Sometimes it isn’t about complex concepts that help a service department to run smoothly. A simple idea, matched with a catchy acronym can make a difference in how tasks are undertaken, the relationship between staff and customers, and how the customer will feel about their experience in dealing with your service department/workshop.
Three words are all you need: Communication, HOnesty and Preparation. Together you have the CHOP, a service delivery system that ensures everyone involved in the process, from the customer to the technician, knows what is going to happen, and what has happened so far. Building on these principles, you can help produce a higher quality environment for customers, staff and even yourself. This piece is only the beginning though, for after you read this there is a good chance you could come up with ideas of your own, that are more specific to your workshop and all involved in it. First though, a theory.
I would like to share with you my theory of the good, the bad and the neutral. This is a system of thought in relation to memories and how the quality of an experience affects how well our recollection of the experience works. It is my own theory, I have not seen it written anywhere else, but I do spend too much time in deep thought, and I am not much of a scholar in the traditional sense. So it goes like this: Whether a situation is good, bad or neutral our memory storage of the situation can be affected by the quality of the experience. When a situation is good,( e.g. finding a good coffee shop, travelling down a winding road at good speed etc) the experience is worth remembering, but not the strongest experience worth remembering. A neutral situation, (e.g. finding a car space, watching mediocre television, etc) is not worth remembering at all as it has no quality about it what is worth remembering. However, in regards to a bad situation, (e.g. almost getting hit by a truck, realising you have overrated your riding skills while coming into a corner at speed, etc) these situations are most likely to form strong memories. I believe this is evolutionary, when finding a waterhole was good, eating something was neutral, and trying to spear a mammoth on your own is bad. The good and the neutral are both not going to necessarily shorten your life, but the bad one is might have a high chance of making sure you will never encounter a good, neutral or bad situation again. Even though mammoths are gone, and water is plenty, analogs in relation to experiences that are bad tend to stick with us more than the other two. As an example in relation to the automotive world, think about just the good and the bad situation. When was the last time someone said to you ‘X makes a really good strong car’? Think of the last time someone said to you ‘I had an X and it was always in the shop, it never worked right from when I picked it up’. Which one do you think you would be more likely to remember?
Communication: ‘No one would talk much in society, if he knew how much others misunderstood him’, Von Goethe
- When too much info is never enough: A lack of communication, both by and within a service environment, can leave the staff looking incompetent, and the customer looking for a different workshop to give their business to. Remember, an excess of data is better than a lack of data, so ensure everyone involved is pumped for information, from the time the keys are handed over until the keys are handed back to the customer.
- How can I help you?: From the beginning, that very first phone call, let the customer talk about what they want, whether it be a basic service or a brake check or a registration inspection. Listen to understand, not to respond, if you get the information wrong here then it could be tenfold worse by the end of the job. Most importantly, don’t try to diagnose over the phone. By diagnosing over the phone, you are giving a prospective customer a chance to ring around for pricing at other workshops. The exception to this would be if the vehicle has a serious problem that would require it to be towed, like expelling fluids or unusual engine noises.
- The effect you have: Let the customer be clear on what it is they want from you, from your establishment, but mainly it’s you as you will be the one taking the keys and handing them back. You are the face of the company in the customer’s eyes, and the way you act can have a massive effect on whether you get return business. Once the customer has given you an idea on what they want, inform them as to what your workshop can offer them, both in diagnostics and what your technicians are capable of should a problem arise.
- A job well begun, is only half done: Once a rough idea of the time the vehicle will be required for, for instance how long an engine service will take to carry out, work out a book in time that is realistic. If it is only a small task then feel free to tell the customer to drop by whenever, they might have to wait a small amount of time until an appropriate technician is available. For larger, more labour intensive jobs, book the vehicle in when you are sure you have: an appropriate technician to undertake the task, space on the workshop floor, and any parts required or ordered on a prior visit. Once this has been worked out, find out how long your workshop can have the vehicle for, as this may help with the order you carry out other jobs that are booked in.
- Down the chain: Strong communication needs to be exercised, from the customer, to the service advisor, to the shop foreman, to the technician on the working on the vehicle, and back along the line. The mechanic needs to be aware of the customer’s needs, and the customer needs to know what has been done to their vehicle. Service checklists can be of assistance in this, a basic list of everything the service advisor offers in a service to the customer, that the technician can tick off as he or she goes along. Another area this can help is making sure nothing has been overlooked in the course of a service, as rework can be an issue in workshops who are lacking in quality control and communication.
- Elaboration, not frustration: Clear and concise jobcards, with as little ‘guess diagnosis’ as possible, are the best bet when writing up what the customer wants. For example, don’t write ‘brakes squealing, front brakepads possibly need replacement’ on the jobcard. Write ‘inspect front brakes and report’. This covers you from the technician just replacing the brake pads and committing you to a task that doesn’t need to be done, and opens up the job for more work if required. Some problems can be hard to diagnose from a customer’s evidence, it depends on their technical knowledge. Besides, I have seen experienced mechanics make mistaken diagnosis on a problem even when the vehicle is in front of them.
- A story: Some problems don’t make any sense at all. One time I was driving my car when I smelt melting plastic coming from the front end of the car. I pulled over, popped the bonnet and couldn’t see any smoke. The car still seemed to be running fine, so I decided to leave it until the next morning when it was light. Even in the light I could not work out what the problem was, then realised it was only after running at speed for a time. I pulled the front wheels off, and found a piece of plastic wedged in the brake caliper, it must have been flicked up in there off the road at some point. Everytime I ran the car fast enough the friction from the rotor would melt some of the plastic, but it is hardly the thing one would pick up on easily.
- People problems: An issue like the one listed above is a good argument at diagnosing without having seen the vehicle first. Another problem faced is that if the tech on the job isn’t feeling particularly energetic, they might just take your word as gospel, and work on the vehicle relying on the customer’s diagnosis, and sloth in their heart. In the end you could have a whole lot of labour hours and a simple fix that you will have to explain to somebody, whether it be a manager or the customer themself, neither of which is an entertaining prospect.
Honesty: ‘Ay sir, to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand’, William Shakespeare
- A holistic view: Be honest, from the initial book in phone call, through to the customer leaving in their finished vehicle. Be honest with what your establishment is capable of carrying out, and when it can be done. If a task is beyond your workshop’s capabilities, call in a sublet contractor to carry out the task. A slight price rise in the invoice will be more appealing to a customer, than having the customer return to get the job fixed again properly. If a customer is in a hurry, don’t tell them you can carry out a task which you aren’t capable of doing at that moment, as it will put doubt in your customer’s mind as to what else you promise but don’t deliver on. If you are honest, the customer will appreciate it and you won’t burn yourself out trying to do the impossible.
- You don’t know what you are getting yourself into: Be honest that you don’t want to diagnose problems over the phone, that you wouldn’t feel like you are quoting the job correctly. Make a time for when the customer is in the area, so they may drop in and you can have a proper inspection of what work may be required. Even so, straightforward jobs might escalate into hefty tasks, so be wary of this as well. Two broken bolts in a hard to get to spot could add an hour to the total of the job, but this is something you can’t tell until the vehicle is pulled apart. Remember, no two jobs are assured of being the same, with engineering tolerances and the way the vehicle is being driven can make two alike jobs seem more different than expected.
- Bring out the author in you: Be honest when initially writing up the jobcard, writing nothing beyond what the customer has agreed to. This doesn’t mean you can’t do some upselling on tasks that can be carried out while the vehicle is in, but ensure the customer knows what you are putting on the jobcard, and that they agree to it. The same goes for writing up the story on what has been done. Feel free to elaborate, within reason, so the customer knows what has been done, but limit the amount of technical info depending upon the customer.
- An honest summary: Dishonesty can plant a seed of doubt in a customer’s mind, which could grow into a tree of distrust, spreading its’ branches out into the community and leave you with a bad reputation. Don’t plant that seed. Just be honest from the beginning. If you treat your customers with respect and honesty, they will repay you with patronage. Treat dishonestly and you will end up with a less substantial customer base. It’s your choice.
Preparation: The best preparation for good work tomorrow, is good work today – Elaine Hubbard
- First impressions: Taking care in preparation can be the deciding factor in whether a customer rates your workshop as worth giving their business to. This is even more important for a first time customer, who may have been wronged by another workshop, and is looking for a prospective service partner. This doesn’t mean you should treat a first timer any differently to a return customer, it’s the importance of the preparation in relation to the first time customer.
- Book, book, book: Book it in. Have a book in book, and make sure it is used. Allow for flexibility in allowing customers to bring their vehicle in at short notice, but always refer back to the book. It could upset a customer if you tell them to come in down in an hour to get their basic engine, and three brake jobs are only just getting started in the workshop. The book gives a gauge of what the workload is for the day, the more info you can get from a customer the better, so you have a rough idea of what you are getting into.
- Get your parts out: A book in book allows for you to gauge what is coming, and to prepare accordingly. Filter sets, timing or fan belts, parts noted on previous job cards as being required for the next time the vehicle comes in, these can all be prepared for when the vehicle rolls in. If you keep stock of fast moving service parts, ensure you have the correct parts required in stock. This is even more important for a dealership or large workshop, as lacking these components and making the time for a job blow out, and stressing fellow staff out, because you are chasing up parts you should already have on hand.
- Right tech, check: Ensure you have the right technician for the job, available for when the vehicle comes in. You don’t want to hand a job over to an inexperienced tech because your top gun is out on annual leave that day, or already chassis deep in another task already started. This comes back to the bookings diary again, know what is coming in, and what for. Your top tech could even help you diagnose a problem, once the vehicle is in your yard for inspection, so ensure you have the right person for the job, it can make a world of difference.
- Staying in? This last area is more of a personal touch, in the customer’s mind, and that is what to do with them while you have their vehicle in the shop. A courtesy vehicle, coupons for a local cafe, maybe preparing a customer specific waiting room, are some options for what to do with a customer. Of course, this depends on how long you look like having the vehicle for, which may not be possible until you get the right tech to inspect the vehicle properly. Sometimes it may just be a stalling process, but a customer waiting room can always be helpful for long or short visits. Don’t waste your money on a cheap coffee machine either, get one of those ‘pod’ type ones, and have fresh milk on hand so the customer doesn’t feel like you have put them out of sight so now they are out of mind. If you want a gauge of how well the customer room is set up, spend two hours in there yourself and try out everything you have on offer.
- Out & about: Courtesy vehicles are an excellent way to go, but the cost of running & maintaining a couple of superfluous vehicles can be a drain on a workshop’s profits. A Courtesy bus, driven by an employee who can be spared would be the best way to get a customer home, and it gives them personalised service they wouldn’t receive if just given a taxi cab voucher and sent on their way. Cafe vouchers can show your establishment cares, but it can be difficult if the cafe is not within quick walking distance of your establishment. Making people walk any considerable distance is only going to remind them that their vehicle is at your workshop, and that they need to get it out again as soon as possible.
Prepare, prepare and prepare: Taking ten minutes to check on something for tomorrow’s job, can save two hours the next day chasing up something you didn’t need to. Remember, the best preparation for good work tomorrow, is good work today.
Communication, Honesty, Preparation. By using the CHOP system, you will find your working environment a more pleasurable experience, for customers, fellow staff and yourself. This article is by no means the be all and end all of how to utilise the CHOP system. The system can even be used on itself, communicate to your staff and customers that they need to be honest in giving feedback, so that you may prepare ways to make your workshop run better. If anything, use this piece as a starting point for your approach to the CHOP method, the beginning of your journey to a better workshop. The rest is up to you, it’s whatever you want to make of it.
*Car Selling: Dealership Basic Training
Bruce Bellis 2011
*Essential Dictionary of Quotations
*Quote: ‘a job well begun, is only half done’.