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Basics to Creating an Appointment System
for Automotive Service Customers

 Part One: Why Use an Appointment System to Schedule your Customers?
 Part Two: Setting Up Your Appointment System
 Part Three: Final Notes

(It is recommended that you print this article.)

Part One: Why Use an Appointment System to Schedule Your Customers?

The main goal of a service department is to daily maximize the only source of income for the service department - Flagged Technician Labor Hours. Every day, the service department has a limited supply of Technician Available Time, which goes by the name of Shop Capacity. We are going to look at these three issues and how to use them to set up appointments for write-up and loading the shop.

The purpose of an Appointment System is to balance the amount of daily work with the Shop Capacity to minimize carryovers and comebacks, and to spread out the work daily over the week. Any day Shop Capacity is used up, a shop overload is created and uncompleted work has to be carried over to the next day. Too many days of carryovers can back up the shop for days at a time.

During times of shop overload, the dispatcher is under pressure to get work in and out of the shop as quickly as possible. This can cause the dispatcher to send jobs to any techs, qualified or not, just to move work. After receiving the RO, the techs have to work faster to get repairs out which can generate comebacks because the techs do not have the proper time to properly diagnose the symptom, check technical resources and create an effective repair on one visit.

When vehicles return as a comeback, they receive the highest priority over the work currently in the shop, causing further backups and further pressure. To compensate, the shop starts giving out loaner cars, juggling jobs and giving away services in order to calm angry customers. Quite a nasty and costly cycle, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Adding to these pressures are the frustrated service customers. Two of the biggest customer complaints is that it takes too long to have a repair completed, often two or more days, or that the vehicle is not repaired in one visit. To get even, they retaliate through the manufacturer's surveys by giving poor scores, as well as talking to their friends, warning them about the poor service received and not to use that service department. However, the most powerful way a customer gets even for poor service is to only use the dealership service department for warranty repairs, going elsewhere for highly profitable maintenance and out-of-warranty repair services.

To minimize these problems, a system has to be established to control the daily flow of work into the shop that is in line with the shop capacity on any given day. Thus the need for an Appointment System.

An Appointment System consists of two elements - a special time for write-up with the Service Advisor and the best day for the customer to leave their vehicle to best insure a one day turn around on the repair.

The term, Appointment, actually refers to the special write-up time for the customer with the Service Advisor, no more. The idea is to space the arrival times of customers to minimize customers waiting for write-up and to allow adequate time for write-up. It is not to have the vehicle repaired, a common misconception by customers. Many service departments now use the terms, "write-up time" or "drop-off" when setting the appointment with customers.

The most important part of this system is to pick the best day for the customer to leave the car based on technician available time for that type of repair. If this is done properly, the tech will not be overloaded with work and will perform an accurate repair which reduces comebacks, and allows more time for customer pay services and repairs.

This article is designed to assist you to understand the basics to setting up an Appointment System for your dealership service department. If you will follow the steps as outlined and allow about 12 to 24 months for it to evolve, you will have a system that will serve your customers as well as your shop employees.

12 to 24 months?!? Yes, it just takes that long to get everything organized in the shop, cooperation from sales and helping customers to learn your new system. So don't expect immediate results, but allow slow graduate development of your new system.

The example I will use in this article is a standard written appointment system. The same principles for the written appointment system apply in a computerized system. Remember, be smarter than the computer, it is there to serve us, not to limit us.

Back to Main Index.


Part Two: Setting Up Your Appointment System


Step One: Organizing Your Repair Categories to an Appointment Tracking Form
Step Two: Determining Daily Shop Capacity and Category Capacity
Step Three: How to Determine What Percentage of Your Shop Capacity Will Be Used For Scheduling
Step Four: Choosing the Best Day and Time for the Customer to Leave the Vehicle
Step Five: Estimating and Logging the Approximate Repair Time for Appointments, Walk-ups and Emergencies
Step Six: Setting Customer Expectations and Other Concerns
Step Seven: An Outline of How to Bring the New Appointment System into the Shop


Step One: Organizing Your Repair Categories to an Appointment Tracking Form

Repair categories for appointments should be set up based on the specialized areas of your techs.

Example: I have a shop with 10 techs:

1 - AC & Electrical

1 - Brakes, Suspension & Alignment

2 - Prep, Make-Ready & Dealer Add-ons

4 - General Techs

1 - Quick Services

1 - Driveability & Emissions

If you only use General Techs in your shop, even easier, you just have one category.

You have now established your repair categories for your appointment tracking form. See the following example:

Service Appointments
Enter Preassigned Available Hours            
Customer
Vehicle/Year
Phone #s
AC

&

Elec
Brakes,

Susp,

&

Alig

Prep,

MR

&

Add-ons

Gen

Techs

Quik

Svs

Driveability

&

Emis

1 . . . . . . . .
2 . . . . . . . .
3 . . . . . . . .
4 . . . . . . . .
5 . . . . . . . .
6 . . . . . . . .
7 . . . . . . . .
8 . . . . . . . .

Back to Index.


Step Two: Determining Daily Shop Capacity and Category Capacity

The purpose of Shop Capacity is to know the amount of Available Technician Hours each day in your shop as a whole and per repair category. Available Technician Hours is when the tech clocks in for work, out/in for lunch or breaks, and out at the end of the day. In the following example, I am going to use 8 hours per tech.

To determine your daily Shop Capacity, use this formula:

(Number of Techs) x (Number of Hours Available Per Tech) = Shop Capacity

Example: (10 Techs) x (8 Hours Available per Tech) = 80 Hours of Shop Capacity

Now , do the same thing per category to establish Category Capacity.

1 - AC & Electrical - - - -- - - - - - - - - - -- - - 8 hours

1 - Brakes, Suspension & Alignment- - - - - - - 8 hours

2 - Prep, Make-Ready & Dealer Add-ons - - - 16 hours

4 - General Techs - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 32 hours

1 - Quick Services - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 8 hours

1 - Driveability and Emissions - - - - - - - - - - - 8 hours

See example.

Service Appointments
Enter Preassigned Available Hours            
Customer
Vehicle/Year
Phone #s
AC

&

Elec

8 hrs
Brakes,

Susp,

&

Alig

8 hrs

Prep,

MR

&

Add-ons

16 hrs

Gen

Techs

32 hrs

Quik

Svs

8 hrs

Driveability

&

Emis

8 hrs

1 . . . . . . . .
2 . . . . . . . .
3 . . . . . . . .
4 . . . . . . . .
5 . . . . . . . .
6 . . . . . . . .
7 . . . . . . . .
8 . . . . . . . .

Back to Index.


Step Three: How to Determine What Percentage of Your Shop Capacity Will Be Used For Scheduling

The idea here is to allocate a percentage of your shop capacity for scheduled work and the remainder for walk-ups and emergencies. The industry rule suggests that 80% of your shop capacity should be scheduled. However, I have found that you have to consider your customer base and location to decide what is best for your shop.

If your dealership is in a heavy transient location, like a tourist area, then you may want to only schedule 50% of your work. However, be careful in heavy tourist areas, because those are seasonal, so for the rest of the year you may want to schedule 80% of your work. The key is to find a good balance. I have found that most service departments can easily operate at 70-80% scheduling, with the exception of the tourist season. The point is to schedule as much as possible to minimize surprises.

Example: Using the sample categories and capacities, if you chose to operate at 75%, it would look like this:

1 - AC & Electrical --------------------------------- 6 hours

1 - Brakes, Suspension &Alignment -------------- 6 hours

2 - Prep, Make-Ready & Dealer Add-ons ------- 12 hours

4 - General Techs ---------------------------------- 24 hours

1 - Quick Services ---------------------------------- 6 hours

1 - Driveability and Emissions --------------------- 6 hours

This is how it would look set up on your appointment form.

Service Appointments
Enter Preassigned Available Hours
6
6
12
24
6
6
Customer
Vehicle/Year
Phone #s
AC

&

Elec

8 hrs
Brakes,

Susp,

&

Alig

8 hrs

Prep,

MR

&

Add-ons

16 hrs

Gen

Techs

32 hrs

Quik

Svs

8 hrs

Driveability

&

Emis

8 hrs

1 . . . . . . . .
2 . . . . . . . .
3 . . . . . . . .
4 . . . . . . . .
5 . . . . . . . .
6 . . . . . . . .
7 . . . . . . . .
8 . . . . . . . .

It is critical that this is maintained at least four weeks in advance to account for days when people are on vacation, in training or will not be available for work the whole day, as in the case of dental or medical appointments.

Back to Index.


Step Four: Choosing the Best Day and Time for the Customer to Leave the Vehicle

To choose the best day and time for a customer to leave their vehicle, the repair order should be pre-written as much as possible with good symptoms and conditions. The purpose is not to generate a final repair order, but to have enough information to make the best choice possible for the customer and for the shop. Also, you will need enough information to set the customer's expectations to minimize problems. (See Step Six: Setting Customer Expectations)

I would suggest covering these topics with the customer before finalizing the day for service.

1) Name, two phone numbers
2) Vehicle/Year
3) Full description of symptoms and services needed (Don't scrimp here!!!)
4) Preferred day & time to leave the vehicle

With this information, the person setting the appointment can estimate the approximate amount of time needed for the repair/service. (See Step Five: Estimating and Logging the Approximate Repair Time) Then look at the availability of that day the customer requested and, if necessary, negotiate the best day and time for drop-off.

Back to Index.


Step Five: Estimating and Logging the Approximate Repair Time for Appointments, Walk-ups and Emergencies

To estimate the approximate repair time, you have to use several methods, depending on the type of repair. I am going to use three basic types: maintenance, repairs and diagnosis only.

MAINTENANCE SERVICES . . . the shop should have a menu of these services available for the customer. There needs to be an internal/shop menu, showing the hours flagged to the tech and the average amount of time the tech should need to complete the service. You would log that average time in the proper service or tech category.

For instance, if a 15K service paid the tech 2.5 labor hours, the tech should be able to complete it in 1.5 real hours. You would log 1.5 hours on the appointment sheet.

REPAIR SERVICES . . . it is absolutely critical to get as much information about symptoms and conditions as possible to make the best estimate. Remember, this is not a pre-diagnosis, just an educated guess. It may be necessary to consult with the tech before logging the final approximate time.

DIAGNOSTICS ONLY . . . if it is a really complicated repair, one with a lot of symptoms and conditions, or just one that is time consuming and could take several days, you would only promise a customer a diagnosis for that day. Based on the diagnosis and special order parts needed, you would let the customer know how many days, or how much time you would need to complete the repair. For this, you would only need to put 1/2 hour to an hour in the log, depending on how your dealership sells diagnostic time. CRITICAL - you must make sure that you go to the day you will be completing the repair and log in the repair time so that day is not oversold in that category. Remember we are managing time.

When dealing with a walkup or an emergency, you would schedule the repair as any regular appointment repair, except you are doing it on the spot. Same procedure as in Step Four by getting the symptoms for the repair or the services requested, then checking the daily log to see what is available in that category. If there is time available, then that time is logged under the proper category. If the time is not available that day, then the first available day must be found and negotiated with the customer to determine if they want to return on the day, if it is driveable, or leave it until the repair can be made. For tow-ins, you must review the first available time and explain the procedure to the customer.

Concerning tow-ins as emergencies, I would suggest this point of view. The only difference between tow-ins and customers who made an appointment for repair, is that the customers who made an appointment planned to be without their car. If you were to ask each customer, which one should have the highest priority, they would both say - ME! My point is to honor the customer who cooperated with your shop to set the appointment, and be up front with the emergency customer on how fast you can get to their vehicle. Everything is based on tracking time. It is the service departments only product to sell, so it must be logged and tracked diligently.

When logging in the approximate repair times, be sure to subtract the time sold from the available time left. See example below.

Service Appointments
Enter Preassigned Available Hours
6
6
12
24
6
6
Customer
Vehicle/Year
Phone #s
AC

&

Elec

8 hrs
Brakes,

Susp,

&

Alig

8 hrs

Prep,

MR

&

Add-ons

16 hrs

Gen

Techs

32 hrs

Quik

Svs

8 hrs

Driveability

&

Emis

8 hrs

1 Eller, J 89 RX-7 555-1901/556-0101 . . .
1.5/22.5
. .
2 Franks, E 94 626 LX 451-5567/554-7678
2/4
. . . . .
3 Jockman, J 96 Protege 661-9090
1.5/2.5
. . . . .
4 . . . . . . . .
5 . . . . . . . .
6 . . . . . . . .
7 . . . . . . . .
8 . . . . . . . .

Notice how the first (left) number is the approximate repair time, the second (right) number is the remaining time left to sell for that category. If you are computerized, the computer should do this automatically with a warning signal as you get near selling-out the time for that category. Documenting time sold/time left allows you to know, at a quick glance, how much time is left, and it minimizes mistakes.

NEVER tell the customers the approximate repair times. They only need to know the day that is best to leave the vehicle. These times are for internal shop tracking only. You do not know when the vehicle will actually get to the tech, just the approximate amount of time the tech will need to diagnose and complete the repair.

Back to Index.


Step Six: Setting Customer Expectations and Other Concerns

Next to Step Five, this step is the most poorly executed by the folks who set appointments. This step is critical to provide the customer with the most efficient assistance and to gain their cooperation.

For years we have taught the customer that dealership service departments are first come - first served. With an appointment system, we have to retrain the customers to come in at a special time so the service advisor can have time to properly write the repair order. However, many customers still come in earlier than their set time, feeling that their vehicle might be repaired faster. These are the kinds of issues we need to address with the customer when we set their appointment.

Selling the purpose of the appointment time and special day will help gain customer cooperation. When you sell something, you show the customer the benefits so they will buy the product. We need to do the same thing with our appointments by showing the customer the benefits of having them come in on a certain day and time to leave their vehicle.

Another concern is using the word, appointment. I would suggest calling it a "write-up time" or "drop-off time" to help set a clearer picture of what will happen. In reality, it is not an appointment to have the vehicle repaired, it is an appointment for time with the service advisor.  The purpose is for the customer to have adequate time with the service advisor to help the service advisor understand the customer's service needs possibly including a test drive, properly documenting those service needs on an RO, then leaving the vehicle with the dealership so they have time to cycle it through the shop including diagnosis, obtaining parts, quality control of the repair and returning the vehicle back to the customer later in the day, hopefully fixed right the first time.

If a customer cannot come in at a special time on the day that would be best to leave the vehicle, then allow the customer to leave their vehicle as an "early bird drop off" on the day they are scheduled for repair.

Remind the customer to bring all the necessary support documentation for the visit - service contract, warranty information, etc.

When setting the appointment, review with the customer how long the write-up process takes, an average of 10-15 minutes to properly write the repair order. It is best to have customers come in at 15 minute intervals for each advisor.

Review any fees, diagnostic or deductibles, that may be included in this visit.

Also, let them know the day chosen for this scheduled visit is based on the repair or service they requested. If they want to add more items, suggest they call in advance, so the schedule can be amended. It is important to never turn down any business, but advising the customer of the guidelines up front can help minimize this situation.

Remember, always leave at least 20% of your available time for last minute add-ons by appointment customers, or for walk-ups and emergency situations.

Back to Index.


Step Seven: An Outline of How to Bring the New Appointment System into the Shop

  1. Call a shop meeting with all departments affected by the Appointment System. This includes service, parts, sales and prep.
  2. In the Meeting Discuss the Following Points
    1. Show them the new system, how you will be bringing it into the shop and the percentage of appointment business you will start with and work towards as the final goal.
    2. Set a date for the first day that vehicles will be scheduled. This date should be within 3-5 days of this meeting.
    3. Review the Form or Computer Screen that will be used, how to enter the information necessary and why it is important.
    4. Take them through a Benefits Exercise by asking them, "What are the benefits of an Appointment System for the Customer, Service Advisor, Technicians, Parts and Sales.
    5. Follow with a Barriers Exercise to allow them to state their concerns about the Appointment System and discuss how to deal with them. You will not be able to handle all the concerns in the meeting, some of them will have to be worked out as the system is rolled out.
  3. Setting the System in Motion
    1. Carefully review with the Service Advisors how to work with a customer to negotiate and set an appointment.
    2. For the first month, start with a small percentage of appointments, around 30%, then work up to your goal over the next 90 days.
    3. Have the Service Advisors start offering appointments immediately to customers calling about services, etc.
    4. Have the Service Advisors only deal with scheduling customers for a special day for about a month, then work into scheduling the special day with the special time.
    5. Track and report to everyone the percentage of appointment business as it improves.
    6. Have two short meeting per week for the first month to work out problems, then weekly for the next 6 months or however long you feel they are necessary until you get the results you want in your shop.
    7. Use the Appointment System for at least six months before making any major changes.

 

Back to Main Index


Part Three: Final Notes

As far as who should be responsible for setting the appointments, I believe that is best handled by, and all requests should go through, the Service Advisors. This is to allow minimum misunderstandings between the customers and the Advisors. I also feel it is important for the customer to have minimum contact with different people. The Service Advisor and the customer need to create a working relationship that needs to start with the setting of the appointment.

It takes an average 12 to 24 months for a dealership of any size to get their appointment system operating at full potential. This is because it takes time to train the employees, gain cooperation from sales, help the customer learn the new system and to solve problems associated with getting the results you want.

Each shop is a unique group of people with a unique customer base. So you will go through an experimentation period to fine-tune your new system.

The most important thing to remember is that anything will work IF YOU WANT IT TO WORK.

ęCopyright, 2006, J. Daniel Emmanuel


Contact me with any questions or concerns you may have about setting up or tweaking your appointment system.

Good luck . . . Daniel Emmanuel




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