The sun rises, the sun sets. The sun takes care of itself.
A service department? Not so much. A well-run service department requires the guidance of a skilled hand.
There’s a common characteristic to well-run service departments, says Josh Wagner, retail manager at Atlantic Pressure Washers in Linthicum Heights, MD. “This is a tie between communication and respect.”
A good mechanic is an essential partner in the department. There’s much more, though.
“The mechanic needs to have a solid process in place for receiving the customer’s complaint—symptoms, work required, expectations, need, etc.—and communicating back the service department’s ability to perform the work,” says Wagner. In the same context, the service department staff must be able to communicate “what’s expected from the customer at the time of drop off, as well as work that could be recommended for additional repairs.”
How smooth the process is reflects the strength of the tie between communication and respect, explains Wagner. “If the customer does not respect the shop enough to trust their work, recommendations, and company process, they should not leave equipment.”
It’s imperative, says Wagner, that the service department is committed to “do what’s best for the customer, regardless of what is involved on the service end.” With the link between communication and respect firm, a customer can leave equipment for repair and the service department can be confident the customer will be satisfied.
One of the most important modifications that Wagner’s company ever made to its department involved people, he explains. Employees who were unable to work in harmony with others were removed. Moreover, there is a focus on “steps to enhance relationships of those who work together.”
Customers can be a great source of information regarding how to sharpen the edge of a service department. “Customer feedback is a key part of building a better company,” says Wagner.
“Specifically, in our service department we strive to adapt to our customers’ needs,” explains Wagner. “In some cases, this has led to an increase in stocked parts, altered service schedules, and a change in the way we approach custom work.”
The results of being acutely attentive to customers’ needs? “This all has turned us into a significantly more efficient team than we were a decade ago,” says Wagner.
Consultants are available to advise how to do almost anything. That includes how to optimize the function of a service department.
Wagner says his company has used consultants to gather input on how to improve the service department, but he would not recommend the process.
“Taking someone outside of the industry and asking them to improve things is not much benefit,” says Wagner. “We’ve had an exhaust specialist, an electrical specialist, Lean management trainers, Kaizen trainers, and several other ‘specialists’ come in and attempt to have us change our facility for their benefit.
“While I’ll agree that some points from each of those fields had merit, they typically were lost in a real ‘working’ environment as opposed to theory,” continues Wagner. “By contrast, taking time to review issues as a team and committing to continuous improvement yields better results.”
Rick Benham, president of Kepner Equipment Inc./Chaffee-Ward Equipment in Canandaigua, NY, has not used a consultant. But if a service department needed a boost “to bring them to the next level,” a consultant might be recommended, he says.
A lot can be learned about how to keep a service department at the leading edge by listening to customers. Benham gives us an example.
“After just completing a major cleanup of the shop, we had a new customer walk in,” says Benham. “He stated how clean and organized the department was and that he will be using us for all his repairs.”
Benham’s team incorporated what they heard from the customer into their regimen. “We now take the time to clean and organize the shop weekly to maintain that level of professionalism” the customer identified, explains Benham.
Attention to details matters in everything a service department does. Maintaining focus is made easier when there are no distractions, such as a need to look for a part. Organization is key.
Benham purchased Stanley Vidmar cabinets “to better organize fittings and components for easier access and inventory control.” He says it was the most important modification he has made to his service department to date.
“Communication” is the one thing that all well-run service departments share, says Benham. “When a customer brings in a washer for repair and all they can tell you is that it’s ‘broke,’ the service manager-writer has to communicate with that customer in a way to get the customer to explain what ‘broke’ means.”
Doing intake at the service center requires patience. Not only may a customer not have a clear idea of what’s actually wrong with a machine, but the customer may also be frustrated by losing the use of the machine.
Everyone in the service department must be committed to interacting as a team, explains Benham. The person who does the write-up based on the conversation with the customer must in turn convey the information to the technician.
It’s important that the customer’s description/perception of the problem be preserved. It could be wrong. Yet the customer will want to hear something about some link between the problem experienced and how the machine was fixed. Again, it takes patience and a willingness to communicate.
Moreover, in the relay of information and the course of repairs, the service technician must be attentive to other issues with a piece of equipment that should be addressed, says Benham. Those issues or reminders should be brought to the customer’s attention.
The trust a customer places in a service center must be supported by the trust service center employees have in one another. A service center manager-writer can be a bridge between technicians and customers.
The service center manager takes the time to listen to customers and ferret out information that may be useful in repairs. That’s a real time saver because technicians can stay focused on their endeavors.