The Daunting Role of Service Managers

March 19, 2024

I’ve long stated that service managers have the hardest job in an aftermarket tire and automotive dealership. Store managers have moments when their job is hard. Service managers are always juggling.

One of the hardest things a service manager has to be good at is balancing speed and accuracy. Yes you want to get a job done quickly, but not to the detriment of doing it right. Customers seem to prioritize speed, but if you ask them, they also want the job done correctly.

A service manager is like a conductor. He or she must keep all the instruments in time otherwise the music is disorganized. Not only does the service manager have to juggle the due time of every ticket — but also who gets the ticket. This should be based primarily on who is capable of doing the job correctly and on time. There is a time to stretch a technician’s experience and have them learn. But in order for an adult to learn, there cannot be pressure (time) to do it. The person will have a hard time learning if there are distractions like performing well or meeting a deadline.

Service managers need to have a feel for the shop as well. Who is on fire today? Who is a little slow? What are the upcoming appointments? Getting the shop into the right rhythm and keeping it there is a battle — everyday. Learning to give who what and when is a skill that can only be developed through practice and repetition. Owners or store managers should have regular conversations about decision making methods the service manager goes through in assigning work. There should be parallels in both people’s minds about how work flows through the shop.

In addition, service managers must communicate continuously and effectively with not only the technicians, but the service advisors. One bad service advisor is all it’s going to take to throw a grenade in the shop. If a service advisor is agreeing with a customer that an oil change will only take 15 minutes, and the shop is full and three deep on every tech, the service manager needs to hand the ticket back to the advisor and tell them they must renegotiate the time due.

A good service manager also has a timer in his or her head keeping track of the work in progress. How long are the parts going to take to get here, when does the tech actually start the work and how long will it take at that point? If the service manager simply hands out tickets and orders parts, then your shop is going to be a mess real quick. This timer can be going on 15 different tickets at a time or more, so it’s not an easy thing to do. And let’s not forget keeping up on returns and any parts inventory that needs reordering.

Lack of communication is the single most common mistake I see in shops across the country. The ticket is handed to the service manager, who reads the ticket, with very little communication with the advisor and then puts the ticket on a technician’s hook or bin. The tech then comes over and reads the ticket but very little communication happens then as well unless there’s a problem.

Both of those situations should have brief conversations whether simply stating a due time, or an explanation of any specific requests by the customer. There must be verbal communication at every point when a ticket changes hands (virtually or physically). I can promise you this: if a shop is quiet on the communication front it’s going to have problems which will be a surprise, and that will take up more time correcting than a 12 or 15 second conversation a couple of times over the life of the ticket.

Finally, a service manager also needs to be a diplomat. They have to bridge the gap between Counter Country and the Nation of Technicians. There’s a built in tension between the two. One is trying to make customers happy and agree to their demands, and the other is trying to do the job the right way. Sometimes this can create friction, and it’s up to the service manager to find middle ground and smooth out the rough patches.

The job of a service manager is simple — but it’s far from easy. If you’ve ever done the job, you know you walk 20 miles a day inside the shop and your brain hurts at the end of the day. It’s physically and mentally demanding and that should be the motivation of the service leader: a challenging yet rewarding experience.

About the Author

Dennis McCarron

Dennis McCarron is a partner at Cardinal Brokers Inc., one of the leading brokers in the tire and automotive industry (www.cardinalbrokers.com.) To contact McCarron, email him at [email protected].

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