I spend most of my time working on-site with dealerships and service departments. One of the biggest hurdles I must address with employees of dealerships is a breakdown of communication due to poor documentation. This may seem like a very simple problem to fix but it takes effort and a process.

The first breakdown in communication, that ultimately creates a snowball affect though out the whole dealership, is the first contact with the customer. Dealerships and employees are getting better with attaining the customer's contact information, but I find most documentation stops there. I encourage employees to dig deeper and to document what the customer says, even if it might not seem extremely relevant to the job at hand. It is normally in those details where we can find missing links to problems.

So, how do we get this information and what are the best ways to document the information gained?

1) The Initial Customer Contact

Begin by collecting information from your very first contact with the customer. When the customer drops off the unit for service you should get:

  • the customers contact information, including cell phone number,
  • unit information, and
  • general information gained by asking questions about their unit. Some of my favorite questions to ask customers are,
    • “Since owning this unit have you noticed any changes to how it is operating?”
    • “Have you noticed any changes to how it cuts?”
    • “Have you noticed a change in what the unit sounds like while you are using it?”

These three questions are very good questions to get the customer to open up about potential other issues they might be having or repairs the unit needs that the customer is not initially aware of.

At this point we need to make sure we are making notes not only in the computer system but also on the triage sheet so that the customer concerns are communicated to the technician as they are doing the triage.

As a side note, everyone must slow down, take the necessary time to take good notes and write legibly. I can be tough on employees as they are writing these notes, especially on the hand-written ones. What is the point of writing them if they aren’t legible or make sense?

2) Following Triage — Information from the Technician

As you or the technicians are writing or typing notes into a computer, be sure that you have captured a clear picture of the story of what is being requested or needed so that the work order could be handed to anyone in the dealership and they could have a conversation with the customer if they needed too. Clarity is key!

Now you have documented your first contact with the customer, entered clear information from the technician after triage. So, what’s next?

3) The Flow of the Work Order through the Process

It is key that the progress of the work order be updated throughout the process of the repair or service.

Whether you are using clipboards to transport and signify work orders are moving to the next stage of the process or if you are using the computer, we need to constantly be updating notes as these work orders flow though our process.

  • The easiest way to do this is to utilize your software system and simply change the status of the work order. Every software system I have personally worked with has either pre-set statuses that you can use, or often a custom status setting that you can adjust to make your own. I encourage dealerships to utilize this function of your software system in order to follow every step of the process. These steps give us, internally, a lot of information and indicators of the status of each unit. They also give us a very quick reference for the customer if they were to call in.
  • As you and your employees are updating the status of a unit, it is critical that notes are being made along the way; everything from the approval you receive from the customer, to parts that are on back order.

4) Final Steps

After the repair or service is complete and all documentation has been managed smoothly to this point, the final piece is to call the customer and let them know their unit is ready for pickup or delivery. A note should be made as to when the customer plans to pick up their equipment or what day the customer can expect the unit to be delivered.

A commitment to excellent documentation will benefit you, the customer and the dealership as a whole. Remember, start documentation with the first customer contact, make sure that all documentation is written clear for all departments to understand and finally, be detailed and document each step throughout the process. If even one step is missed, the chain of communication, either internal or external with the customer, will be broken.

Related content: Create a High Performance Dealership Series