Preventing Day-to-Day ‘Fires’ in Your Business

George Kingman
Posted on July 25, 2019

Most of us feel like we spend a lot of our time putting out fires, if not all day, than at least part of every day. We do it so often, we just accept it as part of the job… but does it have to be? I believe that if you recognize some of the things that start common fires, they can be eliminated.

When I work with clients at their stores, I’m always looking for potential “fires.” The problem with these fires is often the gas is poured at one part of the process, but the fire doesn’t start until later, and often the person who poured the gasoline is rarely recognized as the teammate who started the fire.

Let me elaborate. Think about your common fires:

  • can’t find the wheel lock key;
  • can’t reach the customer;
  • customer complains because the hood is up and he came in for a flat repair;
  • customer comes back because the steering wheel still vibrates after an alignment;
  • customer’s car was due to be done 30 minutes ago, and we still have 10 more minutes before the repair is complete.

These are just a few of the examples. We all have had these happen — some of them today! And what do we do? We often blame the technician for the failure, especially if the car isn’t going to be ready on time. If we really want to get to the root cause, we should first look at the service advisor writing up the ticket. Maybe he spread the gasoline that started the fire.

There are a couple reasons why these fires are started, but ultimately it comes down to providing training and eliminating shortcuts.

Do you ever feel you or your service advisors are always racing to write-up a new customer? I have observed advisors who have all the time in the world, but they still tab through the fields of the POS as though they know a time bomb will go off if they don’t print the initial work order within 30 seconds. Why is that?

Generally, it is because they don’t see the value in the initial write-up. Maybe it isn’t a big ticket service. Maybe they are writing up their millionth oil change this month, and can fill out the work order with their eyes closed. But the write-up is where you build the foundation of the ticket. It is where you get a true understanding of the customer’s needs and expectations, and trust is built.

If you spend more time asking questions, customers have more trust in your recommendations because they feel you understand their needs. That is the reason to slow it down and spend more time in this step. But does that prevent the fires? Not quite. This just addresses the shortcut/time element.

The fires get eliminated when we have a specific process that we follow, every time. I emphasize every time because even though this process step will take the advisor longer, it is when you are the busiest that you need it the most.

Your process must include a maniacal focus on the details. Every customer must get the same explanation on whatever inspection process. You must repeat back the customer’s phone number that you’ll be calling or texting, and let them know approximately what time you’ll be reaching out. Your teammates must get the wheel lock in their hands before the customer leaves, so you aren’t wasting time later.

You must fill out symptom sheets (or have the customer complete them with your associate) on every customer who has a problem that isn’t maintenance related. Let’s face it, how many times do you have to be burned before you realize if someone is asking for an alignment at the counter, then something else is probably wrong. But our service advisors are so excited for the easy GP dollars, they are afraid to ask for fear they might talk them out of the easy sale.

So if this is the problem, how do you fix it? I find it best to get the team together and discuss the process fires. Ask them questions about what caused the fires — I have found it takes asking, “Why did that happen?” at least three times before you get to the true root cause.

Once the team recognizes the root cause without you telling them, they are more open to accepting it and working on a solution to fix it. Let them come up with the process of eliminating the shortcuts. Their solution may not be as good or the same as yours, but if it is their idea, they are more likely to follow through. I would rather have 75% adoption of an idea half as good as my own versus 0% adoption of the best idea in the world.

You have to call out every “grenade” you see and trace it back to the root cause. Just like anything else, your team will do what is important to you, as long as they know it is important to you. That is why you must constantly call them out. You’ll know you are making progress when the fires are further and further apart. And don’t forget to let your staff know how much you appreciate their hard work on those busy days that have a noticeable reduction in fires.

Know this: I understand that when you are busy fighting fires, you have even less time to prevent them, but until you take the time to focus on fire prevention, you’ll continue to have brush fires.

Have another super-fantastic month of driving operational excellence with your team! ■

George Kingman is executive director of Dealer Strategic Planning Inc., the DSP 20 Group. He can be reached at or (704) 506-2164. For more information, visit

Related Topics: George Kingman, management, retail, service, training

George Kingman Executive Director of DSP
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