There is an old joke about the unemployment line: If it was actually moving, it wouldn't be a line, it would be a parade! Depending on the time of the year, and even time of the day, chances are the shop is going to have a line and it could even be a long line. It would be easy to say the line of customers is a good thing, as it means business is strong and customers are even willing to wait for service.
However, a long line of customers shouldn't simply be seen as a "happy problem," it could be an opportunity that results in happy customers and return business. To ensure customers are made to feel welcome, have their vehicles serviced quickly and back on the road could be the first step in what could be a customer that will be back again in the future.
As more customers do their shopping from their phones, and are used to self-checkout at many retailers, they're increasingly less patient while waiting in lines. Simply put, post pandemic, regardless of the time of year, no one likes waiting in line, and while customers lined up out of the door at lunch time at Chipotle is almost expected, quick lube shops are based around fast service. Long lines could actually make customers decide to come back another time, which can translate into them not actually coming back at all. Failing to address this problem is simply bad for the bottom line.
The business model of the quick lube industry is built around fast service, so a line of customers is actually counterintuitive. It isn't what many customers expect, especially for those trying to run a few errands during lunchtime—and still plan to grab a burrito before heading back to the office. When hunger is involved, and there is just an hour break at lunch time, one line is going to take a priority and it isn't the oil change.
Therefore, it is very important to keep the line moving and the customer happy, says Jeffrey Crafton, director of quick lube operations for the Sayle Oil Company.
"That's what sets us apart from dealerships and other business models," Crafton tells NOLN. "Customers come to us so that they can get their oil changed quickly and get back on the road. If you're unable to provide that to them, they will go on down the road to someone who will!"
Long lines can be a headache for any business model that relies on quick service, yet there are a number of ways to make the most out of the time the customer spends waiting. This can include assigning someone to walk out, greet the client, and even perform some tasks. That's something no fast food restaurant could ever hope to do.
Whatever services can be done before the car reaches the bay will reduce the time it spends inside the shop, and therefore the time the customer spends waiting. It will in-turn make the lines move faster.
"This does happen at our shops," explains Crafton. "We try to greet every customer within 30 seconds of them hitting the lot so that we can figure out what service they are looking for and so that we can direct them to the correct bay. We feel like acknowledging the customer as soon as possible is important. They are more likely to stay if you get to them right away."
Ideally, this could be the manager who does the greeting, which can help show customers that their needs are being taken seriously. The manager is also the best person to offer apologies that there is a line, and that service will be done as quickly as possible. That can instill satisfaction with a customer, especially as any apology for delays comes even before they're forced to wait. If possible, the client can be told how long they might be waiting.
"We typically like for our store managers to greet each customer, but that doesn't always work," Crafton says. "When the store manager is unable to, one of our techs will greet the customer to find out what service they are in for. We will also go ahead and start checking tires and fluids so that the customer feels like we are taking care of them from the time they get there, until the time they leave."
Handling some of the tasks while the customer is in line won't speed it up enough that it will actually resemble a parade, but it could help reduce the time once the customer's car is being serviced. It also conveys the urgency the shop sees to address the customer's service.
"This also helps for speeding up the process once the customer is in the bay," says Crafton.
That could actually make the customer feel like the team was able to speed up the service, yet without cutting any services. Moreover, many customers may not count the waiting time as "service time," so the time in the bay may come as a happy surprise. Crafton suggested it can also make the customer feel like they're important, because their needs are being attended to so promptly.
Determining what works best—such as what services can be addressed and who is able to greet the customers—could require some trial and error. The last thing that any solution should bring is a new problem.
"I can't think of any issues in the greeting line other than one customer getting pulled into a bay before someone that was there before them," suggests Crafton. "In instances like this, the greeter has to be paying attention to who was there first, so that they can maneuver the customers around."
However, even issues like this can be addressed once a system is established and the process becomes second nature. In the end, by making the most out of the greeting line can make it move faster.
"It helps speed up the process," he continues. "In our line of work, speed is everything."