Tear Down That Wall

THERE IS A WALL that separates the parts and service departments.

And it must be eliminated.

“Barriers are a fact of life, between departments and people,” says Ron Slee, president of RJ Slee & Associates in Rancho Miraga, California, who conducts a “grumbles-and-gripes” session at each of the more than 20 service and parts classes he conducts each year.

“Psychological barriers are the most difficult to dismantle. Successful leaders, however, recognize when barriers are dysfunctional. I want to submit to you that we haven't recognized that barriers between parts and service are dysfunctional. We accept them, we tolerate them, and we settle.

“We cannot simply change the structures or systems and expect the barriers to come down. When leaders use a command-and-control style, any change is temporary.”

Here are the top complaints he hears from service people:

  • You never have enough inventory.
  • There is never anyone at the back counter.
  • The reference materials we have are old.
  • Don't have what I need when I need it.
  • You charged freight for a backorder.
  • Parts personnel who don't know their job.

And the top complaints he hears from parts people:

  • You order one part at a time.
  • You return way too many parts.
  • You are just parts changers.
  • Stay out of the warehouse.
  • Why don't you give me the part numbers?
  • You destroy packaging while trying to find what you need.

He said that to some degree, an organization is set up to be in conflict. Service never has enough labor available to satisfy sales. Parts never has all the parts that service needs. Finance never provides enough money to anyone. Sales makes promises for other departments.

Basic rules

Slee gave these basic rules for the parts department:

  • Process all orders received today … today.

  • Trans ship all emergency orders received today … today.

  • Put up all stock orders received today … today.

  • Find all parts you are short today … today.

  • Do all of this before going home for the day.

“Oh, and one last thing: Do this every single day,” he says.

Basic rules for the service department:

  • Have a formal inspection on all repair and maintenance before work is started.

  • Provide a fixed labor price and a completion date for all work before the work is started.

  • Close and invoice all labor jobs the same day the labor is completed.

  • Call every customer within three days of the labor work being completed. “We have to deal with the perception that the customer has about how we did,” Slee says. “In service, I believe that we can answer this question by calling the customer and asking them, ‘Did we do what we said we were going to do? Did we do it within the price and time that we said we were going to do it? Is the machine working properly now?’ And have the guy who supervised the job make the call. If there was something wrong and you say, ‘Let me take down your name and number and have George call you later,’ that really ticks them off.”

  • Do all of this before going home for the day.

“Oh, and one last thing: Do this every single day,” he says.

Slee questions how many owners know the names of the customers who used their service department in 2004, left, and didn't do any business with them in 2005.

“Every single one of us should know when a customer stops buying,” Slee says. “Somebody you've been doing business with for months or years changes his buying pattern, and you don't know? He thinks that you don't care.”

He says Harvard University did a study in the 1990s that showed that if you can increase customer retention by 5%, the profit of the business will go up 45% in the industrial distribution business.

“We have to break down barriers,” Slee says. “We have to challenge the past. We have to challenge why we do things. Don't make assumptions that you know what they're thinking. Improve customer service. Don't accept the status quo. Ask why you're doing things. Bring in young people. They'll ask, ‘Why?’ on a lot of stuff. The answer is not ‘because.’”

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