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Pushing the Fixed Ops Needle Forward

It’s critical to get out of your office and truly manage what’s going on in your shop. Here are a few tips on how to make this happen.

Phil Spagnoli currently serves as regional sales director for Elead. Phil has worked his entire career in the auto industry, including as a fixed ops director and service manager for a dealership in Washington State.

In the auto industry, it’s pretty much a given that process equals profits. When employees follow your dealership’s established processes, profits will follow. But how do you know if employees are following processes?

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If you’re managing a fixed ops department, reports can tell you some of what you need to know. Reports, such as number of open repair orders (ROs), percentage of ROs that are one-liners, customer satisfaction index (CSI) scores and service drive labor rate, can all give insights about how well employees are following processes. 

But reports don’t tell the whole story. If you’re spending most of your day sitting at a desk, looking at reports and dealing with paperwork, remember that reports don’t generate profits. Customers generate profits, and the only way to know how your customers are being taken care of is to get out on the floor, observe with your own eyes and set a living, breathing example for your employees. 

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I know this is easier said than done. The law of inertia states that an object at rest will continue to be at rest until an external force acts upon it. For service managers who tend to manage from their desks, that external force might only come in the form of an emergency.

To push the needle forward, it’s critical to get out of your office and truly manage what’s going on in your shop. Here are a few tips on how to make this happen.

Delegate

Every good leader knows how to delegate. If you believe you’re the only one in your department who can do most things that it takes to run the department, then you’ll never get out from behind the desk.

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To find tasks to delegate, imagine that you’re recording yourself throughout the course of a day, or try keeping track of your time in 15-minute increments, like an attorney. Identify the repetitive tasks that you spend time on, and give those tasks to someone else. This might include pulling CSI numbers, reviewing month-to-date sales or yesterday’s sales, or tracking the loaners going in and out. 

Ideally, you want to spend 50% of your day at your desk and 50% out in the shop interacting with customers and employees.

Set an Example

Every day, service managers’ top priorities are their staff and customers. I like to call it shaking hands and kissing babies, although these days that saying is purely a metaphor.

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The most effective way for any manager to manage is to lead by example. If your employees don’t know what your expectations are, they’re going to do what they think is right or what they think is enough or what they can get away with.

Even the most basic processes are vulnerable to employee apathy if nobody demands accountability. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen customers drive into the service lane, and nobody is there to greet them. 

During the early morning and late afternoon rush hours, the manager should provide backup to service advisors who are engaged with customers. Greet every customer, and make him or her feel welcome. Walk them to the waiting area, offer coffee or snacks, tell them what to expect, thank them for their business. This sounds so basic, and yet time and again I witness dealership employees not doing this. I’ll never understand why dealerships spend so much money to get customers into the door, only to ignore them when they arrive.

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No matter how busy an employee is, a customer in the service lane is always the first priority. But employees won’t learn this unless they see it in action, and the manager makes the expectation clear and holds employees accountable. 

If running and reviewing reports seems more important than greeting customers, it’s time to reset your priorities. Making your customers and employees happy and satisfied is by far the most important work a manager can do.

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