Documentation Over Verbal Communication
Answering phones, scheduling appointments, greeting customers—as Eurotech Auto Repair & Service Center’s receptionist, Amber Reiners’ duties were limited.
However, when an illness took the shop’s service manager out of commission for several months, Eurotech needed someone to step up. Reiners—who knew nothing about cars, had no formal training, and had been training herself to write estimates—not only stepped up but took a leap.
“We needed someone to step in and really take leadership of everything,” Reiners says. “I was already having all this training over the past two years of writing service orders, customers knew me, so I was like, ‘You know what? I will do my very best.’
“So now it’s been a year and a half that I’ve been in this position, and I love it, actually.”
Reiners is an inspiration for any newcomer who’s unexpectedly thrust into a leadership role. Not only does she pride herself on being a female service manager, but she took her own ignorance of the auto world and used it as a learning opportunity instead of a crutch.
Now, on top of a tight and detailed daily schedule, Reiners achieves success by making time for educating her staff—and herself.
Some days are hectic, some days are easier than ever—you can’t predict what problems you’ll run into. But I try to be as prepared as I possibly can be to make time for those problems.
I try to get here 15 to 20 minutes before we even open so that I can pull up the schedule and see what cars we have coming in, what appointments are on schedule, and what we’re going to be sending out in terms of loaner cars with customers. I make sure all the parts are here for the day’s work and I get new parts ordered.
Then, at 7:30 a.m., our doors open and customers start pouring in. We try to stagger them a little bit throughout the morning so we’re not completely bombarded. We like to have a conversation with them about their car, just on a personal level, so you really get to know them and they know you care.
From there, after I get all my cars dropped off, I have estimate times on all of the repair orders and work orders from my technicians to help us manage our day. I’ll manage their time, saying, “This car needs this much diagnostic stuff, and this car is just an oil change—maybe we should get the diagnostics done before we get the oil change because that’ll take 20 to 30 minutes.”
We’ve definitely tried different ways of dispatching tickets. We’ve tried the first-come-first-serve approach, but that wasn’t the best management of time. Now we’re slowly transitioning into more of a solid procedure of evaluating each day differently, but using the same detailed inspection process. It’s much more important to get that figured out before we take care of any maintenance items.
I periodically go out to every single one of our techs. I’ll check in with them to see which car they’re working on, where they are at with any issues, or where they are with the maintenance, so I can get a good idea of where everybody has been spending their time.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do out of high school, and I didn’t want to spend $40,000 to try and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. So I just jumped into the working field and got my hands dirty.
I knew very little about cars when I started out. The industry is changing every single day as it is, but I educate myself every day and now I can hold a conversation. Customers feel super comfortable talking to me about their cars and trust what I have to say.
Even just being a woman in this industry is already shocking in and of itself. A lot of people are hesitant. But once I lay it on the line and show them what I know, I can explain everything to them and they’re actually impressed. I think it’s something that makes Eurotech unique, because there are not a whole lot of women service managers in the industry.
I’m trying to do a lot more reading about leadership. This is the first time I’ve been in a manager role, so I want to make sure that I’m doing things the right way. I know there’s no right way to lead people, but I want everything to be fair and I don’t want to be above anyone because we’re a team, so I try to keep everyone on the same page.
I have had some really awesome mentors who taught me everything I know, but they dealt with things differently. I’m more about procedures—documenting everything, and routine and consistency—because it’s going to help in the long run. The less verbal communication we can have and the more documentation we have, I think the smoother everything goes, and it makes it a lot easier to spend more time out here instead of back and forth, back and forth with either the customers or the technicians or the parts guys.
Trying to do the same thing every day, as boring as that may sound, helps drastically. It makes me less stressed, too. There are always hiccups throughout the day you didn’t plan for, but you’re going to get those days. It’s definitely been a learning experience, learning how to handle everything as it comes at you all at once.
By noon, the technicians typically get their estimates in. I write them up, I do some research if I’m not 100 percent sure on what the specific issue is or what they’re recommending. I’ll go back out to the technician, I’ll have a conversation about what they’re recommending—not only about the concerns the customer came in with, but also everything else that they found when looking the car over.
All my technicians document everything on their estimates on the actual hard copy, and then they put everything into the computer systems themselves, as well. And they describe everything to a tee. We have standard operating procedures for almost everything that we do. So the guys in the back, they all do an 18-point inspection the same exact way.
Then I typically will email the customers the information so they can always see it in front of them. It’s a lot easier to understand what’s being said to you instead of just listening to somebody say it. Then I’ll have a conversation with them on the phone about it. That conversation seems to be getting longer and longer with customers, and it’s not because I’m talking about cars. We’re talking about their upcoming vacation, their lives, just trying to have good communication and making them feel as comfortable as possible.
I do a lot more after I’m off the phone with the customer, just because I constantly have things running through my head. For instance, I know we have a loaner vehicle available, if necessary, so I can already set that up with them. I know when the parts are going to be here because I’ve already gotten all of the estimates put together. I know when the parts will arrive.
I try to be really proactive on when we get our parts, especially from the dealerships, because they don’t have multiple trips a day that they’re making. I’ll send one of my parts runners down to get parts if the car needs to be done in a timely manner. I’ll carry the customer’s car into the next day and offer them a loaner vehicle.
Then after I get all that information figured out, I dispatch my tickets back to my technicians. I give them all the information that I possibly can. I give them when the parts are going to be here, I give them specific work by highlighting everything that is going to be done. I also give them a hard promise time of when the car has to be done, which is typically an hour before I told the customer it’d be done, just because that’ll buy us time in case we run into any issues or if parts are delayed. Any issue whatsoever I want to make sure I have some time to figure it out.
I always look at the numbers at the end of the day to see how we did. I know monitoring those not only helps to know where you are as a company, but also where you can improve throughout the day in terms of production. I can tell if we would’ve gotten this car in earlier, we could have sold this work today instead of rescheduling them for next week, for example. So I try to get as much information out of everyone, including the computer systems, as much as I possibly can to figure out where we need to improve.
I always make time to check in with my staff, making sure they’re managing their own time well. I don’t want to breathe down their necks because that makes it harder to do your job. So I just go out there periodically and check with each one of them.
I make sure my staff is educating themselves, just like I am, constantly. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Especially with this type of work. Everything changes often enough to where you have to keep up on it all the time.
My front office staff has a detailed schedule, they have standard operating procedures of how to answer the phone and address customers—they know what to do even in their down time. Reading ratchetandwrench.com is on the list. I just try to give everyone, including myself, something productive to do because there’s always something that can be learned throughout the day.