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Service shop optimization

You most likely have multiple service bays in your shop. What are you using to manage the workflow of those bays?

Many dealers don’t use any formal system to manage this process. Some use sheets of paper, notebooks or white boards. A small percentage of dealers do use technology to plan, manage, and control bay utilization.

I recently spoke with one shop owner who told me that he controls his scheduling by putting his work orders in neatly stacked piles based on the work to be performed and the day and time of each appointment. I told him to watch out for a strong wind.

Explore your shop options

What choices do you have to manage your bays?

Let’s explore some of your options. In addition to the neatly stacked piles of work orders, some point-of-sale (POS) systems have built-in bay management and appointment scheduling functions. Also, there are stand-alone software systems to handle this process.

In my opinion, the most efficient systems are integrated with a POS system. In fact, some software providers include this function as a standard part of their POS system. An interfaced scheduling and bay management system provides the ability to manage your bays and appointments directly tied to your work orders and quotes — eliminating the chance of missing work orders, having duplicate appointments or errors due to multiple systems. It improves your efficiency and professionalism, not to mention your profits.

Some of your bays have specialty equipment in them and only those bays can perform certain jobs, while others are designated general bays for more common jobs. So, if you schedule a common job in the specialty bay and that bay is tied up for some time, you may have to wait to perform a specialty job which results in inefficient workflow.

Time is money. You don’t have the time to move vehicles in and out of bays to accommodate changing needs. But if you do it a lot, you waste time, which in turn decreases productivity and profits.

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Calendar of events

Imagine one screen on your POS counter that shows you the entire day and every bay in your shop — a snapshot of all your scheduled and unscheduled appointments. You can easily see where you have availability for any given day, and you can more effectively schedule upcoming appointments for your customers. Likewise, a good bay management system will show you what each scheduled appointment is for (tires, rotations, balancing, etc.), the duration of the job, the status of where the vehicle is and, just as important, where the customer is.

Take a look at how one successful tire dealer handles appointment and bay scheduling.

Craig Chrisman, owner of Westgate Tire Pros in Newport, Tenn., understands the value of implementing an integrated online system for all his appointment and bay scheduling. Prior to 2003, Westgate Tire’s service area consisted of a single bay door with three work areas inside. Back then, Craig understood the importance of proper scheduling. It was crucial to make sure vehicles were placed in the proper sequence in the work areas to maximize productivity. He relied on manual systems in those days, but understood doing it right meant less stress on workers and more productivity coming out of the service area. Craig commented, “With a single bay door, we learned how to manage our appointments out of necessity. When it came to conflicting appointments, we would rather tell a customer we were sorry and couldn’t take them at that time or ask them if they could leave their vehicle with us. Then we would move their vehicle around as needed. It’s all about satisfying the customer.”

In 2003, Westgate Tire Pros built a new shop with six bays. Even though they had much more flexibility, they remained steadfast to their appointment scheduling methodologies. “By continuing the discipline of insisting on setting up appointments, we were helping to serve our customers better. Our goal is to turn vehicles in and out in the timeliest manner possible. In addition, we eliminated the chaos and stress that goes along with the lack of a good scheduling system.”

In early 2012, Westgate Tire Pros implemented an automated POS system from Andreoli & Associates that included a bay and appointment scheduling system. Craig went on to say that this automated system “allows for the maximum utilization of bays and realization of revenue. When we have less than 100% utilization, it allows us to see where the holes are in the schedule. The scheduler is a multi-color screen display with each color having a specific meaning which gives everyone a visual representation of the entire day for every bay. Each color-coded appointment represents a type of service and symbols in the appointment reflect the status of the vehicle, such as ‘ready,’ ‘waiting for parts,’ ‘on lot,’ and so on. It prevents us from over-scheduling, as well.

“We have a workstation in the shop that our technicians are updating as they work on each vehicle which in turn instantly updates the schedule for everyone to see.”

I asked Craig to further elaborate on the benefits he has seen in the shop since they implemented an automated bay and appointment scheduler. He said, “The system keeps things on schedule which helps our techs do the jobs correctly. They don’t feel rushed. Another key feature allows us to block out bay availability when the bay may be unavailable for various reasons such as equipment under repair, mechanic is off-duty, and so on. This prevents making promises to customers that you later have to break.”

Craig went on to say, “We can look at upcoming days and scheduled bays and see when we have some open blocks of time. This further improves our productivity by managing our mechanics and reaching out to our customers to fill up empty slots in the schedule.” Westgate Tire Pros respects their customer’s time and it is reflected in the success they continue to experience in their business.

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Here are a few more tips on appointment management and bay utilization:

1. When you confirm an appointment with your customer, give them a confirmation number (use your work order number). Just like a hotel reservation, it makes you look more professional and it makes your customer feel special. Remind them to call if they have to change or cancel the appointment. Your bay time is perishable. A no-show is time and revenue lost for good.

2. Always find out when making an appointment if the customer plans to wait. Your appointment and bay management system needs to provide a means of flagging if the customer intends to wait. If they do, don’t try to sell them more services when you have the vehicle in the shop. They likely are not planning an extended stay. Do get them committed to a follow-up appointment. And if they are not comfortable committing while there, use whatever tools are in your software to remind you to follow up with them by phone, mail, email or other means to book that return visit. Some software provides a means of creating a follow-up ticket when closing out the current ticket. The follow-up ticket can be for a courtesy/thank you call or a call to action on a previously declined service or future service.

3. Allow online appointment bookings outside of business hours. If you take appointments, don’t miss an opportunity to book more business by offering your customers the ability to book appointments before you open, at night, or on the weekend. How they book can be as simple as an appointment “submit” form on your website. Sure, there may be a conflict; just make sure you put a note on the form to state that the appointment will be confirmed the next business day.

4. Respect your customers’ time. Many online negative reviews posted from customers center around waiting too long for what they perceived was a scheduled appointment. Have you ever waited in a doctor’s office for your scheduled appointment time? You know how that makes you feel.

In the end, you need to be able to schedule appointments as fast and efficiently as possible for your customers on days and times that are convenient for them. At the same time, you want to maximize the productivity of your technicians and utilization of your service bays. Instead of trying to make calm out of chaos, you can take the stress out of appointment scheduling and maximize your revenue by implementing POS software with an interfaced scheduling and bay management system.

Happy scheduling!    ■

As CEO and president of WECnology LLC (www.wecnology.com), Wayne Croswell is a “complimentary technology advisor” for independent tire dealers. Croswell can be reached at wcroswell@wecnology.com or (603) 249-5530.

For more Business Insight articles by Wayne Croswell, see:

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