Service Department

Dispatching Work Efficiently

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A longtime service manager explains the keys to swiftly assigning work to technicians

Joe Schafer, who recently wrapped up his fourth decade working in the auto industry, will never forget the “big boards” that service dispatchers used to utilize.

Those boards used to note which technicians would work on each maintenance job. And, the process of filing out those boards often brought service departments to a standstill.

“When the technician needed a job, he had to come to the dispatcher and get one,” Schafer, the longtime service manager at Folsom (Calif.) Chevrolet, recalls. “And it was always a bottleneck there.”

In 2018, electronic dispatch programs are part of most dealer management systems, and quickly assign jobs to techs based on factors like their skill level.

“Nowadays, almost immediately when a job is written up it can be dispatched,” Schafer notes. “So, we keep the technician in the stall, working, and he’s able to communicate with the service advisors, he’s able to communicate with parts—so it’s way more efficient.

“That saves us a lot of time. [And] the technicians that are aggressive, they’ll take on more work because there’s nothing holding them back.”

Still, Schafer has heard of many dealerships that don’t use their electronic dispatch system to the fullest extent, and, as a result, have an inefficient process for assigning work.

“Most dealerships,” he says, “still like to put a person in there to help hand out the work, and don’t necessarily let the computer decide what the next job is [and whom it’s assigned to]. They don’t like the whole paperless thing.”

Hearing of such inefficiencies inspired Schafer to pass out tips to others for how to dispatch work as efficiently as possible.  

Ask Your Vendor for Training.

While it usually comes with a fee, most DMS vendors are willing to provide thorough training for technology like electronic dispatch systems. In Schafer’s experience, such tutorials are invaluable, and can help a dealership avoid headaches down the line.

“They’ll send people out to help us navigate through all the processes,” he explains.

Step Back and Analyze Processes.

These days, when Schafer scans his shop floor—where roughly 1,300 cars are worked on per month—he rarely sees technicians standing around waiting for assignments. And that, he says, is because he often steps back and reassesses dispatch procedures, to gauge their effectiveness. Then, he adjusts those procedures when necessary.

Schafer says it’s valuable to observe, “where the jobs are stacking up at, and how the computer expects them to be dispatched, and when they expect them to be dispatched.”

When Necessary, Use Shop Managers.

While pro football playbooks are housed in computer tablets these days, quarterbacks still take it upon themselves to call the occasional audible to set teammates on the proper path. A similar dynamic can be witnessed in service departments, where even top electronic dispatch systems have one or two limitations.

That’s why, at Folsom Chevrolet, a shop manager occasionally steps in to give out orders, to make up for any of the DMS’ blind spots. For example, if a customer decides they’d like to wait on site until his or her vehicle maintenance is completed, a shop manager can promptly venture out to the shop floor, tap an employee on the shoulder, and quickly assign them the urgent job.

In General, Trust Technology.

For the most part, Schafer says, when it comes to dispatching work, it’s important to trust the capabilities of your DMS. After all, that software is updated and improved frequently.

“The biggest tip I would give someone,” he says, “is don’t be afraid to use the technology that’s out there, in the DMS, to allow it to dispatch itself. A lot of dealerships just don’t trust that the [software] is going to dispatch work properly, so they tend not to use it to its fullest—that’s a big mistake.

“The best thing I ever did to increase productivity in my shop was going to a full, electronic dispatch—there’s no doubt in my mind.”

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