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In Part 1, Bob Clements evaluates how you’re communicating with your service department customers to eliminate frustration, including following the 24-hour rule, and introducing the concept of “triage.” In Part 2 below, Clements explains the triaging process in more detail.

In the dealerships we consult with, we add an important person to the service department called a “service coordinator.” The service coordinator is a part of the complete service process, but is the key player for an equipment evaluation process we recommend called “triaging.”

Prior to the triaging stage, the service coordinator would have been notified to bring the equipment to the service department’s storage area for staging. Two things are happening now: First, as equipment flows into the dealership, either by customers dropping it off or by the pick-up and delivery driver bringing it in, the service coordinator stages all equipment with red ribbons in the storage area of the service department. The ribbon could be 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.

The second thing that is happening is that as the work orders are being written, they are separated out to be assigned to a technician. So, if your service department has three techs, the service manager or service writer would have a clip board for each of them and begin separating the work orders by technician so that when the triaging process starts, each tech will have equipment that matches their service ability.

The triaging process happens after the equipment has been checked into the dealership; the work order has been filled out and hopefully signed by the customer; and a red ribbon has been attached to show the equipment has just been checked in.

Scheduling the Day

At 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., the service coordinator will go to the service manager or service writer, take the clipboards and begin sorting out the equipment based upon the work orders on each tech’s clipboard. As an example, if the service coordinator took my clipboard and the manager had put work orders for 10 mowers on it, the service coordinator would find those 10 mowers and put them in a line so that the first one matched the first work order and so on.

With the equipment set to match the work orders on the clip boards, the final element for the service coordinator to prepare for triaging is to do a quick check of the equipment that is lined up. If the work order doesn’t have the equipment information on it, the service coordinator will complete that information on the work order. It’s important to have the brand, model and serial numbers on the work order so that parts can be pulled or ordered as needed by the parts department.

Once that is complete, the service coordinator will make sure that each piece of equipment has oil in the engine if required and start each piece to make sure the engines will run. If the service coordinator can’t start the engine, the equipment is pulled out of the line. The service coordinator will then write on the work order that the equipment needs to come into the service department for a more in-depth evaluation.

It’s important to note that we cannot triage an engine that won’t run or has an electrical issue. In both cases, the equipment will need to be staged into the service department for a more rigorous evaluation by the technician.

This is also the time when things like covers are removed, so that the techs can quickly evaluate the machine. Many of my service coordinators will go ahead and check cables, blades, recoil ropes, tire and tire pressure, if need be, and make notes on the work order if they see something that needs to be evaluated by the tech.

If any of the equipment you are triaging has a battery that might be weak or low, make sure you have a fully charged battery jump box ready for a tech who might need it. Grab a spark tester, spark plug wrench, if possible, probably a Phillips and straight screwdriver for the technicians,anything they might need to expedite the diagnostic process.

The service coordinator is trying to help the techs be fast and efficient. Your goal for diagnosing equipment is to have no more than 1/10th of an hour set aside for walk-behind or hand-held equipment and no more than 2/10ths of an hour for anything that is a ride-on or a snowblower. I want to stress again, the goal is not to have the technician fix the equipment. Instead, they should think of themselves as a “paramedic” at an accident site.

Again, the goal of the triage process is to be able to do a quick evaluation of equipment the day it comes in to identify anything out of the ordinary or whether a part is needed. We need to communicate that information to the customer within 24 hours of the equipment coming into the dealership.

Communicating with Technicians

After the initial triaging is complete, it’s time to communicate with the technicians so they can complete their stage of the triaging process. Keep in mind that they may be in the middle of a repair and won’t want to stop what they are doing in that instant. Just let them know how many pieces they have lined up and, based upon equipment type, about how much time they will need to set aside.

As an example, if you had 10 walk-behind mowers to triage, plan on an hour or less to do the evaluation. At the most I would take 6 minutes on each piece for a total of 60 minutes. You will find that once the techs get the hang of triaging, they will increase their speed and efficiency. The service coordinator’s job is to help the techs, such as by providing a tool they might need or a second set of hands as they go through the process.

At this point, the techs should have their individual clip boards and should be making notes regarding issues they are finding; what parts might be needed; and an estimate on the amount of time to complete the service or repairs. Again, that information is noted on the work order so that it can be used to either pull or look up the parts and price them out along with the labor estimated. Then, an estimate can be provided to the customer along with a request for approval to move forward or stop the repair process.

Once the techs have completed their evaluations on all the machines they had work orders on, they will hand the clipboard back to the service coordinator and return to the job they were on prior to the triage.

When the clipboards have been collected, the service coordinator will remove the red ribbon on each piece of equipment and replace it with a blue ribbon. This denotes the equipment has been evaluated and the work orders have been returned to the service manager or service writer. The service manager or writer will quickly go through each work order and evaluate the information recorded by the service tech regarding what they found. If the tech found nothing more than what the customer had asked to be repaired or serviced, then the work order would be put on another clipboard marked “pull parts.” Any work order that is found to need additional work over what was already approved by the customer will go on a clipboard marked “estimates.”

The service manager or service writer will hand both clipboards to the service coordinator who will take them to the parts manager for the parts department to process the requests.

The service coordinator will take the equipment that now has blue ribbons on it and proceed to wash or clean the equipment. This prepares it for the tech when it comes into the shop, plus, when the repairs are completed, it will be ready to go back to the customer.

The final part of the triage process is moving the parts that are pulled by the parts department back into the service department. This allows the equipment to be staged and ready to come into the department for the work that was approved by the customer.

Adding Power to Service

The power of the triaging process is that it forces the service department to deal with equipment more efficiently and gives the parts department a few days to pull parts or get parts ordered. This benefits everyone. The parts department benefits because they don’t have a tech standing at the end of the parts counter waiting for a part. It also benefits the service department because they have the parts they need with the equipment when it comes into the shop. This process prevents them from taking the equipment apart, realizing they don’t have the part they need and then going to see if the part is in stock. They are also working on equipment that has already been cleaned, which I find they like. And, most importantly, the customer gets their equipment back faster and has a better service experience.