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Seven Deadly Inspection Sins

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Imagine you’re at the dentist, and as he’s cleaning your teeth, he notices a cavity. But instead of noting the cavity and suggesting a filling, he remains silent and just moves on. 

That’s what neglecting to do a proper vehicle inspection feels like to the customer, says Larry Monroe, quality assurance manager at Management Success!.

“The customer is assuming that you’re all eyes and ears when their vehicle is in the shop,” he says. “The customer doesn’t know what’s going on with their vehicle.”

Creating a superior inspection process was one of the biggest undertakings for Mike Button, owner of Affordable Automotive in Chico, Calif. Although he was well aware of the importance of end-to-end inspections, the process fell through the cracks too often, and he worried that the inspections weren’t always the quality, value-added service they were supposed to be for the customers.

“There’s nothing worse than when a car comes in with a bad alternator that you know about, you collect the money after doing the job, they drive down the road and two blocks later, their brakes are metal-to-metal scraping,” he says.

That’s why the process of identifying the biggest inspection pitfalls and overcoming those issues is important for every shop to undertake. Ratchet+Wrench spoke with inspection experts to find their top solutions to the breakdowns and blunders that kill the inspection process.

Deadly sin #1: No Written Form

Monroe says that the first problem occurs when a shop simply doesn’t have a physical, written inspection form.

“Actually having a physical form that the technician is supposed to fill out and not just assuming they’re going to do it from memory is crucial,” he says.

Monroe says that the goal is that all communication occurring between the front and back of the shop is in writing and not verbal communication. That’s why filling out the inspection form at the beginning is necessary.

That written form can be electronic or pencil and paper, and should include the vehicle’s basic information, as well as a check list for the specific inspection. Monroe says that some shops have a number of different inspection forms, split up by type of inspection (pre-purchase, quick lube, courtesy) or manufacturer. Although the format is up to the shop, he says the most important part is actually having a sheet to complete.

DEADLY SIN#2: Incomplete Inspection Form

Although having an inspection form is important, it’s rendered useless if technicians do not take it seriously. Monroe says that management needs to make filling out the inspection form a policy and hold everyone accountable for completing them properly.

“It has to be very clear that it’s a shop policy and voiced to the technician that part of their job is doing one of these forms on every vehicle that has not been in the shop for three months,” he says. “You run into a lot of confusion or consideration from the technicians as to why they’re doing it or that it’s a bad idea.”

Monroe says this could be because a technician has worked in a shop where the form was used to recommend services that weren’t needed or where it took too long. He recommends having a meeting or training class outlining the importance of inspections, emphasizing that it’s a value-added service for the customer, and allowing time for any questions from technicians.

“It has to be communicated that this is what they’re supposed to do from an ethical, honest viewpoint,” he says. “You’re the professionals. The customer doesn’t know what’s going on with their vehicle.”

PJ Roberts, president of Roberts Automotive in Mountville, Penn., says he will pull inspection reports at random and go over them in staff meetings as a way to keep technicians on their toes and to routinely review the inspection line process.

DEADLY SIN #3: Making Assumptions About the Customer

Button says  a customer’s repair decisions can often be surprising.

“You can find a customer with a car and go, ‘Wow, this thing is not even worth fixing,’” he says. “If it was my money, I would not put down that kind of money to get that car going.”

The danger, he says, is that staff make assumptions about what the customer will want repaired, and either don’t continue with the inspection or won’t add the repair to the final estimate.

“You have to realize, it’s their money and their car, which could be the car their grandma gave them and has a lot of value to them personally,” says Button. “When you start making those decisions for the customer, you’re not providing the service that you’re there for. They’re taking their vehicle to you because they trust you’re going to give them the best analysis of their situation.”

DEADLY SIN #4: Not Paying Technicians for Inspections

Although shops on hourly pay may not encounter this problem, Monroe says he still frequently battles with shops over making sure technicians are paid for their time doing the inspection.

“The owner is often expecting the technician, who is paid for his production time, to do it for free,” he says. “That’s actually an incorrect expectation.”

Monroe says this breakdown often occurs because the technician either doesn’t understand the purpose of the inspection or is taking too long to complete the process. On average, an inspection should take 20 minutes, he says, so a technician should expect to be paid 30 percent of a labor hour.

The way Button sees it, the technician is being paid on production and what they’re producing with inspections is valuable to the shop. In addition, he’s found that paying technicians for inspections makes them take the process more seriously and avoid “pencil whipping” the inspection.

“They know that if the service writer gets a good inspection that is detailed and has things listed out, there’s a higher likelihood the job is going to be sold. If the job is sold, that’s work for them,” he says.

DEADLY SIN #5: Burying  the Initial Complaint

Button says that when presenting the inspection to the customer, it’s very easy to get into the habit of simply listing everything that needs to be repaired.

“You’re presenting all of these things that are wrong with the car, but you have yet to address why the vehicle was in,” he says. “That can come across like you’re just trying to upsell them, whereas they really just wanted to get that squeak fixed.”

To fix this, Button has trained all of his service advisors to start the conversation by addressing the initial complaint. Address the customer’s concern and then explain that during the inspection, other concerns were also discovered.

DEADLY SIN #6: Inefficiencies in the Front Office

Problems with the inspection line can also come from the front of the shop, where disorganization often causes inefficiencies among service advisors.

“You might have someone who is so disorganized that when you put in this line that expands the amount of work from a $300 ticket to an $800 ticket, he won’t even take the time to write up the additional work before he calls the customer,” Monroe says. “They just mention it when the customer comes to pick up the vehicle, which is not the purpose of this whole process. It’s to get it all done in that visit.”

Monroe suggests closely watching the front office processes first to identify where the breakdown occurs and then put an action in place to resolve the problem. He says that one of the most common reasons for inefficiency is that many service advisors can’t type fast. He suggests purchasing affordable typing tutorial software, which can easily teach service advisors how to type more quickly and accurately. 

In addition, he says, many shops don’t spend enough time learning their own software. He suggests taking advantage of the support and tutorials offered with management software so working with the system takes less time.

“That way, whoever is up front gets very skilled at moving in and out of the various windows and know how to build an estimate quickly without stumbling,” he says.

DEADLY SIN #7: Ineffective Communication Between Technicians and Service Writers

Roberts says the biggest challenge he has had to overcome in his shop is establishing effective communication between the technician and the service advisor.

“It takes a lot of conversation with technicians to get them to understand that the service writer is not a technician,” he says. “He doesn’t have his eyeball on the car so he doesn’t know the nuances of what the technician finds. He needs an explanation because the customer is going to want an explanation.”

To establish better communication, Roberts frequently has technicians work as a service writer for a day so they can better understand the position.

Button also has technicians prioritize each repair, from safety as the first concern to reliability and then economy. He also has the technicians list the parts needed to complete each repair.

“It takes out the guess work for the service writer,” he says. “That way, they don’t have to call the customer back multiple times. Now you only have to call them once.”  

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