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Smooth out the wrinkles at your detail shop

April 08, 2009
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Here are three tips to minimize routine problems at your detail shop, courtesy of

Stop repeat problems

In a typical repair shop the staff spends too much of their day dealing with problems which have been dealt with before (and will occur again) due to the lack of simple systems that prevent the problems from happening in the first place.

For instance, the loaner car is not completely ready for the customer because there is no assigned and scheduled procedure in place to make sure that it is always ready to go. Of course there are dozens of similar issues, each one consuming valuable staff time and killing efficiency.

When a common problem occurs, note it, and create a simple system to deal with it. Then put it in place and watch as the staff becomes less stressed and more productive.

Get all customer information

Yes, this seems pretty basic, but the vast majority of problems which occur in an automotive shop are related to not handling the basics thoroughly and consistently. We ask for the name, address and a phone number or two, but what other information might be useful for future visits and marketing?

Did you get work and cell numbers for both spouses? Fax numbers? Email addresses? (You have made email collection mandatory, right?). Some shops also ask for the customer’s birthday so the manager can send something special once a year.

Last but not least, don't forget to briefly review current information for returning customers to see if anything has changed.

How good is your “Symptoms Interview” process?

Most shops do a reasonably good job of asking questions about the customer's concerns. However, many shops depend mainly on the ability and memory of the service advisor or detail technician. A better approach is to create a standard list of questions in your software so the process is consistent and thorough every time regardless of who is doing the write up.

This process will allow anyone on your staff to do a reasonably good job of writing up a customer when a detail technician is not readily available. For best results, have both the questions and the replies print out on the work order. The techs will know what to expect each time and be less likely to ask the advisor to call and get further information.

Tom and Deb Ham are the owners of Automotive Management Network, an online forum to exchange information about the management of all types of vehicle service facilities, independent auto repair shops, car and truck dealers, franchises, fleets, body shops and more. More information can be found at