By Ed Kovalchick, CEO & Founder, Net Profit Inc.
First off, if you havent calculated the worth in labor and parts sales of just one minute of your service or body shop technician time, do it.
Regarding vehicle job management, besides a very well-managed appointment blueprint (or blueprinting in the body shop), the timeliness and accuracy of how and when jobs are placed and started are vital to the ultimate dollars flowing per minute. I regularly go into shops with so-called tech start times, which apparently are just suggestions (funny, but not funny). I see techs looking for jobs, looking for coffee, or just looking, rather than seeing what my original service manager termed A&E.
Setting start times for all or most of the techs about the same time the shop is opening creates the perfect waste-time scenario the worst kind of perfection. Scheduling sufficient work order prep time to deal with drop-offs, appointments, and surprises before production begins, allows the support team to do what they should do every morning fill the stalls first that means put the vehicles in the tech workspaces when space is available. Obviously, I am referring to the cement, which doesnt house an untidy carryover.
When beginning worktime, a tech should not be job hunting, wasting expensive and frustrating time.
I once assisted a Chevy dealer, and one of the first things I noted was the techs casually showing up over an hour or so late. When I asked about this during a tech meeting, the response was basically, I got tired of coming in and having nothing to do. As you likely guessed, there were only 30 short minutes between the scheduled door-opening and tech start times, no way to get jobs properly processed and dispatched, especially with no greeter or dispatcher, two worn assistant service managers, and 11 hungry techs. Not to mention the oft-tardy service manager who didnt get there until well after 8 am most days. If I got there before 7:30 am, the doors were still locked!
Realistic job management begins when a new or used vehicle is delivered. Working with service requires appointment and reception processes that get acknowledged and understood by the customer as well as the employees from the very beginning of the hopefully long-term relationship. Otherwise, many patrons make unfortunate judgments based on prior experience and/or the BS purveyed in prevalent and ignorant service marketing exposing how fast and easy everything is, especially the no-appointment-needed message often applied to every transaction, no matter the varied situations.
Another area of considerable weakness is the administration of an actual appointment program. A shop’s ability to accept and process a work volume begins with the abilities and size of the tech staff, which can and does vary, many times week-to-week and even day-to-day. Vacations, schooling, sickness, accidents, current shop output, carryovers of all sorts, needed skill requirements, and even shop attitude must continuously get measured and infused into the appointment planning process adjustments required.
Utilizing appointment standards set last winter, when the system was installed, likely has absolutely nothing to do with the current production environment, which sometimes varied from just last week. I see over and over again, no real on-going daily management of the appointment blueprint, which gets blamed all-too-often for being a crappy system when that organism isn’t the problem at all.
In-Shop Job Management
This brings me to the tangible job manager, the so-called dispatcher. Not too long ago, I visited an attractive dealership with an upstairs reception area and a downstairs shop (in the whine cellar). While this was certainly not the best setup, it was necessary due to the very limited postage-stamp lot size the team was provided. Some 15 (give or take) hidden techs, fed by only two assistant service managers, along with an upstairs-located-completely-inexperienced, young non-technical grouchy dispatcher, did manage to produce at a fair rate. Obviously, this situation created a great number of predictable challenges, beginning with poor employee attitudes, below average CSI, a worn and torn ASM staff, and a sweaty service manager who generally worked with his hair on fire.
The good news was that the current employee team was acceptable. The group just needed directional formatting and some repositioning, as well as a few employee additions. The number one issue, however, was placing the dispatcher into the shop, located beside the highly experienced shop foreman, one of the stars of the management team. Detailed job functions were developed, as well as new payplans for the dispatcher and foreman duo, tied in significant part to shop hours produced.
Tech babysitting was minimized (“Waaaa, help me Mr. Foreman, but give me all the hours”), so that the focus for both the dispatcher, now the official job manager, and the first-class foreman was producing quality work from each tech, including getting the work disbursed based on measured skill levels and related set timeframes. Every job handed out contained an expected target return time written in large numbers on the RO, and jobs were pre-loaded into racks with the techs name on individual RO slots (“I’ve got something better for you coming up.”).
The goal was to have an appropriate production plan for each producer, as well as the motivation to meet objectives every day. That meant that if one of our live-at-home millennials figured they produced enough by Thursday morning, the former Friday cruise-day was eliminated. Riding the guarantees became unacceptable without good reason, and no more games were played with assigned partial self-flagging on the big jobs.
The focus now was to have ready jobs in the stalls at now-varied tech start times (and the parts if possible as well as parts delivery), along with a specific plan for accomplishment, not related to the customers pickup time. If the foreman was needed, the flat rate was deducted so the shop wasnt paying twice, especially considering the tech cost of sale was already on the high side versus the labor rate.
The basic WIFM message was that we needed the techs to make more money! Well, I am happy to say that after a few sweet paychecks, the idea took nicely. The shop production hours have been record-setting, even with our green but focused dispatcher, who is learning, interested, and now suddenly aggressive. I also heard he was caught smiling on occasion, but that was just a rumor.
About the Author
Ed Kovalchick has traveled the world training and consulting in fixed operations for manufacturers and dealers. His extensive background includes master technician status, independent shop owner, dealer with all Chrysler & Nissan franchises, and founder of Net Profit Inc., fixed operations consulting and training. He is a graduate of the University of Louisiana and has served as state president of the Automotive Service Councils, and the advisory boards of Wyo Tech and Virginia College. He has been a regular columnist and conference presenter with Dealer Magazine since 1995. EMAIL: Ed@NetProfitGroup.com.