Developing Your Best Special-Order Parts Process – Part 1

This is Part 1 in a three-part article. View Part 2 | View Part 3

Say the words “Special-Order Parts” and a number of things immediately come to mind for dealership employees, according to their job and the department they work in. A service advisor will have to be the bearer of bad news to the customer. The vehicle will have to be held over. The customer will have to come back. The technician will lose time. The parts department will have to place an order and wonder if the part will really be used. The service manager and dealer think of the customer’s response to a fixed ops first visit question on a CSI survey.

The dealership employees aren’t the only ones who have thoughts on special order parts. The customer may roll thoughts over in their mind as well. And sometimes it’s because of what’s happened before. “How long is it going to take this time to get my car back?” “Will they really call me, or will I have to call them and be placed on hold for a long time…just like the last time?” “When in the world am I going to be able to get in and get my car fixed?”

So, the question is, as frustrating as this is for all of us, are there some ways we can minimize the interdepartmental confusion and serve our customers better?

Within this article, there are strategies designed to help you employ tactical ways for handling special order parts. There is not just “a way” to handle special orders. There are “ways.” The “ways” covered have been used by various dealerships. The intent is to help you establish “ways” that will work for you. The types of orders we’ll explore are:

  1. Service Department Special Orders
  2. Body Shop Special Orders
  3. Internal Special Orders

We will examine ways to improve communications between parts employees, service advisors, technicians and the customers.

It’s always better to have a strategic way of approaching a complex issue versus shooting from the hip. With that thought in mind, there are various considerations for developing a service department special-order parts system.

A major part of the frustration associated with special-order parts for the service department stems from the many priorities and lack of communication. There are questions to be answered.

  1. Is the vehicle driveable?
  2. Are the part(s) in question safety- or convenience-related? For example, is it summer and do we need air conditioner parts? Or, is it winter and do we need a heater part? Do we have a brake problem, or is it a carpet that doesn’t fit just right?
  3. How badly does the customer need to have the vehicle back? Take this to heart…some of us have been in the automotive industry for years. And, although we think we know how difficult it is for the customer to give the vehicle up for a day or longer, do we really know?
  4. What kind of commitment has the service advisor made to the customer?  How does the part need to be ordered to meet the needs of the customer and the commitment made by the service advisor?
  5. Sometimes parts are ordered without communication between the parts department and service advisor. This can cause problems for the service advisor. It can result in a loss for the parts department. The parts department can lose obsolescence credit, stock order allowance/discount, and incur unnecessary freight charges.
  6. Many times, there is no obligation felt by the customer to return for installation either because it is a nonessential item or there is no urgency to do so. The need to address this has been a topic for discussion for many years. On customer pay special orders, consideration should be given to charging the part or a portion of it to the customer at the time of ordering. Parts can not be ordered without documentation of payment. Warranty special orders have even less urgency to the customer. Many agencies believe that providing a loaner car until installation is completed is the answer. Deposits on warranty parts are also a means of insuring return by the customer. Another option is the removal of items not essential to the vehicle’s operation such as trim during the initial service visit.

A system that addresses the needs of the customer, the service department, and parts department is needed. Again, there are “ways” versus “the way.” To get the best results, the parts department and service department management staff should work together to implement a policy for the employees to follow.

When a customer is required to leave make a return visit for a special-order part, one way to address this issue is to pre-schedule an appointment for the customer to return. Coordination and execution on behalf of both the parts and service departments are required. One of the keys to success is for the advisor to obtain a commitment from the customer on a date and time which may be convenient for them to return for installation. This can be performed at the time of the call to inform the customer that their vehicle is completed or upon arrival, depending upon your active delivery system.

Establishing an understanding of all the different types of orders that are available and the days on which they are ordered and received is essential. For example, there may be a stock order, daily order, and a critical order, and depending on the manufacturer, the verbiage and time frames may differ. The parts manager may wish to educate the service management and advisory staff in an effort to avoid confusion of the details of each order type. This entire process (pre-scheduling of special-order parts) may be performed manually or through the computer system assuming that the computer is capable of handling this function.

Let us begin first with the manual transition. Upon determination by the technician that a part must be ordered, the technician may hand carry the appointment card to the advisor for a date to be completed. The advisor would enter the completion date on the card and return it to the parts counter for processing of the order. An order is not placed until the advisor informs the parts department of an appointment date. Documentation would be advisable in an effort to eliminate the he-said/she-said syndrome. This date should have already been agreed upon with the customer and advisor. On the appointment log, the appointment needs to stand out from the others, perhaps a yellow highlight. One consideration at this point would be the creation of a repair order for the purpose of charging the special-order part. This technique is most applicable to the pre-scheduling process because a time and date has already been determined for installation. As well there is a repair order already generated prior to customer arrival which would expedite installation. A minimum of at least a one-day grace period should be considered in the case that an unexpected delay is encountered. If all appointments were scheduled in the computer then perhaps highlighting this appointment in the computer would be possible. Every day the advisor should look at the next day’s appointments to ensure that all parts have been secured. In the unlikely event that there is one for which no notification was received from the parts department, the advisor should contact the parts department for clarification. It is possible that one could fall through the cracks; however, if there is a check and balance in both the parts and service departments, embarrassments should be minimal.

Naturally, from a communication standpoint the parts department has their responsibilities, as well. Once the order form with the appointment date has been received the order should be placed to match the appointment date. If you use the color keyed special-order form, reserve one copy for the alphabetical file and one copy for the appointment date file. As the parts are received, the copy pulled from the appointment date box may be given to the advisor for receipt verification. The alphabetical copy can remain until the part is secured for installation. Each day the assigned party in the parts department should check the next day’s appointment box to ensure all copies are gone, which would indicate that all parts have arrived for that day’s appointments. If a part was unable to be obtained, the advisor should contact the customer to select another workable date. Should the part be involved in a back-order situation, a commitment will need to be made to follow up with the customer by phone, e-mail or whatever method of communication is selected.

Another good practice, even though an appointment was pre-scheduled, is to contact the customer one day prior to the appointment. The purpose naturally is to reconfirm. In the event of a no-show appointment, every effort should be made to contact the customer by phone, e-mail, pager or whatever means was agreed upon. This minor step can have a heavy impact on the special-order parts in the bins not picked up. A meeting with all parties involved from both departments is critical for success prior to the technique being implemented.

In many cases the special-order parts orders are set up in the computer by themselves. In this case when the part is receipted, the status is updated from ordered to received. Now a service advisor or parts person can inspect the status at any given time with few obstacles in their way.

As with any technique or concept there can be assets and liabilities. From an asset standpoint, here are some of the reasons for setting an appointment at this time:

  • Setting an expectation level for the customer
  • To avoid the process of receiving the part and then contacting the customer
  • Less time between the order and the installation
  • An improved chance of getting the customer back in for the installation

There could be resistance to install this process due to these possible liabilities:

  • The fear of a breakdown in communication.
  • The parts department’s failure to notify the service department of referrals, backorders.
  • The part didn’t show up for one of the above reasons and the customer showed up because nobody called them.

An effective game plan with all parties’ commitments is essential. As the saying goes, “If we do what we have always done, we will continue to receive the same results.”

One of the more traditional ways to handle the special-order part process is with an advisor contact upon part arrival. After the order is placed, the advisor normally contacts the customer to inform them of a part being placed on order. This notification normally takes place at the same time a call upon job completion would be made and/or at the time of pickup. With this technique it would be advisable to have a stamp that indicates that a part has been ordered. Of course, the stamp or sticker would be placed on the customer copy.

From the parts department perspective, a party within this department is responsible to notify the service advisor that is responsible for the order when the part arrives. One way that this can be done is using the standard 4- or 5-part special order form. One of the copies goes to the advisor for notification. Another way could be using computerized forms if the special-order part system is utilized with the computer system. This screen is accessible to most individuals and the advisor can print a copy at their will.

This all leads up to the customer notification upon part arrival. The preferred method by many customers is a personal phone call to a daytime phone number for the customer. However, depending upon the individual, a pager number or e-mail address may be considered. Just as reassurance, a post card may be mailed by the parts department. As is the case in most instances, the process only works as well as it is followed and inspected. A similar focus on special order parts on the shelf is advisable as many dealerships focus on open repair orders. It is not abnormal for an open repair order list to be given to an advisor daily and an update expected at the end of each day, if not daily, then weekly. Why could one not expect the same from the special-order parts bin?

Continued next week in Part 2!

Written by David Dietrich

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