Lessons in management from a car service centre

Losing direction

I am waiting at the car workshop to handover my car for servicing. Going to get your  car serviced is an unappetising chore that almost has no bright side, so everyone who lands up here is already a bit pissed at having to go through with it. There is a constant stream of restless car owners coming in wanting to get the attention of the staff, and quickly get it all over with. The staff is spread thin today, it is the weekend and it is all-hands-on-deck. Even the branch manager, a pretty girl who seems out of place in this grease shop, is pitching in by receiving customers and helping with processing the paperwork. People are coming in faster than the service centre can cope with. There is soon a struggle to find a chair in the reception. Each car owner feels deserving of attention. Some of them start to raise their voice in front of the hapless staff, some of it probably justified because the entire consumer experience is rapidly plummeting. While everyone was probably given a different timeslot to come, all seem to have  landed at around the same time. People are all eager to jump the queue and that is just adding to the sense of frustration in everyone.

You can see the staff feeling the strain now. Everyone is starting to avoid additional work, knowing that they will have to face the wrath of a new customer when even the current one is baring his fangs at them, and it is just a thankless job. The teamwork is starting to break down,  disagreements are starting to breakout within the staff, with each pointing fingers at the other. All this is apparent to us who are  sitting at the reception, spectators to this chaos. The stress levels are high all around, and this isnt really how it should be.

It is apparent that the branch manager here has failed to apply herself to the problem. By jumping into the middle of the action she has done her team a disservice by losing perspective, and now no one in the team has the big picture view resulting in the entire branch being engulfed in chaos – its every man for himself now. They are reacting to each customer and situation as if it is a unique one. They have not designed the workflow that makes efficient use of the time of service consultants who are the ones to take the cars in, who are most scarce and also the most precious resource.

To fix the problem it just needs some commonsense and a bit of imaginative thinking. But to even begin the process of sorting this mess you need to be able to sit back and identify the core issues that should be addressed. Should it be a fast processing of the car that comes in? Or most accurate diagnoses? Or the most pleasant customer experience? (or maybe another half a dozen alternatives). Many of these objectives may work as cross purposes to each other (given limited resources), and each will need a different approach. So the starting point itself is to ask the question about what is a good question to ask. This thinking exercise (and hopefully followed by good execution) will improve the performance dramatically.

Looking at our own worklife, there are many similarities to how we react to chaos at work. There is a cacophony of distractions and urgent burning issues that land up on our desks. We get into the reaction mode addressing the first thing that comes through our door. The moment we open the mail box, we lose control of the day. With the customer/ client screaming for attention, all of us do-gooders responding to each crises with complete sincerity, only to realise that by the end of year we have nothing to show for our efforts. When your look back on the week gone by and there isnt anything of significance to remember it by. These are clear symptoms that you probably have became victim to the situation – no different than those hapless, busy as hell, service in-charge at the car centre, who will still leave all the customers dissatisfied.

Organisation are designed to solve complex real world problems by efficiently utilising all the resources at their disposal. But if there are too many fires breaking around you, and most of them need specialised handling where you feel indispensable, you may be doing it wrong, and either the organisaiton or you may not last too long. It is probably time to sit back and take a big picture view, and think about the right questions to ask.

PS – In the case of the car workshop, my guess here is that if the waiting experience was improved then there would be enough time for the staff to get other things sorted, and the overall consumer experience will improve too. Also, a really interesting article about Why waiting is torture

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  1. My new blog post. Lessons in management, while waiting my turn at a chaotic car service centre – http://t.co/4Olph7d4

  2. Registry says:

    Thank you

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