Scheduling work intelligently does more than boost employee morale and customer satisfaction. Simply put, it may save a tire dealer's service department!
Regular Tire Business readers know I've carped at them in previous columns about scheduling problems. But based on the persistent complaints I hear about careless scheduling, I think it's time to revisit the topic.
First of all, let's face the fact that automotive repair facilities of all kinds—tire dealerships included—want to keep the bays as busy as possible. I've seen firsthand how many owners and managers turn busy into bedlam, jeopardizing both worker and customer loyalties. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, these bosses look at the service bays and confuse activity with motion.
Second, let's recognize that there's a major difference between plain busy, which is desirable, and bedlam, which is counterproductive. It's sad that so many service facilities I observe have been in a state of pandemonium for so long that the staff thinks it's normal.
Get over it, it's not normal!
How do you distinguish between busy and bedlam? One example is that although the techs have plenty to do and their hands are moving, they don't appear stressed out. When you wander around the facility, it's obvious to you the atmosphere is serious but pleasant. No one's flinging wrenches or swearing a blue streak in frustration at having too many jobs waiting in line.
Another example of plain old busy is the sense that you don't know what day it is. Whether you tour the shop on a Monday, a Wednesday or a Friday, the atmosphere is the same—busy but steady. When managers are scheduling work intelligently, those Monday manias or Friday fiascoes don't occur.
Essentially, the manager's running the service department—not the motorist. You don't hear workers bellyaching, "How will we get all this work out today?"
A prudent manager doesn't drive his staff crazy with last-minute work he scheduled for a Friday or Saturday because he couldn't say no to a customer or because he thought his bonus was in jeopardy.
Yes, some regular customers have earned the special treatment of a last-minute repair job now and then. But to me, something's very wrong when a shop's schedule—especially Fridays and Saturdays—is inundated with major jobs scheduled at the last minute. Or, they're swamped with too many of the gray-area jobs that experience shows require too much diagnostic time to be promised at the last minute.
Some bosses designate some Saturdays as a catch-up day for unusual or bastard jobs. But planning for the occasional catch-up is very different from living with nightmare jobs that were scheduled improperly. Furthermore, why does your service department owe it to this stranger to tackle that bastard job in the first place?
Rest assured, readers, that ineffective scheduling will take your service department down the road to ruin. It stresses out workers and stress increases employee burnout and turnover. Not only does stress increase the risk or mistakes and comebacks, it also causes techs to overlook or skip by other potential repair work that should be written up and quoted to the customer.
I know far too many competent techs who have left this industry for good because they couldn't find a shop owner or manager who wasn't overscheduling him into oblivion.
So how can you schedule smarter? That's a whole class or story unto itself, but I like to fall back to the basic rule David Turner taught me. Mr. Turner, president of Total Quality Consulting, owned a successful shop for 20 years before switching hats to become a consultant.
He urges bosses to track "flag" time (the time each tech actually spends fixing a vehicle) over a period of at least six months. Whether it's a quick coolant flush or a major engine repair, log all the times and average them out.
Suppose over six months, Joe the technician is averaging two hours per job you've assigned him. Your service department is open eight hours per day. Mr. Turner said that dividing eight by two gives you a safe estimate of the maximum number of jobs—that's four jobs—you can line up for Joe's bay without overscheduling him.
Try it. It sounds too simple to work, but it does. Good luck!