Cecil Bullard has spent the past 32 years visiting repair shops across the country as part of his consulting group, the Institute for Automotive Business Excellence—and he sees many of the same issues crop up in each business he visits. Namely, owners claim they don’t have time to manage nagging issues, but spend significant time on unimportant issues.
“We have a lot of owners dealing with the same issue from the same technician over and over again, and they just let it go because they feel they don’t have the time,” Bullard says.
Bullard has condensed the most pressing time management issues he’s seen in the industry into a class for his consulting group.The gist, he says, is that you have to take time to organize your schedule. He offers some key habits any shop owner can implement to streamline a business’s communication and optimize his or her time.
The key is to plan first. First thing, no matter what, you need to take 20–30 minutes to plan your day and make a list of the things that need to get done. With that, rethink, reschedule and move things around to make a plan for the day.
Email, text and technology can be a real blessing for a business’s communication, if you’re using it properly. A lot of shops are actually using technology to their detriment, as they’re being constantly interrupted with emails and texts that aren’t important. Email and text has become so important that every time our phone makes a noise, we drop everything and look at it.
When I come in for the morning, I don’t look at my email until after I plan my day. Then I spend 15–20 minutes three times throughout the day going through email and the rest of my technology. Those things need to be set aside for certain times.
If you have something tough to do, like fire an employee or respond to a customer complaint, do that as soon as possible. Don’t let it fester and worry about it and let it screw up your whole day. When you have a task you don’t really want to do, you end up finding other tasks that aren’t priorities. You should get the nasty job first so the rest of your day can be as productive as possible.
It’s important to create a culture where people ask and answer their own questions. A lot of shop owners spend so much time out there, fixing cars and talking to customers, when they have other people to do that. That creates a culture where the employees rely on the owner all the time, and it takes accountability away from the staff.
Money and time are so tight that many owners don’t want their employees to make mistakes. When I started as a technician at 18, I had good managers, good trainers that let me make mistakes, as long as I learned my lesson. One of the signs of a successful person is that they expect things to go wrong occasionally and they’re able to overcome whatever the situation is.
You need to set up a clear line of communication with your employees. For me, weekly meetings are the place to have these conversations. Owners and managers need a place to discuss major issues in the shop, and employees need a place to provide their own feedback.
If you don’t provide that place in an open setting, they’re going to complain about issues in the bay with the other technicians, and your shop’s attitude and productivity will suffer. A lot of shop owners don’t make a good effort to communicate with staff, which takes a lot of time.