Bring Together Parts and Service
Joseph Coleman, parts and service director of Knauz Auto Park in Lake Bluff, Ill., believes it’s important to work collectively as a team with the same goal: assisting the customer. Coleman does not believe service and parts should be two separate departments.
“We are not either the parts or service department—we are both. We can’t operate without each other,” he says.
Prior to moving into his role as a parts and service director in 2013, Coleman worked as a service manager for over 20 years. Today he oversees 160 parts and service employees in five dealerships.
“When I first started out as a service manager, I found myself putting out fires quite a lot and I go, ‘You know, this is stressful and it must mean beneath all of this, I must not be doing the right thing,” he says.
For Coleman, although the two departments tend to have separate roles throughout the day, it’s important to make sure both parts and service are on the same line of communication when it comes to tending to the customer.
“If you don’t have communication, you’re apt to have problems,” he says.
After taking a step back, Coleman has created a plan that not only enables cross-communication from staff members, but also provides employees with an opportunity to be heard in their line of work, further growing the dealership’s team environment.
Talk through your routines and processes.
Every department has routines, but if others aren’t aware of protocol, it can be difficult to determine the right process moving forward. For Coleman, he’s worked to establish a culture filled with meetings from various departments in order to create better communication.
“People make fun of me because I’m the meeting king,” he says.
In order to get everyone on the same page, Coleman holds a series of meetings where staff members with various positions get together to learn about each other’s processes.
“[We have a] manager meeting once per week on Friday morning where it’s the body shop, pick-up delivery guy, [and] the president and the general manager is also there,” he says. “We go around the table and talk about ideas and everyone has a voice, no matter what.”
While it may seem easy to get everyone to comply during a meeting, it’s common for get-togethers to feel a little uncomfortable at first, Coleman recalls, especially in the beginning.
“Those meetings are intense,” he says. “When you make that commitment [to have meetings], it takes the edge out of a lot of the animosity; we kid around, we joke, the tension level—there is none.”
Include staff variety in meetings.
When meetings are held, it’s important to keep all staff members in mind when making decisions.
In an effort to avoid having to speak for someone while they’re not physically present in the meetings, Coleman has worked to solve the problem by encouraging new members to attend.
“We have an inter-departmental meeting where we have the service manager, the parts manager, and the sales manager from that car line come up with the president, general manager and myself. And the best part about it is that they have to bring a non-manager with them,” he says. “The things that we’ve been able to accomplish by having just people that aren’t managers—you know, the ones that think they know what they’re doing—we bring a different one to each one, and the ideas that have come out of there have been phenomenal.”
The idea was inspired by seminars that Coleman previously attended, he says, and has created a lasting positive effect with employees after a non-manager tends the meeting. Parts and service have gotten along much better after those meetings, he says.
In addition, the meetings give employees the platform to speak and share their ideas, further building confidence in themselves and the company.
“Not only do we get more productivity, efficiency, [but] the person that had the suggestion now suddenly feels [like] an important part of the business—they’ve now engineered some kind of change,” Coleman says.
Lend business advice when needed.
While staff members from parts and service may only cross paths briefly, it’s still important to establish reliability and teamwork between the two at the business. In order to get both the service and parts more involved throughout the day, Coleman’s teams work together frequently to determine the answers to different issues around the shop.
He says the dealership created “diagnostic teams,” which compiles different positions together to work towards completing a goal.
“We have a unit that has a production manager and he or she dispatches all of the work, sees who needs what and who’s the best person to have for the job, and then they took our absolute best technician from these car lines and made them what they call ‘nonproductive foreman,’ in other words, they don’t bill any hours, but they help,” Coleman says.
Then the parts manager and counter person are invited to share their ideas on how to have a successful outcome.
“So [we keep] everyone involved in decisions, whether it’s in a meeting or it’s everyday activities, is making sure that everyone feels that they have a voice,” he says.