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Is Your Service Department Stuck On The Side Of The Road?

Well, hopefully, I have your attention. Now, what does that mean?

Sticking with our chosen industry, if my vehicle is “stuck,” it is usually not moving, and I am not getting to where I need to be.

The longer this situation goes on, the more stressful it becomes for everyone involved.

We may begin to move backward and see one of our biggest indicators of a department in need: high employee turnover or, worse, a staff that has already quit but still shows up every day.

Further down the road, if this persists, your business may develop a reputation for being a place nobody wants to work. News travels fast in our business and has a long memory.

Customer retention will begin to mirror these trends. Our customers are looking for a familiar face, their go-to person.

In any scenario, we want to take a deep dive into the financial health of the department, and we always do. But what we are also looking for, in support of the financials, is the culture within the department and that of the Dealership overall.

What is driving the financials? How are the current employee and customer situations related, and how do we make lasting improvements?

First, we should not be afraid to ask for help. Perception in many cases is that it is a sign of weakness to admit you even need help. To me, it is a symbol of strength and recognition of a willingness to grow.

I see managers that spend much of their time “putting out fires,” and usually, it is the same type of situations cropping up again and again.

This is a treadmill that can be a challenge to get off. It is exhausting for everyone involved, especially our customers, and the frustration will migrate out to the entire staff if left unchecked.

Where do we start? This is often a question we get asked. The task may at first seem overwhelming.

“When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it is hard to remember the primary objective was to drain the swamp.”

The overall answer largely depends on the individual dealership situation as to how to customize a defined plan of action, but let’s begin by asking ourselves some questions.

  • Are we achieving our Gross and Net profit goals?
  • What are our customers saying about us?
  • What are our processes and policies?
  • Do we have a defined mission statement, and does it reflect our culture?
  • Is our service department overburdened with work, or is there not enough work?
  • Do we have employee turnovers constantly in any areas? Technical, Support Staff, or Management? (Or all the above)

Take complete ownership, as a department manager and as an entire management team, of our current situation. This is not an optional step; there is no blame, there is only an opportunity to grow. Time to move forward and become proactive instead of reactive.

Second, be willing to involve the staff in making positive changes.

  • Interviewing your staff members to gain their perspectives will provide a wealth of knowledge.

I am not talking about complaining.

  • What do they see and suggest?
  • What are their perceptions?
  • How would they make improvements if given the chance?
  • We must ask the right questions.

Often, I hear the same type of answers when the right questions are asked.

  • We need more training.
  • There is no accountability.
  • There is no work-life balance.
  • We need more technicians.
  • The shop scheduling needs to improve (Too much or not enough).
  • It is hard to make my flat-rate hours.
  • It takes too long to get approvals.
  • Advisor stories do not give me enough information.
  • Parts take too long to get me what I need.

The list can be different depending on your situation, but what are the common areas and why?

Where are we headed with this information?

Process and training.

How can we hold any of our staff accountable if we have not clearly defined what a good job is and provided training to meet and exceed the goals?

  • Do our managers have the tools they need to be successful?
    • Do the managers know how to properly train and motivate the staff?
      • Do they require training in proper management techniques?
      • Do they need to acquire a more in-depth understanding of the financials?
      • Are we making learning and training a positive experience for the staff?
      • Has executive management clearly defined the goals and expectations for the management team?

I see management at times that state they are so busy they have no time to train the staff; they just keep handling common paperwork (process) errors themselves because it is quicker and easier in their eyes.

Maybe so in the moment, but how will anything ever change if this is the case? This can happen when we promote a staff member into a management position, but we fail to train them on how to manage both people and process effectively. They become more comfortable handling items themselves than they are training the staff.

  • Have we provided the tools and training to our advisor support staff?
    • Have we set the expectations for our daily operations?
    • Do we monitor our processes daily?
    • How are we holding the Advisor staff accountable?
    • How is management supporting the staff daily?
  • Have we made training for our technical staff easy?
    • Is there a defined training path?
    • Do we have a mentor program?
    • Do we have an onboarding process?
      • How long does it take to hire someone?

Have we made it easy for our customers to do business with us?

  • Is there a Sales to Service Handoff process?
  • Do our customers know where to go when arriving for service?
  • Do they know what options are available to book an appointment?
  • Does our staff set realistic expectations with our customers?
  • Why do business with us? Our customers have options.

To make the right changes, let’s start to ask the right questions.

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