Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2005   by CARS Magazine

Client Orientation – Open-Heart Surgery on the Business

In running an automotive maintenance and repair business today, it is very important to keep reminding yourself that you serve the client, not that you sell a product or service. In essence you want t...

In running an automotive maintenance and repair business today, it is very important to keep reminding yourself that you serve the client, not that you sell a product or service. In essence you want to be selling what people are buying. If you just see yourself selling vehicle maintenance and repair you may not notice certain competition sneaking up on you that is now focussed on “value”; delivering maintenance and repairs from another broader perspective by providing what ultimately the customer/client wants in the end.

Let me give you an example: companies in the printing business have learned that they do not sell ink on paper, rather they sell graphic communications. They are competing for the advertising market with other printers as well as TV and radio. To sell into the graphics communication market, printing firms need staff who will solve communications problems for customers.

It was this line of thinking that got the business pyramid inverted creating customer/client driven organizations. Rather than having the traditional organization chart with a wide base of front-line staff narrowing to a manager sitting at the top, the picture now displays the customer at the top, supported by a front-line staff that in turn are supported by “Management”.

Now bring this thinking back home to the shop floor. The customer/client is looking for someone to trust with his or her vehicle. They want competency and convenience. They want “value” for the price being charged. Define the value you deliver to your client base in writing!

The challenge now is to develop a service culture in the shop. This requires recognizing the concept of internal service, or as the now famous line goes “if you’re not serving the customer then you better be serving someone who is”. Consider the technician who services the shop’s service writer with detail information and explanations about the vehicle and the work he/she performed and/or recommends, who in turn then services the retail client explaining clearly all aspects of that client’s vehicle to the client to ensure safe and reliable driving. The concept is that everyone in the business is providing a service to someone else, which is an internal client or an external client. If everyone is providing an effective service to each other then “their clients” will be able to do the same. Further, it is evident that how you treat your employees throughout the shop will be reflected in how they treat “their” client. Once this simple paradigm is recognized the shop begins to do better at the retail client service level.

This “client orientation” concept means the shop enlists all employees to discover methods for continuous improvements in the business and are always looking for ways to do things better. This practice, or policy, fosters a positive shop attitude of innovation and a flexible culture that makes it a lot easier to implement change. The important point here is that Management MUST have a commitment and provide leadership that focuses on the future. It is Management’s responsibility to develop and communicate the vision of where the shop is going and a clear understanding of what the shop is ultimately trying to achieve. Employee participation in this entire concept is the “cornerstone” in this initiative. Consider that when they can see that the perception that they, personally, can add value to the shop’s business and make a real difference in the over-all business, as the client and community perceives the business, is a very powerful motivator. Pride of business, pride of being an employee of this business, settles in.

There are five common denominators to make this happen:

1. Client satisfaction: All employees constantly supply services that link them to both internal and external clients. To better meet the needs of “their clients”, employees must constantly meet client’s changing requirements.

2. Total involvement: Everyone throughout the shop must accept and share the responsibility for continuous shop improvements. Management encouraging employee’s ideas, and responding and recognizing those ideas can facilitate this. The ultimate responsibility resides with Management.

3. Measurement: Quality of the shop is measured by continuously monitoring the standards of achievement year over year starting with a baseline, which could be last year. It must be clearly communicated and understood that measurement is performed for one reason and one reason only — to improve.

4. System support: All shop systems and “infrastructure” must support and reinforce the principles of on-going, continuous improvement.

5. Continuous process improvement: The shop must constantly challenge itself to improve its service level to the retail client coupled with seeking out top quality parts to support the service level. When all the shop personnel constantly work on ways to improve all processes, client satisfaction, internal and external, rises to the top and problems are readily corrected and prevented. Everyone’s stress level comes down dramatically and “career” satisfaction soars.

When Management and staff can get their head around this kind of focus and initiative, and then take solid measures to ensure they are implemented, they have completed open-heart surgery on the business. Now make sure the “patient” recuperates properly by monitoring its progress over the next two to three years. It is a process!

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