An old management adage says: ``Inspect what you expect.'' For a California service shop owner, this philosophy is the foundation of a practical, successful comeback prevention program tire dealers can emulate. The program also is attractive because its benefits go beyond the initial objective of reducing a shop's comebacks.
In previous columns, I've argued that sharp owners and managers must nip problems in the bud by tracking and analyzing comebacks. Turn the adversity of a comeback into a business advantage by using them to identify incorrect or outdated tools and repair techniques as well as poor quality parts.
Phil Fournier, owner of Phil's Auto Clinic in Hemet, Calif., created a plan that reduces comebacks and makes workers more accountable for their actions. It also gets them more involved in the business by teaching them what mistakes actually cost the shop.
This plan earned Mr. Fournier finalist status in the Automotive Service Association's annual Idea Fair competition for shop owners. I recognized the name of an intense, dedicated, working owner who was my table-mate at a troubleshooting workshop last summer.
In between the diagnostic exercises assigned us, Mr. Fournier and I debated the industry's ills. Concepts he emphasized during those discussions-practicality, accountability, consistency and teamwork-are evident in his comeback-reduction approach.
Review by peers
First, he set a goal of increasing customer satisfaction by reducing preventable comebacks to Phil's Auto Clinic. The plan he devised to reach this goal-which is spelled out in the shop's employee handbook-is built upon a review committee and bonus fund.
The committee is the shop's four technicians because Mr. Fournier believes the fairest review is one done by one's peers. The committee, which meets monthly, reviews comeback reports to determine whether or not the cause was preventable.
Experience shows that most comebacks are caused by preventable mistakes such as improperly tightened hardware, damaged parts due to hurried installations, forgetting to refill fluids such as coolant or oil, forgetting to reconnect wires or vacuum hoses, installing the wrong part etc.
The plan's definition of non-preventable losses includes failures of new or remanufactured parts that were installed properly as well as customer-perceived problems that actually are totally unrelated to the repairs performed at the shop.
The review committee reflects the ``inspect what you expect'' philosophy. Mr. Fournier said the techs pay more attention to those nagging, preventable mistakes because they know they'll be scrutinized once a month. Plus, the review serves notice as to how costly mistakes can be.
Having the technicians review problems collectively builds morale by making the techs more involved in the business of the business, he said. It reminds them of the impact their performance and workmanship has on the shop's long-term health. And it shows that their opinions count because their suggestions amount to business-building solutions.
The interaction among the techs prompts them to share tips with each other for the benefit of the entire ``team.'' Plus, the exchange has a humanizing effect because it reminds them that everyone from the least- to the most-experienced makes mistakes.
Mr. Fournier said that the review process resolved quality issues that otherwise may have gone unchecked for some period of time. For example, when the committee recognized chronic failures with some brands of parts, the shop stopped those comebacks by switching to different brands.
The bonus fund is a separate ``kitty'' set aside to offset comeback losses. Like the fund I described in a recent column that specifically pays for equipment repairs and upgrades, this one's intended to exist in the black-it never dips into the red.
Obviously, some months have fewer mistakes and comebacks than others. During no-comeback or low-comeback months, the fund is a performance reward that's divided equally among the techs. The fund fosters teamwork and improved workmanship because workers realize that one tech's carelessness penalizes the entire team, Mr. Fournier said.
Finally, the bonus kitty accentuates the positive by keeping incentive carrots in front of the horses. And it doesn't penalize the techs for a string of bad luck or unusually tough repair jobs that results in comebacks, he said.