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I recently had a conversation with a particularly astute shop estimator. I asked him: What’s the biggest problem in your shop? He said the worst problems of the week are the unpleasant surprises. Namely, those surrounding the delivery of the repaired car to the customer. Because customer satisfaction is the top priority at the shop, such surprises invariably result in some degree of customer dissatisfaction. From the shop’s point of view, he said, the surprises were usually minor, but the customer didn’t always see it that way.

NO SATISFACTION

Customer satisfaction can quickly turn into dissatisfaction when one of three major sticking points arises: The vehicle is not delivered on time, unexpected out-of-pocket cash is required, or there’s a problem with the vehicle, in paint, body or electrical.

My estimator colleague says electrical problems are among the worst. An engine light on, or perhaps an airbag error, results in wasted time while technicians try to track down the source of the problem.

Meanwhile, the first problem—the vehicle not being delivered on time—is already in play, which creates a dissatisfying experience for the customer. And that leads to the second source of dissatisfaction—unexpected out-of-pocket cash required—when another day of rental car expense is added on.

Don’t confuse the delivery date with the estimated completion date.
The delivery date is for the customer; the completion date is for shop use.

WHAT’S TO BLAME?

The cause of these unwelcome surprises often lies in pre-delivery testing. Perhaps a technician tested the airbag early on and it passed easily, but when the vehicle went to final assembly, a second test of the airbag was not performed, and that set the stage for a last-minute problem. The same could be true of other warning lights. Of course, a more serious problem with suspension, steering, brakes and other operating functions should have showed up in final testing, but in a rush to meet a delivery time, all of the testing may not have been done.

GETTING RID OF THE RUDE AWAKENING

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my estimator colleague had a solution to avoiding these last-minute surprises and the rude awakening that comes with realizing your customer is unhappy.

To avoid the “unexpected out-of-pocket cash” issue that arises around the extra day of rental fees required when a delivery date isn’t met, management ought to foot the bill. The extra $30 or so is a small price to pay to retain the likelihood of having a customer who may well bring in several thousand dollars on their next repair or referral.

To avoid the other surprises, and to eliminate the unexpected out-of-pocket problem, the estimator suggested adding a couple of days to the delivery date estimate. That, he said, provides a cushion for the unexpected surprises that arise in the rush to meet a deadline. The caveat: Don’t confuse the delivery date with the estimated completion date. The delivery date is for the customer; the completion date is for shop use. And the completion date ought to be based on standard repair and refinish times.

“Very few shop people should know the delivery date actually told to the customer,” he cautions, otherwise, you may simply be delaying the unpleasant surprises by a couple of days. Those extra days aren’t for the technicians’ benefit, but for the benefit of the customer—and ultimately, your shop. Completing a repair early is a surprise that’s likely to increase customer satisfaction.

EASY AS 1-2-3

To avoid the unwelcome surprise of an unhappy customer, try this simple 1-2-3 prevention plan:
1. Allow a small amount of additional time
to the delivery date estimate.
2. Be willing to absorb small expenses.
3. Allow additional time to test, test, test. The estimator’s advice that may be toughest to follow is No. 3: Getting techs to re-test areas they assumed had already been tested can be a tough task. Suggesting that someone has not done his or her job well treads on tricky ground. The key to preventing unpleasant surprises and preserving customer satisfaction seems ultimately to rest on having a superior quality control manager—one who has a reputation for relentless testing, testing, testing.


Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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