AKRON (Nov. 30, 2001)—There's an old management axiom that says inspect what you expect.
Tire dealers who are weary of refereeing service writer/technician disputes should apply this axiom.
If your dealership offers automotive services, you probably know this scenario. A technician is angry because he wasted time pinpointing the vehicle's problem. He argues that if he had been given additional information on the vehicle's history and an accurate description of its symptoms, the job would have been diagnosed in half the time. The tech accuses the service writer or service manager of committing auto repair's cardinal sins.
The first sin is giving an inaccurate vehicle history or no history whatsoever. The second sin is misleading a tech by prejudging the situation. This occurs when the service writer jumps to a conclusion or prejudges the case instead of letting the tech do his or her job. For example, the service writer thinks a “tune-up” will solve the customer's problem, so he gives the tech a work order instructing him to tune up the vehicle.
If the prescribed tune-up doesn't solve the customer's complaint, everyone's angry—the customer, the service writer and the tech. Meanwhile, a frustrated owner or manager wonders how to determine why these mistakes occur. When all else fails, inspect what you expect by personally overseeing the flow of information from the motorist to the service writer to the tech. Judge for yourself if the tech's getting adequate information for efficient troubleshooting and accurate repairs.
Tracing and monitoring this process may require more patience and objectivity than you can offer. If so, hire a consultant to evaluate it for you and act on his recommendations. You may be too close to the personalities involved to be an impartial judge.
Focus on performance and results. Keep asking yourself: “Does the information the service writer gathers sound useful? Is it info that helps steer the tech toward the root problem?”
Experience shows that many bosses really don't know what's discussed at the service counter until he or she personally oversees the entire process, from the time the customer walks into the dealership until the tech begins working on the vehicle.
Some bosses don't realize their dealerships have been surviving in spite of themselves. What's more, they can't fathom how badly their service writers are doing until they listen to the interaction between the customer and the service writer firsthand.
The classic example is the customer who enters the dealership and requests a tune-up. Technically, this motorist doesn't really know what a “tune-up” is, but he remembers that requesting it happened to fix a rough-idle condition on his wife's car several years ago. Now he's assuming a “tune-up” will now cure his car's problems.
Undoubtedly, any service writer worth his or her salt should respond by politely asking why the motorist thinks his vehicle needs a tune-up.
He or she should ask the driver if the vehicle is performing poorly in any way: poor fuel economy, hard starting, stalling, rough idling, hesitation, surging, bucking, backfiring, etc. If symptoms are present, do they occur when the engine is hot or cold or both? Wet weather, dry weather or both?
Frequently, motorists must be coached into specifying symptoms and conditions. Then a competent service writer sells the customer a diagnostic service or “diagnosis,” which does nothing more than pinpoint the cause(s) of the symptom or condition. Then the dealership recommends a repair based on these diagnostic conclusions. Actually repairing the vehicle is a separate and final step in the overall process.
Groom your service writers to stand firm and not allow motorists to take control of this information-gathering process. Because you're the professional, you should determine the diagnosis and repair. Doctors gather lots of patient history and apply it to the diagnosis. But they never allow patients to dictate the cure or the therapy. Service personnel should follow suit.
Meanwhile, assume nothing. Oversee service personnel so you understand what they're gathering and communicating on a daily basis. Coach them until the service writers instinctively ask the right questions up front and the techs communicate freely with the service sales staff. It's a win-win proposition. Good luck!