The Little Things Do Matter

The Little Things Do Matter

Learning Without Scars’ new guest writer John Dowling is a United States Marine veteran who has had a successful 25-year career in the Product Support Industry. He started as an equipment mechanic and worked his way up to be a field service mechanic. John was promoted to service manager and eventually to branch manager of a heavy equipment dealership. Then he accepted a position as a field service representative for a major heavy equipment manufacturer. In his last role before entering the recruiting and consulting industries, John was Director of Product Support at a 9-location heavy equipment dealership.  John is also the author of the book Service by the Boxes, a manual on how to run and develop a best-in-class service department. “The Little Things Do Matter” is his debut blog post for us.

Years ago, when I was a Director of Product Support at a dealership we had much success early on, but at one point we plateaued and became complacent. This happens sometimes when success comes too easily or too quickly for an organization. So, I put together a training campaign for my parts and service managers to get back to basics. I was trying to communicate to them that being best-in-class in product support is a game of inches, not yards. Doing the little things right is what matters. I was reminded of this in B.J. Frogg’s book Tiny Habits. Doing the little things right and completing the small tasks drives momentum and creates motivation to continue to push on to do the bigger things. Jesus of Nazareth quoted in Luke 16:10 said “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.”     


Creating habits or processes in the parts and service departments is key to creating and developing a best-in-class dealership. If you’ve been in this industry for any length of time you’ve heard the statement, “The sales department sells the first machine and parts and service sells the rest.”  Which is a true statement. Ironically enough when a dealership is struggling with market share, they never focus on the real driving force. Which is the product support side of the business. Now you can use discretionary money, cut your margins, run a sales campaign, and increase marketing spend to try to recapture market share but all these activities will be short-lived. At some point, the other manufacturers or dealerships will discount their prices more and produce a cleverer marketing slogan or campaign. Eventually, the dealerships are just spending a lot of money and enter the never-ending cycle of who can get to the bottom first.


When I say focus on product support, I do not mean that the sales department or executive management blames all the dealership’s shortcomings on parts and service. What is meant here is that to maintain market share and sales revenue you must have a robust and effective parts and service departments. And yes, this means having the right people leading these departments, but being best-in-class is more than having the right people on your product support team. You must have a process, and everybody must know and follow that process.

Now let’s get back to our main point. We must create a culture of building “tiny habits” or doing the little things right. A good well defined documented process ensures that we do the little things right. In my new book Service by the Boxes, I break down the service process into ten individual steps or boxes. At the end of each chapter, we discuss each of the boxes or steps and I give examples and show how being best-in-class at each stage of the work order process is just doing the little things right.


What are some of these little things that any dealership can do to drive customer service? Remember customer service will help you maintain your market share. Chick-fil-A dominates the fast-food industry and one of the little things that they do well is saying, “My pleasure.” 

Here is one for the service department. Confirm machine hours and serial numbers on every machine that is dropped off for service. The top two reasons warranty claims are denied or delayed processing are because of incorrect hour readings and incorrect serial numbers. 

Here’s another one for service, open a work order the same day the machine is brought in for service. If you review your RIP (Repairs in Progress) report daily this will ensure that a machine is not lost or forgotten. I have seen service departments cut two to five days from their total repair time just by opening the work order the same day the machine came in.

One more little thing about service. Technicians complete their service report the same day they complete the repairs on the machine and turn it in. All the hard work has been done. If the technician does not do the little thing right and does not turn in a completed service report the same day he completes the repair, he can prolong the “work order life cycle” time, which decreases customer satisfaction and trust in the dealership. Not to mention this has a major negative impact on the dealership’s cash flow. 


Now to parts. Pull all in-stock parts. If a part goes on a counter ticket or a work order it should be physically removed from the parts inventory. It should be placed on a will-call shelf or given to the service department. If this little thing does not occur, there is a good possibility the part in question will be sold to another customer. This can prolong a service repair in the shop. This can also negatively affect customer satisfaction of the one who drove an hour to buy the part from you just to discover it was sold to someone else. 

Call the customer when their part does not show up. Parts go on back-order and parts get lost in transit. This happens every day. The dealerships have zero control over it, but if we can control the narrative, we can still be best-in-class. How, you ask? We call the customer before they call us. If the customer calls us to ask about their part that did not show up, they lose trust in us, they will doubt we have their best interest at heart. If we call the customer first, let them know that the part did not show up, and inform them what is being done to rectify the situation; the customer will not lose trust in us and will perceive this as great customer service. Oddly enough, the situation is exactly the same. We might even gain additional trust from them. The customers still will not be happy, but they will not be upset with us. They will know that we are working hard for them to resolve the problem of the lost part.


Being best-in-class and delivering great customer service is not about doing the big and remarkable things but about doing the unimportant things. Creating a culture of “tiny habits” by developing a well-documented process that ensures the little things are being accomplished will drive your success. Not to mention increasing your bottom line. 


LWS Note: John’s Book is something that should be read by everyone.


Service by the Boxes.


Want to take your service department to the next level? This book provides a practical approach to service management, addressing real-world issues that dealerships face every day. With its clear and concise best-in-class practices, Service by the Boxes empowers you to drive success in your service department from day one. Increase customer satisfaction and market share with the principles in this must-read book.

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