Procedures

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I had an interesting conversation last month with a customer test group. Now I’ll admit, when these conversations started, I had no idea this was going to be a test group. But maybe because this was not a planned idea is why it worked so well. You see, from time to time I get asked by different operators to come out and spend some time with them to discuss different aspects of their operations. It was during one these times this transpired.

My typical schedule whenever I am in the field is to arrive late in the afternoon and visit with the shop owners and management to get a feel for the shop’s environment and put faces with names. The advantage of this approach is it helps set the tone for the next few days and gives me an idea of the lay of the land. It was during this late afternoon meet and greet that something very interesting developed.

I arrived at the shop late in the afternoon and met the owner, who was frantically trying to get his customers on their way. It looked like the usual 5:00 rush around the shop. The manager was running back and forth between employees and customer cars; customers were tired from another long day at work and were ready to go home; employees were working at a panic pace trying to make sure they got out of the shop by 6:00. We have all experienced this, and as an outside observer with experience in our industry, it looked like the end of another day to me. After I met the owner and the manager, I offered to sit in the waiting room and wait until after they closed so we could discuss the reason they had invited me.

It was while I was sitting in the waiting room, looking at my notes and putting together a schedule for the next few days, that I started to overhear the customers waiting for their vehicles. The concern for the customers all pointed to one underlying issue — there was no procedure for how or why a customer vehicle was being serviced in any particular manner. As the customers talked, I listened.

Apparently, at this shop, the customers had learned if they wanted one type of service they should go to one bay, if they needed another type of service, they went to another bay. Some of the customers’ comments indicated they’d pull into the drive and look for certain employees and then pull their cars into the bay in which their employee of choice was working. One nice lady said if she didn’t see her employee of choice, she would leave and come back later. My curiosity was getting the best of me so I tried to ask casual questions so as not to lead the answers or to indicate why I was there.

Although the customers never used the word “procedure,” my conclusion was this shop desperately needed one.

In most instances, the training I offer has to do with what I think the big three fundamental issues for a successful shop are. Last month we discussed policy — the “who we are” statement that gives a written document for each employee. Policy is the law of the shop and should be customized to address the owner’s and manager’s expectations and allow for the employees to state in writing what their expectations are. (If you missed the issue but want to read it online visit: http://bit.ly/1JQ63QE) Most importantly, the policy should be a customer-focused document so everyone knows that the law of your shop is that the customer is king.

The procedure document should also be a written document that clearly outlines what the procedure will be when a customer pulls into the drive. Within this signed document, there is a need to address the importance of the policy and also to highlight the culture of the shop (spoiler alert, that’s coming up in the September issue). The procedure describes the car flow. Any new employees, as well as veteran employees, need to be well trained in this procedure guideline to ensure each customer gets the same great service every time on any day, regardless of whom the employee is. Another very important aspect to a procedure guide is that it helps maintain costs. In every case where I have seen an inefficient procedure or no procedure at all, not only are customers dissatisfied, but there is also an overrun in cost. Although the purpose of the procedure is to guarantee a happy customer, a resulting benefit to the shop is a healthier bottom line. I have not been able to discern why this always happens; I just know that it does.

If the purpose of the procedure guide is to guarantee a happy customer, then the guide must also give employees confidence in what they are doing. Throughout my years as a baseball fan, I have discovered when a pitching coach is working with a pitcher, the coach will teach the fundamentals of pitching in steps (procedures).

If you can teach a pitcher what the steps are then it gives him something to concentrate on when there is a runner in scoring position with a real hitter up next. The pitcher can visually see himself going through the pitching motions. The training — or procedure guide — gives him the confidence to work through the process successfully and with full confidence he is doing the job correctly.

If you have ever watched a baseball game, at some point the catcher will call time out and walk out to the mound. Have you ever wondered what they are talking about? In most cases, the catcher is reminding the pitcher of the steps to throwing the ball.

Golf coaches and professional caddies do the same thing. They say the secret of being a good caddie in golf is to remind the golfer of their steps in hitting the ball. Every successful endeavor requires a procedure to ensure it is performed correctly every time. If professional athletes need training in procedures, does it not make sense to train our employees in procedures, too? You may remember one aspect of the new normal is our customers expect you to be an expert, or a professional, in the job you do.

The procedure of the shop starts with a job description for each position. The job description clearly defines each job. The more clear and detailed the job description is, the more confidence your employees have they are performing the procedure in the most efficient and customer-focused way possible. The procedure begins when a customer pulls into the drive, and in as much detail as possible, describes the entire service until the customer exits the back drive. Try not to leave any details out. For example, if it is an important to your customers that they be called by their names, then decide at what point in the procedure do you want your employees to address the customer by name? Do you check tire pressure? Where do you get the information for the proper tire pressure for each vehicle? At what point in the procedure do you get this information?

Another fundamental procedure is the echo system that is used throughout our industry. What are the words you want the technicians using during the echo? Did you know our customers are listening to our techs and will judge how good the service is based on what words our techs are using? Many of today’s industry trainers use what is called word tracts, and every employee is required to use these word tracts as part of their presentation to customers — and even when fellow employees are talking to each other about a customer’s car when in earshot of the customer. I can hear you saying, “We have to tell our employees what to say and how to say it?” Yes, because it works. The procedure guide you develop will work best if you give employees the words you would like for them to use.

As long as we are talking about the words we use, at what point and how many times do you want a customer to hear “thank you?” If you get a chance, ask your customers how important it is your employees say “thank you.” The procedure guide is much more than a how-to reference guide. It is the document that, in detail, gives your employees the confidence and ability to give customers the service they expect from you.

My impromptu test group of customers reminded me how critical it is to have a procedure guide for our employees. As you know, perception is everything, and even if you do not intend for your customers to see your staff panic, they do. Perception is reality when it comes to customer service.

Most of our employees will do whatever we teach/coach them to do. The question is, what are you going to teach them? By not having a detailed procedure guide, you have taught them it doesn’t matter how they do their job or how to be the most efficient in performing their duties. Do you have a procedure guide? If not, stop what you are doing and develop one today. Your customers are watching!

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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