Running a Shop

Tips for Mastering Customer Service Scheduling

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In his early days spent running the family shop, Joel Schenk rarely thought, “Thank God, it’s Friday.” In fact, he loathed Fridays. 

When he began operating what’s now known as CARSTAR Auto Care Experts, Schenk inherited a repair scheduling process that could only be described as frustrating. And it all culminated at the end of the week, during chaotic Friday mornings. 

“There was a lot of tension,” recalls Schenk, who largely took over operations of the Wyoming, Mich., shop around 2011. On Fridays, “you would have six or seven cars that needed to be assembled, cleaned up, and QC’ed all in the same day. On Friday you’re scrambling, because you’ve got to have these three parts for the car you promised to the customer the day before.” 

Back in 2011 and 2012, Auto Care Experts’ technicians and painters grew more anxious toward the end of each week. 

“It became apparent,” he recalls, “that we needed to get our arms around scheduling cars more effectively. … We were falling into the trap that many shop owners do, of scheduling and receiving most of your vehicles on Monday and trying to push to get those out by Friday. And that doesn’t work.” 

THE BACKSTORY

Nearly a decade ago, Schenk pridefully took over operation of a western Michigan shop that his parents had run since 1975. But the body shop manager that was initially in charge of scheduling vehicles was simply overwhelmed, which quickly created headaches for Schenk. 

The young shop operator quickly learned that, when a shop front loads its scheduling, employees tend to have oversights, as they occasionally rush to diagnose necessary repairs. 

Schenk knew his body shop staff couldn’t continue at that harried pace. He knew the shop needed to schedule vehicles in a manner that resulted in a more streamlined repair process. 

THE PROBLEM 

It’s a battle that most shop owners struggle with, Schenk says: Many insurers want vehicles repaired Monday through Friday, in an effort to keep rental-car costs in check. But attempting to strictly adhere to such a schedule consistently applies pressure to a shop staff. 

Schenk didn’t want his painters staying late, and he certainly didn’t expect his body shop staff (which has typically been around 10 employees) to paint cars and deliver them on the same day. Doing so would create unnecessary chaos, he felt. Back in 2012, Auto Care Experts’ touch time was about 2.5 hours—a number that didn’t sit well with Schenk. 

THE SOLUTION

As Schenk garnered sage advice from experienced shop owners in his 20 Group, he eventually formulated a plan for fixing his shop’s scheduling issues. 

Here was the multifaceted cure for Auto Care Experts’ scheduling concerns: 

Start scheduling vehicles later in the week. Instead of scheduling most repair work to be brought in on Mondays, Schenk directed his staff to convince as many customers as possible to do so on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. 

And, by focusing on accurately assessing vehicle damages on the front end of 

repair work, Auto Care Experts’ staff was able to “categorize” each job based a couple factors, Schenk notes. For example, if a repair can be “fast-tracked” as a 2- or 3-day repair, like a bumper cover job, Schenk’s staff now fills in gaps in its weekly schedule with such work. 

And, Schenk adds, if a vehicle requires 6 or 7 days to repair, then, “it’s going over to the weekend, anyways. So, why not have it come in on a Wednesday, where we can deliver it the following Thursday?” 

“If we can be effective in analyzing damage on the front end, where we can categorize them accurately 75 percent of the time, then we’re going to be that much further ahead as we go.” 

Focus on scheduling five cars per day. Auto Care Experts, which garners much of its business from fleet accounts, eventually established a goal of scheduling five cars per day. And, for a long stretch Schenk personally scheduled repairs in his shop’s CCC ONE Repair Workflow system. But, in recent months he has passed off that responsibility to an employee who largely serves as a customer service representative. 

“He handles all customer service for the shop,” Schenk says of the CSR. “I’ve completely turned it over to him. He’s the one assessing damage at the curb, to see if it’s a fast-track type of job, or if it’s a repair that’s a longer repair, and then scheduling those jobs accordingly.” 

THE AFTERMATH 

These days, Auto Care Experts’ staff doesn’t stress nearly as often about scheduling repairs. That’s because the process has been refined and streamlined, Schenk says. 

Cycle time has been trimmed to 6.1 days per repair order, compared to nearly 10 days back in 2012. Touch time has nearly doubled to 4 hours. 

THE TAKEAWAY

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned for Schenk in recent years is the value of being transparent with customers when it comes to scheduling. 

“If you can communicate that doing the best thing for the customer is to take the car in on a Wednesday, most people are willing,” Schenk explains. “You know, explain to people that, ‘If we schedule for this week on Wednesday, it’s going to make things a lot smoother for the whole process—your rental stuff is going to be smoother, there’s not going to be any substantial delays.’”

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