Checking in a customer’s equipment for service seems like a simple process, however, how it is done and the questions asked of the customer make all the difference in the speed of the repair and customer satisfaction.

Let’s look at specific steps used to check equipment in; the proper way to improve the work flow in the shop, and how to keep customers informed of the repair.

Start Off Right

I am an avid reader and I often select books based upon reading the first few pages to see if I like the pace of the book and if the writer catches my attention from the beginning. The beginning of a book will tell me a lot about what I should expect since it’s an investment in time to read the book.

As important as it is to start a good book off right, it is equally important to start everything you choose to do in life in the best possible way. As a matter of fact, I have found in life that the better you start, the better you will most likely finish.

It’s no different with your service department and the equipment you check-in every day in your dealership. The better job you do at the beginning, the easier it is to figure out what is wrong when it gets to the shop and the faster you can turn the equipment back out to the customer. What you do during the check-in process has a ton of impact on everything that happens from that point forward.

As I look at what happens during most dealership check-in processes, I see multiple people who are talking to customers, creating work orders and doing their best to move people in and out as quickly as possible. I recommend standardizing the check-in process so regardless of who is interacting with the customer or creating the work order, the process is the same for every customer and every piece of equipment.

Our goal is to have a defined process for checking in equipment, so that anyone can be trained to do the process — and so there are no surprises when the work order and the equipment come back to the service department. I can tell you from first-hand experience that there is nothing more frustrating than a work order that says “Won’t run.” Why? Because when we test the equipment in the shop, 90% of the time it starts right up. Now, we have to guess at what the person who checked the equipment in was trying to tell us. A worse scenario is the employee simply wrote down what the customer said and didn’t ask any questions to clarify what they actually were trying to say.

I understand that there are times when you have 8 people in line who need to get their equipment checked in and you have 5 people at the parts counter who need help, all the phones are ringing and a service tech is standing waiting to talk with you. It seems overwhelming to be able to take care of everyone and keep them all happy. That’s why it’s so important to have that process in place.

In the service department, there is nothing more valuable than getting good information from the customer. When a tech is checking in equipment, regardless of how busy they are, they need to ask the customer in-depth questions to help isolate the problem. That’s where most check-in processes begin to break down. The person checking in the equipment is listening to the customer but not asking questions or at least not asking the right questions to get to the real issue.

If you are the person that is checking equipment in or are going to be helping those who are checking equipment in, make a commitment to both the customer and the service department to create a process. This will give the service department the ability to turn equipment in and out quickly. It will also help customers feel confident that you understand what they were trying to communicate to you.

How to Check-in Equipment

While the check-in process seems simple — and it is — there are critical elements that must happen in the beginning to get it going in the right direction. The process basically works the same regardless of whether you have equipment coming into your parts counter and your parts people checking it in, or you have a service writer or service manager.

A customer calls or comes in with something that needs repair and someone is going to have to check it in. The first thing you do is create a work order or a repair order (depending on what your business management software calls them). First, you need to start off with some information, not about the equipment, but about the customer. Ask for both a cell phone number and an email address so we have multiple ways to get back in touch with the customer.

You may be asking for a home number, but here’s what’s wrong with that approach. Today, no one seems to be home when we call them because many times the husband and wife are both working. Or we leave a message on their answering machine, but when they get home to call us the store is closed and they have to leave a message. Some customers may decide to call back the next day, but often forget.

You’ll have a much easier time connecting with the customer during normal hours of service by having both the cell phone number and the email address.

Now that you have the customer information, it’s important to gather basic information on the equipment. I would always recommend starting with the model and serial number and then any engine information that is necessary. Your goal is to have all the information on the work order that the parts department needs for ordering parts.

At this point, you also need to identify the equipment based upon the work order and the customer name, so some sort of tag will be necessary to tie on to the equipment. This will make it easier to identify for the shop when it’s ready for its initial evaluation. I encourage the dealerships we work with to add a “red” ribbon to show that the equipment has just been checked in. The ribbon could the same tape that land surveyors use to mark their survey stakes. It is highly visible, comes in lots of colors and will hold up to the weather.

We also recommend that you consider using a numbered tag like those that are used to identify cattle as a part of your equipment identification process. One of the challenges that many dealers have with the tags they are using is that the name can come off because of inclement weather or pressure washing. There is nothing that makes a dealership look worse than when a customer calls in to check on their equipment and the service department can’t find it because the tag is gone.

The cattle tags are reusable, they are made of a heavy vinyl and have a unique number on them. When they are “zip-tied” to a machine, they will not come off and no amount of weather or water will make the number fade away.

Make sure to put the tag number on the work order and you can rest assured that you can quickly find the equipment at any point in the sales process.

Now that the equipment is tagged and the work order is prepared, you are ready to quickly evaluate the equipment before you begin asking the customer questions. One of the most important things you should be doing with any 4 cycle engine is to check the oil. I would always encourage you to do this in front of the customer if at all possible. A couple of things will happen. First, if the equipment is in for a repair, it will give you the ability to potentially upsell a service which will help the customer maintain the useful life of their equipment.

Second, if you check the oil and it doesn’t have any, the last thing you want to do is to start the engine. If the engine starts and then stops because of lack of oil, you own it, not the customer. On the same note, if the customer said they were just mowing and the engine stopped, it’s mostly likely that the engine has seized and will probably need to be rebuilt or replaced depending upon the age and value of the equipment.

One final thought on the oil, I have also seen the oil be perfectly clean. Often, this means the customer ran the engine out of oil, realized it and then put new oil in. If they say the engine is running bad or is difficult to start, they may have damaged the engine. It likelyhas low compression because of scoring on the cylinder walls and the customer maybelooking and hoping for a warranty claim. I can’t stress enough how important checking that oil is in the very beginning of the process.

At this point I would also pull the air filter out and look at it with the customer again, my goal isto potentially upsell a service whenthe equipment is in for a repair.

 Our next issue of eBriefwill feature Part 2 of this feature, offering more ideas on how to bring professionalism to your service department.