Front Office

Creating an Efficient Front Office

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Simply put: Your front office is the link between your customers and the technicians who fix their vehicles. It can either be your biggest asset in creating quick, productive diagnostics, or it can be your shop’s biggest bottleneck.

Former shop owner Rick White, now the president of 180 Business Solutions LLC, met with R+W to discuss how streamlining your front office systems can improve your bottom line.

People keep looking for these silver bullets and new technology—going paperless and things like that. All of that is fine, and it can work great, but sometimes we get so into the forest that we can’t see it through the trees anymore.

“There are a number of applications and programs, too, that can make a difference in your shop. Although—and I can’t stress this enough—if you don’t have the basics down first, they won’t make any difference for you.”
—Rick White, president of 180 Business Solutions LLC

It’s really about the basics, and that’s communication, and documenting that communication.

I do invoice audits all over the country, and the documentation is just horrible. You see things like “diagnose check engine light” written down by the service advisor for the technician. Well, that’s great, but when does it come on? How often does it come on? What conditions?

Do you see how not having this information poses a problem in the shop?

They don’t ask these questions, so they don’t have these answers.

What I’ve found, both through my own shop and with working with clients, is that most of the time in a shop isn’t spent diagnosing; it’s spent trying to reproduce the problem. We’re not doing a good enough interview and documentation to get the right amount of information.

So, at its most basic, the first step is creating that environment where your front office is doing a thorough interview with the customers.

The front office staff—your advisors and the people at the front desk—aren’t there to diagnose problems. They need to be gathering information. They need to be the customer advocate for the shop.

But, all that information has to be documented thoroughly before giving it to the technician. The more verbal communication there is, the more chances there are for a mistake. If it’s written down, there are fewer mistakes. I don’t care if it’s online or a note section on the computer where the tech can put it in and the advisor can put it in. I don’t care if they do it on paper, as long as it’s recorded.

This cuts down on the back-and-forth issues with technicians and service advisors. It cuts out all the questions and issues. If they know what they’re doing and looking for and have the information, you’ve cut out all that wasted time. That’s a form of lean processing, right there.

Now, if you’re looking for some other ways to create a streamlined system, I have two main suggestions, and they’re both very simple.

The first thing is to get the advisors dual monitors for their computer screens. It makes a huge difference. They aren’t searching through everything, they aren’t taking a long time to pull things up, and it makes everything easier for them. They can pull up repair orders and look at screens to order parts—they can do multiple things at the same time without having to click back and forth constantly. I have three monitors in my office right now, and I love it. If someone takes a monitor away, it’s like they cut my arm off. It makes that big of a difference.

The second thing—and I honestly can’t believe there are shops who haven’t done this—is get cordless headsets for all the front office staff. I mean, I was doing this with my shop in the ’90s. It’s nothing new, but there are so many shops that don’t do this.

The cordless headset gives them freedom—you have both hands free to type, write or do whatever you need to do while talking to the customer. There are a number of companies that make very good ones, and they aren’t expensive at all.

I use them all the time now. I can get up, walk around. It’s funny: My clients can always tell when I’m walking around because I’m more energized sounding when I’m working. You get more energized. That’s just the way it is.

Both of these things—the dual monitors and the cordless headsets—make a tremendous difference with your front office’s productivity.

There are a number of applications and programs, too, that can make a difference in your shop. Although—and I can’t stress this enough—if you don’t have the basics down first, they won’t make any difference for you.

The first is a mobile phone application called ClearMechanic that allows you to upload video and photos of issues in vehicles for customers to review. It increases sales by about 20 to 30 percent. It makes the processes of explaining issues to customers simpler while making it more detailed.

The other thing would be the digital menu boards coming out from companies like AutoNet TV. These are great products that can make a big difference—as long as you have the basics done first.

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