The Science & Mathematics of Reducing Service Department Complaints

service department

Many problems that dealerships struggle with have already been solved by other types of businesses. Reducing defective products in manufacturing firms (and in service industries) greatly lowers warranty costs. In your service department, defects are called ‘technician comebacks,’ when service customers are not happy with their repair work.

Complaints You Don’t Hear Cost You the Most Lost Business
Many studies have shown that most unhappy customers will never complain – they will simply stop buying from you altogether. Some of the studies say that as many as 90% of your dissatisfied customers will not return and that you will never know why. That’s a big loss, and explains why quality control must be an integral part of your service operations – it is not something that you ‘add on’ after the work has been done.

Timing is Key – You must Intervene When the Mistake is Being Made, Not Afterwards
Question: When are you alerted that service customers have complaints? Answer: After they receive their vehicles back from repairs, of course. But that’s not good enough because that is the most expensive time (or opportunity) for you to discover your defect in service. Again, most unhappy customers won’t even tell you.

Learn from the Manufacturing Industry

One example of quality control I learned about was a V8 engine plant that was plagued by defective crankshafts. A mathematician and management consultant, Edwards Deming, studied the problem and described it like this.

The vehicle manufacturer had 5 distinct opportunities to discover a defective crankshaft: 1) after it had been machined, 2) after it had been installed in an engine, 3) after the engine had been installed in a vehicle, 4) after a dealer took delivery of that vehicle, and 5) after a customer purchased the vehicle with the defective crankshaft.

Now, the cost to correct the problem would have been very small at step one, greater at step two, and so on until the cost of correcting a defect (warranty) was highest at step five. Make sense? That’s why it’s better to catch a problem early in the process, and not at the endpoint.

The Solution Was Simple Mathematics
You can’t inspect 100% of the work at each step. The cost would be too great. But by applying standard quality control equations Deming specified the percentage of units that should be inspected at each step to yield an acceptable and small defect rate. Those interventions greatly lowered the number of customer complaints.

You Deliver Service by a Series of Steps – Inspect and Intervene at the Best Time(s) in that Process, not at the End
Mistakes, or defects, can be made at any of 6 steps in your service process: 1) as the SA talks with the customer and writes his notes on the work order, 2) when the tech reads and interprets those notes, 3) during the tech’s inspection and diagnosis, 4) when the SA communicates back to the customer what is needed, 5) as the tech performs the repair, and 6) after the customer gets his vehicle back and is not satisfied.

Remember, your cost to address the mistake will be greatest the farther in the process you discover it. That’s too bad, because many dealerships wait till they hear customers complain before they do anything about quality control.

Address Your System’s Faults – Don’t Blame Your People
Start collecting data on comebacks and determine where in your process the errors are being made. Look for patterns. Then institute corrective actions.

Training is typically the cure. Mistakes don’t happen in a vacuum. Your people work under difficult circumstances (the system you designed for them to work in) and often those circumstances will bear a large amount of the blame for the errors people make. Be a good leader and admit that, then fix your systems.

Learn More
If you want to reduce wasted time in your service department, you can read our story “Eliminate this Big and Expensive Time Waster in Your Service Department.”