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The Proactive Service Manager

Fixed Ops Strategies to Prevent Chaos in Your Service Department

A few months into my new role as the service manager at a large metro-area dealership, it became obvious to me, that having the title, didn’t necessarily mean I was the one in charge. Crazy was becoming my new norm and my days were filled with putting out fires and fading heat. The questions, concerns and complaints were virtually unavoidable. They came from all directions and every source imaginable. In a moment of clarity amidst the chaos, I had a revelation. If I could figure out a way to prevent the fires from starting, I wouldn’t have to run around putting them out. I knew in order for things to change, I would have to put some foundational processes in place. Having received no formal training, and no real guidance, I didn’t have all the tools back then. Over the years, I learned a few steps that will help you make the transition from being a reactive manager to being a proactive one.

Here are a few fixed ops strategies and steps to implement in your service department to put out fires before they start.

Observe and Evaluate – When was the last time you walked through the process?  Did you look at it from both the internal and external perspective? Are there any unnecessary steps that cause friction? If you were a customer, how easy would it be for you to do business with your service department? These are some simple yet powerful questions. To get on the path of becoming a proactive manager you must start with your process. The only way to see how good or bad it is, is to observe it from the sidelines and evaluate your findings. Walk-through the process your employees and customers are involved in, do they make sense are they relevant?  If you find any friction points in it, make necessary adjustments to improve the experience for everyone involved.

Clear the Path – Being a proactive manager means you take the time to identify potential road blocks before you take action. You will encounter obstacles when implementing new processes and ideas. When you anticipate them, you are way more effective in executing the plan. These obstacles may come from multiple sources, like technology and equipment needs, employee resistance and the other departments of the dealership. Change happens fast, you must be flexible, to adapt and overcome the spikes and dips in the business. Clear the path for your team to execute the plan and eliminate all excuses.

Set High Expectations – How often do you set expectations and communicate those with your team? Choose performance goals that are specific, trackable and quantifiable.  Write them down and review them often. The goals you set should reflect the direction of where your department is marching. Daily communication is the key. No one likes to be left in the dark. On top of it, you cannot hold someone accountable to the expectations they are not familiar with. To get the most out of goal setting compare your progress and performance with year over year numbers. Once you set expectations and communicate those with your team, make it easy for them to access their progress information and encourage ownership. For best results utilize a three-prong communication approach – digital communication, one-on-one, and group meetings.

Always be Training – How often do you take time to train your people? To implement a new process or make a culture shift your people must have a skill set to accomplish those. Training takes planning and planning takes time.  Take time to insure positive start to any new venture. How it starts so it goes, you must avoid false starts. Keep in mind everyone’s pace and style of learning is different. While some pick new information up quickly, others take time and require more hand holding. Once the change is implemented, continuous training is the key to successful employee development. Keep sessions short – 10 -15 mins and focus on specific elements of the process.

Trip Their Trigger – Do you know what motivates them?  Being a leader means recognizing the talent inside your employee. Once you’ve discovered it, help them exploit it. Does their pay plan reflects their job description? Do you have the right set of rewards in place? Are all your people cast in the right positions? If some of your people are struggling, maybe they are simply in the wrong position? Good employees are hard to come by, so learn what makes them happy and productive. You’ll be surprised how much they will flourish once they are in the right spot.

To sum it up, if you want to become a proactive manager, you must start with observing and evaluating your current processes, removing all obstacles for your employees, spending time to train them and understand what motivates them.  In addition, you must inspect what you expect.  Observe customer interaction, review repair orders before(!) they are dispatched.  Spot-check the multi point inspections, spend time in the cashier’s office and customer lounge. Do this in an effort to provide much needed feedback on employee performance in a timely fashion. Finally, you must have an intent on becoming a proactive manager. Nothing comes easy. If you want to continue to play the firefighter’s role, more power to you.

by Dan Hahn