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In this series of blogs, I am addressing common processes within a dealership that have a significant impact on the bottom line. My last blog addressed how to speed up car deliveries, and in this one, I’d like to examine the sometimes contentious relationships between service and parts, and how to possibly fix it.
I’ve written before how the service department is the parts departments best customer; but I still hear anecdotes about how technicians feel like they are, as the old saying goes, treated like “red headed step childen” This makes no sense to me as the sooner the service techs get their parts, the sooner they get their jobs done, move to the next one and the more gross is generated. Every minute spent waiting for a part translates into a minute of lost gross for the dealership and lost income for the technician. Putting a process in place to improve the efficiency of parts delivery to the technician will result in more profits for the dealer in both service and parts.
In my travels I have seen many examples of solutions dealerships have tried to use to increase the efficiency of the parts delivery process with some of these being:
1) Intercom System. With an intercom, the technician buzzes the parts department to order a part, and then gets buzzed back when the part is ready. But what if the parts department employee doesn’t answer the intercom? How does the technician know how long it’s going to take?
2) Parts Runner. We deliver parts to our wholesale customers; why not our best customer? Hiring a parts runner can save the service technician from having to wait in line at the parts counter. But does the improved efficiency translate into enough gross to cover the cost of the runner?
3) DMS. Some DMS systems include an online repair order function. This allows the technician to send a parts request right from his computer screen. The request prints out on the parts department printer, including all the information about the RO.
In most of these cases the dealership assumed that the parts delivery had gotten better because they had installed this “more efficient” process and possibly that the techs were not complaining as much. But did they really increase the efficiency of the parts delivery?
The first step in creating a process to increase the efficiency of parts delivery is to understand where your current process stands. That is to say, how fast are you currently delivering the parts to the techs? I will go out on a limb and make the statement that there are probably only a few delaerships in the entire country that know exactly how fast parts are delivered to the techs. You need to start with this metric to know if your process improvements are working. As Yogi Berra once said “If you don’t know where you are going you may wind up someplace else.”
In a dealerhip I ran, the tech / parts interface got so bad that there were fist fights on the side counter! Techs complaining that the parts guys were favoring other techs and that they were being made to wait for their parts. What to do? The tact I took was to create a team comprised of both parts counter people and service technicians. The team met, I told them to leave their egos at the door and listen to what the technicians need to do their jobs quicker (remember they are the customer). What I heard was not suprising; the technicians complained that they have to wait too long for parts, that the parts department never notified them when the parts were ready to be picked up, and if they called the parts department on the phone nobody answered. The parts employees responded that they were busy and they were doing the best they could.
As a team we came up with a very low tech solution that allowed us to measure how long it was taking to get the parts delivered to the techs in general and in fact could even measure it right down to a specific tech. Once we had that metric we then embarked on a process improvement program that was measurable, so we could tell if in fact we were getting better.
The low tech solution was a simple parts request system. A package of parts request slips was placed next to a time clock at the back or side counter. The technician wrote a request on the slip, then punched it with the time clock, then clipped it onto a piece of plywood where all the parts requests are placed in sequence at the parts side counter. As a service technician, if I saw five requests in front of mine, I knew that it will take awhile before my part was ready, so I could see the dispatcher for other work. Meanwhile, when the parts counter person filled the parts request, he would punch it with the time clock. When the technician received the part, the paper was punched again. At the end of the day, all the times are entered into a spreadsheet. This method is a little laborious, but gave my parts and service managers the information they need to know in order to track improvements.