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Accommodating Walk-in Customers

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According to the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Customer Service Index Study, 70 percent of all service customers are willing to wait between one and two hours to have their vehicles serviced.

While there are numerous advantages that come with taking walk-in customers, doing so means that you need to have a process in place for shuffling work and balancing appointments. Rick Murphy is the general manager of his family’s four-location auto service group, Murphy Automotive, in the Minneapolis area. The shops operate under different names but offer identical guarantees for speedy service: They will take any walk-in job at any time. And this isn’t because there are empty bays waiting in each facility; the company’s Cahill location—at which Murphy spends the majority of his time—does $3 million a year (express lube included) with 16 employees out of 7,000 square feet. It’s about balance, Murphy says, and his family’s shops have found a successful process for accommodating all its customers.

Our business started in the gas industry and back then, while-you-wait service was an expectation. So, that has always been part of our business model and we tend to walk-in appointments the most. Our demographics here are a higher-income bracket, higher-scale vehicles. Our customers’ expectations are that much higher, too. Every one of them expects that when they walk in the door, we’ll drop everything and tend to them today.

We don’t reserve slots for walk-ins on our schedule. Even though we have a steady amount of them each day, it’s still too unpredictable, and we don’t want to ever turn away the opportunity to schedule an appointment just to hold out for a walk-in. We book a lot of appointments, and that’s not feasible for us.

So, how do we fit in those walk-in jobs? When it comes to appointments, we always give ourselves a bigger window to service the vehicle. If we have a five-hour timing belt job, we don’t schedule it at 8 a.m. and promise it at 1 p.m. We promise it at the end of the day, which not only gives us a buffer for any troubles, but it also gives us the allowance to take care of walk-in customers as they come.

What helps accommodate those walk-in customers is building and maintaining a relationship with them. You have to see them regularly, which is why all of our facilities have an express lube tied to it. With the express lube service bays, they accommodate only the quick services—fluids checked, battery checked, headlights, tires—that take less than 20 minutes.

Not everyone has a quick lube, though. But you can still segment your bays. For us, anything that requires more experience, time or a certified technician, we accommodate that in the service bays.

The most important aspect to this is communication and setting the customer’s expectations. Our service managers are trained to do a phenomenal job of managing the waiting customers.

Each of the service advisors manage the techs’ schedules throughout the course of the day and should know what their workload is at any given time. It’s always to their discretion to know if we can fit the customer in, when we can fit them in and what the likelihood is we could get it repaired. We always tell customers that we can most easily accommodate them if they bring their vehicle in in the morning, which is when we do all of our inspecting. We also work on cars in the order that they came in, so we keep that in mind when assigning walk-ins. If a walk-in comes in, the service advisor will likely give that car to a technician who is working on a job that is either due on a later date or later that day, also one that can easily be backed out and doesn’t need to be reassembled.

The key component is separating fixing a car versus diagnosing the car. We will walk out to the vehicle with the customer, assess the situation and let them know what we’re likely going to have to do. This allows us to let them know how long it will take to diagnose and have them approve any diagnostic charge.

Giving customers options is what they want. If you tell them this is the only option, they feel like you’re not helping them whatsoever. The options are either to wait until it’s finished, get a shuttle ride back home or to work, or utilize one of our four available rental vehicles per location.

Depending on the option they choose, we document what was discussed because what you tell customers and what they hear aren’t always the same. You need to make sure it’s clear how long things might take and what you promise them by.

Next, we always ask customers, ‘When do they need the vehicle by?’ A lot of customers are surprisingly generous with their time and will tell you two days from now. Then you can adjust your schedule accordingly. It’s about managing the different priority levels of the vehicles in the shop. The priority is to get the waiting customer done first, so if a customer doesn’t need his or her vehicle for a couple days or it’s a longer job, we will pull that vehicle out and accommodate a waiting customer’s vehicle first. We have three technicians and seven service bays, so that means there’s usually one technician looking for work or available to do work in a short period of time.

The final piece of the puzzle is comfort. What makes the customer comfortable while they’re here waiting? That means Wi-Fi, a TV, comfortable places to sit, a children’s play area, a secluded area for privacy. Many of our facilities also have restaurants within a block or two. The more comfortable they are, the less focused they are on time. When people are not entertained or they’re anxious about what’s taking so long, time just multiplies in their head.

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