Best Practices

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Ah, fall, is there any better time of year? For most of us, summer is fading away, and cooler temperatures are welcoming in each day. Football season is in full swing, and we have already predicted what our favorite teams will achieve this year. In our shops we have completed another busy summer, with most shops reporting a better than normal summer.

October, in the quick maintenance industry, is the month to catch our breath, to prepare the shop and train our employees to get ready for winter. If we have a repeat of last winter, we should all be better be prepared. Do you remember last winter how many days all of North America was below freezing? Even our friends in the Deep South experienced several below-freezing days.

Once the shop is ready for winter, it is time to sit and analyze another one of those catchphrases in the new normal era, “best practice.” Do you remember when you first heard that catchy phase? For me, I was at an industry event for service managers at car dealerships a few years ago, listening to a presentation about how car dealerships should consider how and why they should be more focused on the quick maintenance part of their service departments. The presenter made a comparison to the quick lube industry’s best practices and how a dealer could incorporate these attributes. The reason I remembered it was because I wrote in my notes, best practices, and then underlined it. Since then, I have heard it many times.

The fall is a good time to analyze what worked best and where we need to make some improvements. The point of this column this year has been to focus our attention on the new normal expectations found in all aspects of our industry. The No. 1 expectation is a return to a bygone era where the customer is king! That’s No. 1, the main purpose of our existence as an industry. The next expectation is our employees. The staff requirements have changed significantly, and as shop owners, we need to change with them. The last expectation is for the management and owner. But as with all expectations, there needs to be an evaluation to ensure expectations are being met. As a means of evaluation, these are some of the best practices that have revealed themselves this year.

Best Practices 2015

1.     Call the customer by name

The first time I heard this novel idea, I was in college in the early 1980’s when a professor recommended the class read Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s a great book that is still a must-read for anyone interested in improving their lives, much less their business. One section of the book is titled, “Six Ways to Make People Like You.” In the chapter, “If You Don’t Do This, You Are Heading for Trouble,” Carnegie makes the point by saying, “Remember a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

I cannot stress enough, when you are in the customer service industry the most important thing you can do is call your customers by their names. With today’s technology in the shops, there is no reason why we cannot call a customer by their name. In fact, it is suggested for you to call a customer by their name at least three times while in the shop. The first time is when the customer is being greeted. The next time is during the presentation of services, and the last time is when the cashing-out procedure has been completed. I challenge you to enact this practice and insist your customers are called by name. Let me know your results. I predict you’ll see a customer who is called by name will be both a repeat customer and will generate a higher ticket average.

2.     Honesty and Integrity

It is disturbing this has become a best practice. It would seem these traits would be a given. The fact is, it may be a reflection of our society. However, it warms my heart that once again good wins over evil. Who would have thought something as fundamental as doing what you said you would do is a best practice? Consumers will no longer tolerate being misled. Again, if you will incorporate calling a customer by name and being honest and sincere, I bet you will see an improved bottom line.

3.     Training, Training, Training

If you are not continually training, you are behind. Everyone in this industry understands vehicles are always changing. About the time you have a good understanding of the current year model, the manufacturers change something for the next model year. It has been said several times in this column, “Your customers assume you are an expert. It is only when you prove to them by not performing the job correctly, that your customer loses confidence in you.”

The month of October is predictable. This time of year, the new model vehicles are already at new car dealerships. Are you prepared to service the 2016 cars that are on the road? What have you done to get the shop ready? Where are you going to get the necessary training your technicians need? How many other professionals do you know who are required to attend continuing education to keep their certifications?

Steve Hurt, founder and publisher of National Oil & Lube News, is famous for always encouraging others to read more and attend conferences that will help them improve. Hurt said, “You don’t stop learning when you finish school; that is when you start. All school did was teach you how to learn.”

One of my hobbies in the past was to train hunting dogs to point and retrieve. The key to teaching a dog how to do this is to first teach the dog how to learn. You know what I found out? Old dogs can learn new tricks with the correct training.

Harold Smith, with HLS Express Lube in San Antonio, Texas, recently shared with me his outline for training. At the core of Express Lube’s training is a three-pronged approach that includes visual, auditory and hands-on training. All of this training is monitored by weekly evaluations to ensure employees are performing their duties to exceed customers’ expectations.

4.     Successful Forecasting

Just because it worked in the past is no guarantee it will work in the future. What are you doing to prepare for the future? Thanks to improved point-of-sale systems available in our industry, we all now have access to good data. The ability to understand the data may take some time, but taking the time will have a net result in being able to correctly forecast the future.

In all areas of our shops, we can and should be able to forecast how much and when we need to use our assets. For example, if you have been in this business very long, you will remember the cone-shaped air filter that fit Ford F-150 pickups. There was a time when this filter was the No. 1 air filter sold in our industry. These days, this filter ranks toward the bottom of filters sold. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to carry as many of these filters anymore. How is the labor expense in your shop? With good data, you can now reasonably predict when and how many employees need to be working. Another excellent source for accurate forecasting is asking your distributor. Distributors are in the unique position of knowing what the industry is doing in your area and can offer some great advice in predicting the future.

Forecasting mistakes can be very expensive, so get some help. Take time to learn the importance of forecasting, so when you look into your crystal ball, you will be able to successfully forecast the future.

5.     Face to face with our customers

My father was a successful businessman for many years and was often consulted by struggling businesses for advice. Of the many great management theories I’ve heard him discuss through the years, one of his great lines was, “It doesn’t matter what kind of business you are in, the one thing we all have in common is we are all in the people business.”

How true is that? At the end of the day, most of your success can be summed up with this theory. How good were you and your staff at dealing with people? During the trade show season of 2014-2015, over and over, I listened to different companies in our industry discuss the idea that over the next five years they have forecasted to double their sales. That is a 100-percent improvement in sales. The different presenters went on to express how they had planned on achieving these goals. It was interesting to me for several of the industry giants, the No. 1 way to double the sales quota was boots on the ground. That is right — put people in front of people. Emails, texts, direct mail, even phone calls are all good for interacting with customers, but the most important — and the most successful — is face-to-face interaction. Have you included a customer interaction training session? If not, I would strongly encourage you to spend time teaching your employees how to interact with the customers. It is not uncommon during each workday for your employees to need to interact with customers of different generations, genders and lifestyles. How successful they are in communicating with your customers will directly affect how successful the shop is that day.

Best practice, what a novel idea! Do you have a best practice you would like to share? I’d love to hear about it.

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:

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