It's Not So Hard to Say Sorry

The one word guaranteed to make the hair on the necks of technicians stand on end all over the country is: COMEBACK! Quality workmanship is always a challenge when we deal with anything mechanical. Murphy's Law always seems to prevail when we least expect it, but it's a reality of our business we will make mistakes. Most customers are willing to give us a pass, and two, when they understand how hard

The one word guaranteed to make the hair on the necks of technicians stand on end all over the country is: COMEBACK!

Quality workmanship is always a challenge when we deal with anything mechanical. Murphy's Law always seems to prevail when we least expect it, but it's a reality of our business — we will make mistakes.

Most customers are willing to give us a pass, and two, when they understand how hard we work to ensure their vehicles are repaired correctly the first time.

But if we don't communicate it to them, they are left to interpret the situation on their own. This is where the wheels can fall off. There always will be exceptions to the rule.

We've all had customers who do their dog and pony show of emotion in the middle of the crowded service write-up area. These people typically plan the performance to put you and your staff on notice.

Trying to stop them only fuels the fire. I wish I had kept a diary of all the crazy things I have witnessed over the years. Had I kept the stories, I could write a bestseller.

But here is my question: When a service customer returns with a vehicle that wasn't fixed the first time, why can't the advisor say, “I'm sorry?” It seems that saying sorry is admitting to guilt, when it might actually help defuse the situation.

Let's discuss ways to address the comeback.

Define a Comeback

OK, some don't call them comebacks. Pick a name: repeat-repair visit, second-repair attempt, return for same concern. Whatever they are called, your staff must understand what they are.

To me, a comeback is any vehicle returning to the dealership inside a 90-day window. It doesn't have to be 90 days; it can be any number of days you like).

By following this rule, there is no question if it's a comeback; it is, period! The next step is to measure by technician and by service advisor and compare that to the number of comebacks per 100 repair orders serviced or written. Now that we have a standard that can be accurately measured, we can develop compared pay plans based on performance.

Is a Comeback Negative?

Not always! Look at Chart A for why a customer may return during this 90-day window.

Listen Up

The most effective tools you have are the two ears of your advisors. Listening to the customer is a necessity! The process can start falling apart when advisors don't listen to the customer. Both the verbal and non-verbal speak is critical to understand.

Most Effective Skill

The most effective skill required is the ability of the advisors to communicate the customer's condition to the technical staff. The ability to capture the customer's condition is critical. Your objective in this area must be this: To repair a vehicle, the technician must be able to duplicate the customer's condition.

If you read a repair order description and cannot duplicate in the technician bay or on the street — it's not a properly written repair order. This is the No.1 cause of poor workmanship comebacks. It can be improved.

Have your service manager review the descriptions with the advisor. Test each repair order and your manager must offer suggestions for improvement.

Train the Staff

When you do have a negative comeback, your staff must respond quickly. The majority of these customers can be retained, if you sell hard your prompt effort to correct their issue.

Your staff should be trained to recognize the opportunities. Management should have effective processes in place to address these situations. My recommendation is to have a written description that can be executed quickly.

Measure Results

With a clearly defined definition of what a comeback is, now your operation is able to accurately measure and compare the results. Using my description, Chart B was developed by Carlos Menendez of Gator Chrysler in Melbourne, FL.

He developed a morning report in his dealership-management system to give him vehicle identification numbers of comebacks to his service department. He would research each vehicle and make a decision. Below is an actual month's performance for one group of technicians and his total shop.

Technicians have been beat up over the years on comeback. It has always amazed me how they have been beaten down and, in most cases, it wasn't their fault. This method of measurement will allow your manager to identify accurately the cause of the comeback and develop effective correction policies.

Chart A

Category Negative? Summary

1. Parts

a. Out of Stock / Back order

b. Defective

Can be, with a few if's The parts department is blamed for everything. Not having the parts in-stock is unavoidable at times. But accurate measurement of this area's fill rate can improve coverage.
2. Poor repair workmanship YES!

This area is often viewed as a direct result of the technician's technical ability and it's not. The largest contributing factor to poor workmanship is the advisors inability to ask the proper questions to allow the technician the opportunity to experience the customer's condition.

In the cases where poor workmanship is the cause, the majority of those cases could have been decreased by the technician following the established process for diagnosis or repair. All too often the technician will assume, this one is like the last four he/she saw with the same symptoms.

3. Additional service request type work NO! This is happening more often now, than in the past. The challenge we are in has driven a lot of your clients to put repairs off. Having the customer return is a good great thing!
4. UN related condition Maybe This does happen as often as it's believed to have happened. It's one of the best excuses used to cover-up someone's stupid mistake.
5. Owner error Yes! If If the customer believes it should have been corrected the last time.
6. Scheduled maintenance NO! Isn't this what we are shooting for! A retained customer!
7. Recall / campaign Maybe If the service advisor causes the customer to return because they failed to check for recalls yes, it's negative. But if the recall just happens to be received inside the window, it's not negative.

Chart B

Comeback Reason Fred — Service Advisor Total Repair Orders 1308
Scott Dave Sam Joe Total Shop Comeback per 100 Repair Orders
Defective parts 0 0 0 0 7 0.5%
Parts out of stock - SOP 3 1 0 2 40 3.1%
Returning for maintenance 3 4 2 4 52 4.0%
ASR work 0 1 1 3 12 0.9%
Un-related condition 11 9 7 15 119 9.1%
Recalls 0 0 2 2 14 1.1%
Poor workmanship 2 4 4 9 52 4.0%
Total Comebacks 19 19 16 35 296 22.6%

Lee Harkins is president and CEO of M5 Management Services Inc. You can contact him at 205-747-8305 and [email protected].

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