How to Improve Communication Between Service and Parts Departments
Jeremy Harder boasts a wide-ranging resume that covers a quarter century in the auto industry, including a stint as a diesel engine instructor at a technical school.
Now, in his current role as service manager at Riverside Honda in Michigan’s upper peninsula, Harder sounds like a man ready to set up stakes. But he’ll still shift back into teacher mode, when necessary.
Harder felt the need to provide a few lessons nearly one year ago, for instance, when he took over the service department at Riverside, located in Marquette, Mich. The reason? The dealership’s fixed ops employees sorely needed a tutorial on communication, and how to work cohesively. Mainly, the parts department and the service department appeared rather disconnected.
Harder largely attributed that lack of cohesion to the fact that the service department stood to benefit more from a positive relationship than the parts staff did.
“I report the parts numbers; parts doesn’t report my numbers,” he says. “So, [parts staffers] are more concerned about their numbers, and not so concerned about the effect it has on the service department.”
Whatever the reasoning, Harder was convinced that his service department’s bottom line would suffer if he couldn’t get on the same page with the parts department quickly.
During Harder’s first few months at Riverside, he felt that parts were often getting “over quoted,” and interdepartmental communication was lacking. He also noticed that, on occasion, orders resulted in the wrong parts being delivered.
In general, there was little synergy between parts employees and their service counterparts.
And, it all felt unacceptable to Harder.
He still vividly recalls losing out on a $1,200 cash ticket that initially seemed destined to be an easy sale.
“The parts were quoted,” Harder recalls and, “the guest went and researched parts at
aftermarket stores and found they could get it for a lot less.
“We ended up losing the job, because parts were marked up to a point where the guy just said, ‘I’ll take it somewhere else.’”
While Harder respected his colleagues in the parts department, he also felt certain that they could aid his revenue stream more consistently. He was growing weary of day-long parts delays while he waited for elements like special-order parts.
“Since we’re a dealership, I don’t really care for providing a quote for aftermarket parts,” Harder notes. “The OEM parts, they’re a little bit more, but I can stand by that part warranty better than I can an aftermarket part.”
Harder eventually resuscitated the relationship between Riverside’s service and parts departments by focusing on improving staff communication.
Sounds simple, perhaps, but getting 19 different employees (16 in service, and three in parts) to see eye to eye needed to be handled carefully. He ended up settling in on a multi-step approach to improve interdepartmental cohesiveness. Its primary focuses included:
While it may not sound all that innovative in 2018, Harder credits text messaging for aiding many of the communication woes at Marquette. In recent months, he has required that employees in both service and parts use a business app called MXIE to pass along parts orders and subsequent updates; Harder praises its ease of use.
These days, Riverside’s technicians don’t sit by idly, stewing in frustration when parts orders are delayed. Instead, Harder has asked that they speak with a member of the parts staff to pinpoint what the exact issue is for a delay.
“Follow up, go back and check,” he urges of technicians. “Make sure [what] was ordered is right. If we can catch it then, instead of finding out a day later …”
Stressing handoffs to service.
If a customer calls the dealership trying to order a water pump, Harder expects the parts department to suggest a subsequent visit to the shop floor for the installation.
“I can sell the service. Because I have factory-trained technicians, we’ve got all the special tools to do the work,” Harder says. “And we’re better at it than the weekend warrior.”
Few things bring a staff together quite like free food. That’s why Harder makes it a point to provide pizza or sandwiches at monthly meetings involving both technicians and parts department representatives.
He leads meetings on a weekly and daily basis, too, that typically include Riverside’s parts manager and various service staffers. Slowly but surely, those efforts have resulted in an improved team atmosphere in Marquette—one in which communication flows rather freely.
“We’ve been able to head off a lot of issues, with those meetings, before it became an issue,” Harder explains.
Harder’s complaints have largely been silenced.
His department currently cranks out 2,400 repair orders per month. And his department, which boasts a CSI score of 91, produced $120,000 in revenue in the month of March 2018 alone—or, roughly 30,000 more than it averaged per month in 2017.
These days, Harder rarely sees his technicians waiting by the parts counter. And, when they are, they’re communicating with their co-workers, upon which their boss insists.
“Because if techs are waiting that’s just lost money,” he says. “It might be 10 minutes here and there, but if you add that up at the end of the month, we’re talking possibly thousands of dollars of time lost that I can’t retrieve.”