Are We There Yet?

Growing up in Eastern Washington I was blessed to have family in Western Montana. Every weekend my family would make the same five hour drive to the Bitterroot Valley and stay with my Grandparents. The beautiful drive through the mountains was very routine, we knew what time we would arrive based on the time of day we left. We never had to ask our Dad if we were there yet, we knew exactly where we were.

But, not every destination in my life was this clear.

Volkswagen had just started to roll out service express when I was working at one of their dealers. I was notified of this when my manager had called us all into his office for an impromptu meeting. He told us that we are going to have a newer, less skilled employee handle all the easy maintenance and repairs. That we were no longer allowed to help the new car customers. Why? We had no idea.

News of this new policy made us furious, so we headed to one of the advisor offices for a quick session of irrational panic induced complaining. Why would we no longer be able to help the new customers? Doesn’t it make sense to have your veteran employees help new customers? Who knows how to make an impression better than us? I thought the best choice was for us to continue what we were doing. With all these questions and no answers, I single handedly killed the service express movement at my dealership.

Looking back, and being honest with myself, I’d say a small part of my desire to stop my managers plan was driven by greed. I didn’t want to lose the money those cars generated. The biggest motivator for my small rebellion however, was that I truly thought, I was doing the best thing for our business.

A few years later I was promoted to the Service Manager. I had inherited most of the same staff, and we were doing well. The one area where we struggled was retention of new car customers. At first I couldn’t see why. We had great customers service index scores, we had very low employee turnover, and we were competitively priced. At the time VW actually covered the first three services under warranty.

After deciphering reports, I had found that I had about eighty percent retention for the ten-thousand-mile service, which was great! Then, at the second service, it dropped to about fifty percent. Third service retention dropped even further, and hovered around thirty percent. This didn’t make any sense. We took good care of the customers, they had already come in at least once; so, they knew it was free. Why would a customer choose to go elsewhere and pay for something they received for free?

Time. “Time is money” they say, and we were spending too much of it.

After identifying the real issue, I started to build a plan to flip the trend. If only I had a way to make these first services quicker. I thought, if I had a smaller team with maybe one guy, I can train him to only service the newer customers. By doing that I could expedite the quicker services to maximize output. I could hire entry level technicians to train them for efficiency. I could show the customers that we prioritize their time. Services like oil changes were taking multiple hours, they need to be completed in under an hour. If only I had some kind of express service.

*insert palm in face emoji here*

The very program I killed, was killing me now. The real failure was the complete lack of clear destination. I didn’t know what the end goal for the store was back then. We just showed up to work and did the best we could. We were never empowered with the plan.

This lesson reminds me a lot of those early road trips. “Are we there yet?” Kids ask that when they have no clue where they’re going. When I travel now, I prefer to use Google Maps. When you set your destination, the first thing that comes up on the screen is a big picture view of your entire trip from start to finish. You can also choose to go multiple routes to end at the same destination. You have all options ahead of you.

I am happy to say we did deploy service express at that dealer, this time, as a team. It was incredibly successful, from that stores success the dealer group changed its philosophy on quick service maintenance.

As leaders, we must guide our staff on the correct path; to finish at the desired destination. Your plan’s must be made clear, complete, and talked about with your team often.

We too often focus on the problems impacting today, and we do not stop to see how it changes the course of our route. Don’t treat your employees like children in the back seat expecting them to just go along for the ride. You must never forget that your employees are driving the car; a good leader needs to remember that they’re the map.