National Oil & Lube News [NOLN] article about customer expectations at www.noln.net.) It is only when you prove to your customers you are not an expert that they will have doubts about your ability to service their cars.

The checklist has had an interesting history, and the points to check have changed throughout the years. But, in general, its purpose has remained the same. The checklist is normally broken down into three main categories. Each category has several points to check and verify the condition.

The Pre-Check Category

As a part of your customer service, and for your own knowledge of what to look for while servicing your customer’s vehicle, pre-checks are important. Normally, pre-checks will only take a minute but can save hours of headache.

Like most things in our industry, what you decide to pre-check is up to you. Typically, the pre-check will include both the upper-bay technician and the lower-bay technician checking the points simultaneously. For the upper-bay technician, pre-checking begins as soon as the car rolls into the shop. Is there anything that stands out as wrong? For instance, is there anything stuck in the grill of the vehicle? We all have stories of the customer who comes into the shop with various things stuck in the grill. Many times we remove the culprit and think nothing of it. The problem is, today’s vehicles have multiple radiators with multiple coolant lines running into them, there is an increased chance the tumbleweed you removed from the grill has caused some damage to the radiator system.

To inform your customer as soon as possible of the potential damage is not only good service, but also it will also help you explain to the customer why they are unusually low on anti-freeze. Maybe the transmission fluid is getting too hot, if the transmission radiator has been blocked by the tumbleweed and has not allowed the radiator to work properly. Continue to pre-check the vehicle while it is running. Are there any unusual noises? Make a note of them. A strange noise is something to check.

Once the motor has been turned off, check the engine compartment to make sure all the caps are on. While you are looking, what do the belts and hoses look like? Smells should also be noted. Are there any burning scents? Where are they coming from? Any sweet smells? Antifreeze leaks could be the cause. The first three steps of the pre-check include using three of your senses: sight, hearing and smell.

Once that is complete, check the oil dipstick to see if the car has lost any oil since the last service. Communicate with the lower-bay technician any points of concern and make a note on the checklist of any unusual findings. As a part of your excellent customer service, tell the customer what you found during the pre-check as soon as possible. Customers love attention to detail. When they hear the pre-check report, they know anything unusual is something they need to be on the lookout for.

For those of us who offer repair services, the pre-check is the leading statistic of what generates additional services. For all of us in the quick service industry, a simple pre-check of wiper blades alone can lead to a satisfied customer. Do the pre-check correctly, and you will see a dramatic increase in customer satisfaction and an increase in your ticket average.

The Service Category

Once the pre-check has been completed, it is time to begin the service for today. Most checklists will include the different fluids that have been topped off or the condition of them. Those of us who have been in this industry for a while understand why we do not top off brake fluid, but have you explained this to your technicians? With many of us performing brake services, the level of the brake fluid is a good indicator of the condition of the brake pads and even the rotors. If your technician does not know what to look for, then your customer is not getting good service and your shop is missing out on a brake job.

For those of us who do not perform additional services, remember your customer has come to you because they trust you. Telling them the condition and level of their fluids will confirm why they trust you.

The Recommendation Category

A simple question can explain the importance of the recommendation portion of the checklist. The question is: Does anything last forever? The answer is no. If it’s man made, it will eventually wear out. Most of today’s checklists on our POS systems have dropdown boxes or other means to recommend a service. Today’s vehicles have many parts that have been designed to wear out. The parts function as a short-term solution to the long-term engineering of our vehicles.

Consider, for instance, filters. It does not matter which filter you are working with, every filter is designed to collect and clean. Eventually, it will be so contaminated that it will no longer be able to filter. The entire filter system, from air filters to the oil filters, is designed to be replaced during the life of the vehicle. So are many other parts of the vehicle. In fact, the whole vehicle will eventually wear out and have to be replaced.

In the 20-plus years I worked in the bays, I never once explained this to a customer and not have them agree. Everything wears out and must be replaced if you want the vehicle to continue to run. It is that simple. Making recommendations on the checklist will give your customer some control over when they choose to replace the recommended part.

The customer came to you to ensure their car is safe and capable of lasting longer. They know parts will eventually have to be replaced, and since we are the experts, they rely on us to advise them on when and what they need to replace. The recommendation on the checklist is the magic ball for your customer.

Driving season is here, and your customers are depending on you. Put it in writing, you are up to the challenge with an easy-to-read checklist.

RAGAN HOLT is the quick lube advisor for National Oil & Lube News. He is available for consulting and training in the quick oil and lube industry. He can be contacted at: ragan.holt@noln.net

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