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Customer Service Meets Productivity

April 20, 2014

mechanic1 We had a tough winter here in Eastern Ontario where I live. But then, so did much of Canada and many parts of the U.S. Lots of snow, strong winds, and what caused meteorologists to exhibit signs of unusual arousal, the Polar Vortex, which somehow got diverted from Canada’s Arctic for a couple of months to put the freeze on much of North America. Blame the Canucks!

So it was with a sturdy measure of glee that I finally made appointments to have the winter rims on our two vehicles switched over to summer. Having already done our all-wheel drive Tucson, it was time to get Sue’s Elantra done. Off I went in mid-April, a little later than usual compared to years past, to our dealership Myers Hyundai in Ottawa where I’d made an appointment two weeks earlier.

After I was logged into their system, I casually asked how long it would take. To switch rims without balancing the tires takes 15 to 20 minutes. However, I knew they were busy so I was prepared to wait up to an hour. I was stunned for a few seconds when the service advisor replied, “It’ll be a few hours.”

“Hold the bus,” I thought to myself. I had an appointment, I’d been having tires changed for some 35 years at dealerships and garages and had never been told it would be a “few hours.” At most, I might have waited an hour. When I asked why it would be so long and said that I had a lot of errands to do, the service advisor replied that they had about 80 cars needing tires changed and that was how it was for that day.

Given that I operate on the maxim of “time is money,” not to mention that I’m demanding as a consumer, my response went like this: “Okay, this is how we’re going to do this. Go get my wife’s tires out of storage, put them in the car and I’ll go to a garage where a friend is the service manager.” He didn’t like this, turned around and stormed off in a huff, upon which I called out to him in front of other customers and employees, “Sorry to ruin your day!”

A few minutes later he returned and said that my car was up next. What? I asked him why he didn’t say this at the outset, but I received no reply. Off I went to the waiting room, and in 35 minutes my car was ready.

Customer Service Circle Graph This isn’t how a customer service relationship experience should go. This was the third run-in I’d had with this fellow, who once told me he had 30 years experience in the automotive industry. Really? He sure hasn’t learned much along the way. Contrast his bumbling attempt at customer service with Laura, a young service advisor at Myers Hyundai who is outstanding, the best advisor I’ve had in my many years of car ownership.

But let’s get back to nub of the problem: some 80 vehicles supposedly in the queue for tire changes that day in April.

When it comes to customer service what typically gets left in the backroom is productivity, a word that most of the public doesn’t understand, nor care to. Canada’s productivity compared to the U.S. is weak, very weak. And across Canada, productivity varies widely and across all sectors, whether in manufacturing, healthcare, government, financial services, construction, and so forth.

That day at Myers Hyundai spoke volumes to me about productivity, but also how easy it would be for an automotive dealership or garage to correct. A dealership has a set amount of hours it’s open each day. It has a staff contingent of mechanics (service technicians in today’s politically correct job market). And management should know how long it takes to swap rims, or balance tires or whatever else customers require.

That a customer, such as yours truly, would be told that despite an appointment in the morning it would take a “few hours” for a 15 minute procedure speaks to the lunacy of this particular dealership’s management practices. If managed properly, even in the height of tire change season in the spring, service advisors should be able to give customers a 15 minute maximum variance on wait times. In other words, for my servicing I should have been told that my vehicle would be ready within 30 minutes.

Mechanic This is clearly not rocket science. However, as movie director Martin Scorsese once said, “There’s no such thing as simple. Simple is hard.” This means that in the case I’ve just presented, while the solution to running an efficient tire change process may seem simple in concept (and it is), where the rubber meets the road (excuse the pun) requires hard work by everyone in the business. But it is totally achievable and a win-win for everyone involved.

A fundamental part of this means knowing your metrics. Know how long it takes to carry out a procedure efficiently, such as changing tires. When booking appointments, tell customers that a certain day is full and then schedule them for the next open one. That’s how we work at the outdoor gear shop where I work part-time. Spring is the crazy time of year for bike sales, plus people want tune-ups. We operate on an appointment basis. And at the time of writing this post we were booking at least two weeks ahead. Our parent store in downtown was a month ahead.

It’s unfair to technicians/mechanics to place extraordinary demands on them in the naïve hope that somehow a huge queue of vehicles will somehow get serviced in one day. The same with bicycles, or anything else.

It’s all about managing expectations.

When you get it right on running an efficient operation you’re then able to hit the sweet spot of consistently exceeding your customers’ expectations. Follow the maxim: Always under-promise but over-deliver.

If you manage or own a customer service business, have you thought about the P word–productivity?

Loyal customers, they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you.

– Chip Bell, Founder Chip Bell Group

Jim TaggartVisit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2014 5:35 pm

    You’re soo right. I find out about this on a regular basis.
    Awesome article.

  2. April 29, 2014 7:24 pm

    Did he ever bring your tires out and give them to you? Did you have to pay a fee? This is the first time I’ve heard of “storing tires.” Sounds like a way to trap customers into coming back to the business. In the U.S., we store them at home in the garage (unless that has changed in the past 20 years).

    • April 29, 2014 8:50 pm

      It’s a convenience thing, especially in the winter when both our cars are in the garage. Now one’s on the driveway. We now have 12 tires on rims in the garage, 4 belonging to a daughter.

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