Running a Shop Operations Shop Production Strategy+Planning

Scheduling for Customers’ Convenience

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It’s time to start thinking like a customer. 

Say your body shop has narrowed down processes that make it more efficient with repair work, like blueprinting or performing a complete teardown. Say your body shop has perfected the way the staff discusses repairs with customers, and your team receives outstanding endorsements and reviews every day. What else can the body shop do to go above and beyond for the customer?

It’s time to start asking, “What’s going to make the customer’s life easier? How can we accommodate all customers—even those with busy schedules?”

One way to make the repair process easier for clients while aiding your shop’s efficiency is to create a tight schedule for repairs. This process can ultimately help customers save time and know exactly when to expect his or her vehicle back from the body shop.  

“Vehicles have newer technology nowadays and doing calibrations in the body shop can throw a wrench in the plans,” notes Joe Townsend, owner of Dunshee Body and Frame Inc., in Kalamazoo, Mich. “It used to be that you could write an estimate for a front bumper and be pretty confident that the repair could be done in 2-3 days, but now the vehicle might need to be subletted to a dealership for recalibrations.”

One way that smaller body shops schedule modern vehicles is by assigning repairs to a technician that best specializes in that type of repair. Bob Arnold, the body shop manager for 5 Star Collision & Glass, in Grand Forks, N.D., says he has a mechanical technician on hand to handle some of the glass and alignment repairs at the 6-employee shop.

With vehicle structure and technology changing, scheduling can be tricky. Below, Townsend and Arnold share how they’ve accomplished the task and help operate shops that generate $7 million and $1 million, respectively, in annual revenue.

 

Manage the customer’s time.

The first thing Arnold does when a customer walks in the door is ask them, “What’s the most important part of the repair to you?” He says the customer’s answer can help determine if he has his team focus on paint quality or on the timeliness of the repair. 

If the customer says the most important factor is getting the car repaired quickly, Arnold often suggests he or she go home while he takes pictures of the damage and then emails the estimate to the client. 

“It helps us both save time,” Arnold explains, “because I can take the photos and then upload the estimate to an email after I check the repair procedures and OEM repair statements. “The customer can go home this way and not waste time sitting in the shop.”

Townsend says his team no longer takes walk-in estimates. Instead, he lays out up front to the customer that there are a handful of estimate appointment slots each day in order for the estimators to spend more time with each customer researching the OEM repair procedures.

Spending more time on the estimate enables Townsend’s team to provide customers with a more accurate timeframe for the repair. Yet, Townsend says he makes sure to emphasize that the time could change slightly, depending on what damage is found during the vehicle’s disassembly.

 

Leave some flexibility in the schedule.

Arnold schedules all his vehicles through Google Calendar. This way, if a customer calls him on the weekend when he’s not in the shop, he can bring up the schedule remotely on his phone. And, he’s able to schedule time for lighter, or unexpected, jobs that present themselves.

For example, Arnold will leave about 30 hours per week free in the schedule, so that the shop can schedule-in walk-in customers. 

Townsend, meanwhile, keeps a full schedule at all times. He forms his schedule based on technician capacity from the same month the previous year. He looks at the technician capacity in the form of the average hours the technician worked throughout the year, and then adds 10–15 percent for the current month. He says that overestimating the technician’s capacity is necessary, because technicians have periodic downtime spent waiting on insurance approvals, for example.

Townsend also keeps a paper schedule for each week. Every morning, he discusses the day’s slate of vehicles with employees and ask if anyone has issues in terms of  missing parts or necessary calibrations.

The schedule is done in CCC ONE and on a physical paper copy. Townsend starts scheduling vehicles on Wednesday each week and leaves room for work on tow-ins on Fridays. 

For each day, Townsend schedules 180 hours of work. The schedule capacity is determined by the previous year’s capacity for that month.

Townsend segments repair work by type of job. He looks at the category of jobs that came in last year and whether it is a small repair or a larger job. He adds up the number of small jobs and the number of large jobs and averages those out by week. This is what he uses to create his current schedule.

 

Offer the customer a way to spend less time at the shop.

Arnold tells his customers they can save some time themselves by uploading pictures of the damage directly to his website. This allows the shop more time to research the repair because the estimator is not sitting down and talking with the customer.

Townsend informs customers they can upload photos via BodyShop Booster. The customer can text photos to the shop and Townsend can let them know if he needs more photos, or better quality photos sent over. This helps him on the weekends when the customer might want to get the process started. Townsend can then collect all the photos he needs to start the estimate on Monday.

 

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