Performing surprise inspections of your tire dealership or service shop usually yields the most-accurate assessment of its crew and procedures.
Simply put, the unannounced visit provides an unvarnished view of how your business is operating.
Countless conversations over the years suggest that this concept is so basic that it seems trite and is often overlooked. Matter of fact, it's a theme I broached in my last column: Effective bosses inspect what they expect from their personnel.
Understandably, surprises can be pleasant, horrific or perhaps somewhere on a scale between those extremes. In the long run, it's better to discover any negatives about your business personally rather than—worst case—from a customer.
After all, employees can't argue a point when the boss has witnessed the condition personally. What's more, it's much better to catch unsatisfactory things before your customers do. Or, identify and correct these negatives before any more customers are exposed to them.
Surely, a good manager wants to make the boss proud. But a manager is only human and can't be expected to catch every mistake or infraction. Similarly, employees are mere mortals who may skip steps, take shortcuts. Knowing that a surprise visit may occur at any time helps motivate workers to follow procedures more consistently.
Several “eye-openers” come to mind whenever I discuss surprise inspections with colleagues. I've seen many of these procedural breaches firsthand when the boss suddenly appeared. Other examples were passed on to me.
In more than one instance, we've seen a technician or service writer burning rubber in a customer's car. A similar stunt is a worker who smokes the tires by “power braking” the vehicle too harshly.
Sometimes the boss appears just as a technician roars past the property in some customer's strong-running car. It's supposed to be a routine road test but the sound and fury suggest otherwise.
Another example is a very capable technician who, unfortunately, isn't a cautious driver. He backs out of a bay without checking the mirrors or looking over his shoulder. Consequently, he “tags” another customer's car just as the boss arrives on site.
In other cases, the owner arrives a minute sooner than a summer squall. As wind and torrential rain lash the facility, the boss sees some customers' cars outside—hoods still raised and windows open.
Or perhaps the boss wanders into the service department to look around. A technician who favors fancy, large belt buckles is squirming across a car's fender, trying to reach something deep inside the engine compartment. But there's no fender cover in sight, and you can guess the result.
In another situation, a tech is racing to finish a job. He happens to jump into the driver's seat just as the boss appears. His uniform is greasy and he hasn't put a seat cover on the customer's seat first.
Now you're facing having to explain the carelessness to a customer and make good on the cleaning.
Several times, I've seen someone interrupt a tech in a bay about one or another supposedly urgent issue. Rather than walk around to his or her tool cart, the technician dumps a handful of wrenches and sockets onto the unprotected roof of the customer's car.
Other times, the boss begins an inspection and sees a worker carrying the service department's newest scan tool—an investment of 10 grand or so. Instead of properly carrying the tool by its handle, the technician's carrying it by its cable.
These are just a sampling of avoidable mistakes that not only hurt the store's image but may cost you repeat business. (You're welcome to send me some of the infractions you have caught happening in your shop.)
Some service personnel think these unprofessional actions are insignificant, but the fact is, eventually an accumulation of them catch up with you.
In conclusion, don't underestimate the value of periodic, personal inspections. These visits earn respect and help keep everyone on their toes—and teach you a lot about the business you thought you were running.