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Proficiency: Your Key to Improving Throughput

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Throughput struggles are the No. 1 concern for dealership service centers nationwide, longtime industry consultant Brett Coker of Coker Automotive Consultants says. And, in general, there are three ways to improve throughput: 1) recruit new talent; 2) retain talent; and 3) increase proficiency. 

The first two are topics for another issue (editor’s note: look for a feature package on fighting the industry’s hiring crisis in the October edition of Fixed Ops Business), but Coker says every fixed operations department nationwide needs to focus on improving proficiency—starting right now. 

“This is the future of your business right here,” says Coker, who has presented on improving throughput for major OEMs, at the NADA Convention & Expo, and other events. “If you’re running at 100 percent proficiency, and you find a way to get to 125 percent proficiency with the same team, at a 10-tech shop, that’s the equivalent to adding 2.5 techs without the cost of uniforms or extra space or equipment, etc. 

“Increasing proficiency helps throughput, but it also puts more dollars in your pocket.”

Proficiency is a calculation that serves as the culmination of a technician’s productivity (hours actually spent in the bay working compared to hours on the clock at the shop that day) and efficiency (hours taken to complete a job compared to book time) levels. It’s also a simple calculation: number hours worked versus the number of billable hours produced. 

“In order to improve proficiency, you need to implement strategies that improve both productivity and efficiency,” Coker says.

Here are a few of his suggestions that can carry over into any department of a dealership’s fixed operations:

View techs as your “brain surgeons.” 

Coker says that a tech’s time should be spent actually doing his or her job: repairing the vehicles assigned. 

“You don’t go into a hospital and see brain surgeons wheeling the patient in, getting the tools all in there, then cleaning up everything after, do you?” he asks. “So why do we do that with our techs?”

Instead, Coker says to have assistants throughout the shop that perform any task a technician shouldn’t do—everything from sweeping the bay to moving cars to picking up parts.

“Think about how much it costs to have that technician work for an hour,” Coker says. “The average tech is only working in his bay 67 percent of the time; that’s 5–6 hours out of every eight-hour work day. If you add one more hour of productivity there, how much does that make you with an efficient tech? It far exceeds the $10 an hour you might pay that helper, right? My suggestion is to find every way you can to keep that tech in his bay working.”

Avoid Comebacks at All Costs. 

Comebacks kill, Coker says. It’s as simple as that. 

“Your proficiency of a comeback is zero. Zero,” he reiterates. “You can’t have them. If you do, we need lights going off, flares going up, the EMTs coming out. It needs to be serious. We can’t have them again.”

When one does happen, Coker says to not only fix that specific problem, but also take a hard look at your shop’s standard processes and where the mistake occurred. Make systematic changes to avoid it in the future; don’t just put Band-Aids on the problem.

Stay Diligent to Your Numbers. 

You can’t manage it unless you measure it, Coker says. Too many fixed operations departments slack in measuring key performance indicators (KPIs) that drive business growth. It’s a simple reminder, but a critical one, Coker says. 

“You need to have a pulse on everything that’s going on,” he says. “This is your only way to do that.”

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