Editor's Note: You are currently reading Part #1 of "Expediting Equipment Repair"

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In Part 2, Bob Clements explains the triaging process in more detail.

As you look at your dealership and those you compete against, you will find you all need two things to survive — customers and employees. Regardless of what you sell or your location, without people who are willing to spend money and employees who are willing to take it, nothing happens in business.

In your dealership, money flows in from three primary areas, the sale of new and used equipment; the sale of parts for that equipment; and the sale of labor to repair the equipment that you sold. The goal of each department is to take what they sell — equipment, parts or time — and make the most money possible. At the same time, you need to make the customers, who give the money, and the employees, who take it, feel good about the experience.

In service, our goal is to find ways to give our customers the best possible experience while their equipment is being serviced or repaired. By doing so, you will also give the parts department advance notice of the parts that will be needed, relieving pressure and frustration. The sales department will be confident in knowing that if they sell a product, the service department will give the customer a “wow” moment. This will encourage customers to tell others and return to the dealership and continue to buy products in the future.

In order to ensure the work that the shop produces meets the quality expectations for both your dealership and the customer, you must commit to finding ways to service equipment more effectively and efficiently. And, through the process, you may have to rethink everything you do as a service department.

Meeting Expectations

Years ago, many service departments tended to not concern themselves with customers’ expectations. If it was during the busy season and the service department was two, three or more weeks behind schedule, that’s just how it was. Every dealership was the same way, so the customer didn’t really have a choice and just had to deal with it.

Because of the backlog, the quality of the repair was less important than just getting it moved through the shop so that the pesky customers would stop calling to check on their equipment. Dealers today wonder what caused so many dealers to go out of business. It was because they lost focus on the most important part of the business, which was growing happy, satisfied customers who wanted to do business with them instead of a mass merchandiser.

Enhancing the Experience

The most important aspect of service is the customer experience. When I talk about how the customer is treated in most service departments, they tend to think of it in the context of doing good service work for them. While that is an important aspect of meeting a customer’s expectations, it is really a “given” that customers expect the work being done will be done correctly and on time.

What can you do to exceed a customer’s expectation? Do a better job of keeping them informed as their equipment goes through your service process. By getting emails and cell phone numbers from customers when they check their equipment in, you can easily update them as their equipment is moving through your shop.

Some may think it’s a waste of time to keep in contact with customers before their equipment has been finished. From my experience, however, customers are never upset when they have been updated. Even if it’s going to be a week or more before you will be able to get to their equipment, every few days, just send a bulk email out to all your open work orders to let them know you are on schedule with their projected service time.

I think you will find that in most cases your business management software will give you the ability to do this in a simple and painless way. If it doesn’t, get with your software provider and let them know you would like this to be a feature in their next upgrade.

Introducing ‘Triaging’

One of the most important aspects of a service department is the relationship it has with the parts department. Because of the lack of processes in most service departments, the relationship becomes strained because the techs need parts and the parts counter is busy waiting on customers and answering phones.

Techs get frustrated, customer work gets delayed and no one is happy. Yet, in most cases, this problem could be fixed with just some simple process changes in service. That’s where the concept of “triaging” comes in.

When you think of triaging equipment, think of what happens at the site of a car accident. Paramedics pull up and begin the evaluation process of looking and talking to the victims to determine the seriousness of their injuries. Once that is done, they can begin communicating with the hospital on what might be needed prior to the ambulance arriving. You can do the same thing on 80% of the equipment that comes into your service department if you just set a few new processes in place.

Understanding the 24-Hour Rule

The first part of any process you put into place is to evaluate how you want to impact your customers. Everything we do at a dealership is focused on giving the customers the best possible experience so they will go out and tell others about your dealership and your brands. I have found that one of the most important parts of creating a good experience is through solid, consistent and timely communication.

There is nothing more frustrating to a customer than for them to not know the repair status of the equipment they have left with your service department. I understand that you told them, when they left the equipment, that you would get back to them as soon as possible and would update them on what you find out. You were thinking sometime this week. Your customer is thinking sometime tomorrow. That’s the disconnect that happens between the dealership and the customer, in terms of the definition of “soon.”

In my mind, “soon” represents a 24-hour time period. While it may seem impossible to reach out to every customer who drops a piece of equipment off to be serviced during season, I believe that it is an attainable goal if you have the right processes in place and strictly follow them.

Think about it, a package you send can be tracked across the country. A pizza you order can be tracked from the order to the delivery stages. Mass merchandisers update customers through email or text when their merchandise or parts are ready to be picked up. A customer being notified of what is happening is the new reality in today’s business environment.

Next Installment: Adding ‘Triaging’ Processes to Increase Efficiencies

In Part 2, the triaging process will be explained in more detail, including the service coordinator’s critical role in the process and the interaction with the parts department. The ultimate goal is to streamline processes and get the equipment back to the customer as soon as possible.