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How to standardize systems across repair shops

June 28, 2024
Creating systems to instill standards across a maintenance operation’s individual shops helps make sure everyone’s on the same page.

When it comes to managing multiple shop locations, it’s important that standards are aligned to provide consistent service. But this isn’t always easy. Technician turnover from shop to shop, or just out of the industry, creates a constant churn of new people. And these new techs might swear they know better than you and will continue to do things as they did at their last job, or, as they might say, “the right way.”

When techs go rogue, it might result in faster service, but ultimately goes against the policies put in place to best serve the customer. This can even include little things that a trucker has come to expect after visiting another of the provider’s shops, like putting protective paper over the floor mat or checking tire pressure. Whatever the service, if the customer has come to expect it and doesn’t receive it, they feel a little let down.

According to Peter Cooper, director of Operations for Merx Truck & Trailer, failing to deliver consistently stellar customer service can keep him up at night, he explained at Fullbay’s 2024 Diesel Connect conference.

He emphasized shops should train employees and build a system “so each customer is taken care of—and each customer gets the same experience whether they’re at this store or that store.”

When establishing shop standards and workflows that can be copied across locations, management should also ensure technicians understand the efficiency and service benchmarks they need to reach. Once they do, this leaves leadership to grow their business and manage high-level challenges.

“Having some systems in place allowed us to have our basics covered so that we could focus on the other issues going on during COVID,” explained Jessica Wendt, owner of HM Repairs and Services.

With strong systems providing clear, standardized expectations that employees are rewarded for meeting, shops can not only reap the benefits of efficient operations, but a strong reputation that brings in more business.

“[Customers] know they have a timeline, they know that we’re going to be there, and that we’re going to do a good job,” said Jennifer Wilson, co-owner, Inland Empire Fleet Maintenance. “That builds your reputation. They’re not coming to you for cost, they’re coming to you because you do what you say you’re going to do.”

Streamline and systemize

The first step in creating order out of chaos is to know where systems are most needed.

“I would encourage you to think about the problems that you have going on within your company and see if there’s patterns or constant issues surrounding, for example, unique parts and parts ordering,” Wendt stated.

Then come up with a system that is trainable to your staff, repeatable across your locations, and will solve the needs of the company, she said. As a side benefit, establishing standard operating procedures will ease training and onboarding, too.

Wendt said that to standardize HM Repairs and Services’ parts ordering and organization process, they created a separate Parts Request Form and Parts Return Form.

Before moving to their new system, Wendt described how she would often use sticky notes to keep track of parts requests. While quick and easy, the downside was that she’d need to go digging through the trash whenever a technician would return to ask when the part was going to arrive or needed to add other details.

Now, Wendt utilizes a specific form that includes the service order number, the customer, the unit, the part number, and more.

Read more: How to use shop policies to bolster shop culture

“A lot of times this gets expanded into what price I was going to pay,” Wendt explained. “Once I told the customer what I was going to charge him for [the part], and I would come back to this later and be able to reference that.”

The form can also include the engine serial number and fleet maintenance system action number, which is useful when the person ordering the part isn’t the same as the one who receives them.

Wendt also established a form for parts returns, which she said not only helped them track their assets but secure vendor credits.

“We order tons and tons of special-order parts on a daily basis,” she stated. “So, it’s important to make sure that if those parts need to go back to the vendor, that we’re able to make sure that we’re getting our money back for those parts and that they’ve been returned.”

This form requires that the technician label each part to be returned with the service order number, which their inventory person uses to make sure the part’s cost is marked off the initial bill. They can also note if the part is new or defective, and then attach the form to the part itself for the vendor to pick up. And, once the vendor arrives, they sign the form as well to show that the part was retrieved, and the office may add the credit invoice number for tracking purposes.

“If you don’t get your credits within a couple of weeks of it being returned, you can reach out to the vendor and say that ‘Jerry picked this part up on X date and I have his signature on this form,’” Wendt noted.

And parts are far from the only element of HM Repairs that Wendt has systemized—the shop also uses a flow chart for new service writers to understand where to place estimate values, and a job board to show technicians what jobs they’re working on and their urgency level. All of which helps keep the shops’ gears turning smoothly.

Managing resistance

Of course, processes and culture are only helpful if employees use them. But clear standards and expectations also make it easy for shop managers and technicians to know when that culture is not being met, and the potential consequences.

“If there’s any type of negativity or toxicity of any kind, that’s an immediate threat,” said Ashley Sowell, co-founder of Integrity Fleet Services. “One person can completely unravel any amount of good that you’ve done.”

To deal with this, Sowell advised that managers first speak with the technician. If the problem is simply a lack of skill or equipment, then they can make a plan “to get them back on the right track and back into your culture.”

But if it’s a problem of character, then there needs to be a change in tactics.

“Then you need to have that conversation of ‘Look, you knew when you started here that our culture is this,’” Sowell advised. “If you feel like you no longer are aligned with that vision, then we’re going to have to have a very different conversation.’”

This kind of discussion requires firmness, Sowell explained, or else other employees may note this shift in attitude and respond accordingly, to the detriment of shop morale and productivity. But on the other side of the coin, if a shop can establish and maintain positive processes and culture, they’re likely to see just the opposite, resulting in a shop technicians want to work in and that customers want to come to. 

About the Author

Alex Keenan

Alex Keenan is an Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. She has written on a variety of topics for the past several years and recently joined the transportation industry, reviewing content covering technician challenges and breaking industry news. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

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