A few small steps can increase efficiency in the dealership service bay and drive capacity without a big outlay of cash.

Jason Beckett

President of Proactive Dealer Solutions, which provides training and software solutions for the automotive industry


Most new-vehicle service departments are slammed. It’s a perfect storm of customers keeping older cars longer, in part due to inventory shortages; vehicles on the road outpacing the number of service bays available; and underutilized shop capacity.

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As a result, lengthy wait times, carryover tickets and frustrated customers are more a norm than an aberration. Increasing capacity is key, but this doesn’t have to mean expanding facilities and hiring moretechnicians (nearly impossible in this market). Instead, a few small steps can increase efficiency and drive capacity without a big outlay of cash.

Increasing capacity first requires knowing a service facility’s maximum potential. Calculate your facility’s potential with this formula endorsed by NADA: number of bays x number of days x number of hours x effective labor rate = facility potential. In this formula, the number of bays excludes wash and undercoat bays. The figure for “days” is the total number of days in a particular month that the service department is open. “Hours” are hours per day a facility is open. Effective labor rate is calculated by dividing the total labor sales for a given month by the total hours billed. Facility utilization, optimally at 100 percent, should be at least 70 percent.

The single best way to increase capacity is to stop underscheduling. This is a people issue and it happens when service advisers are overwhelmed juggling ringing phones and belly-to-belly customers. They stop processing vehicles because they don’t want the headache.

The first line of defense is an online appointment scheduling tool that allows customers to self-schedule. A word of caution: Always audit the tool. A misconfigured tool can show a shop closed on Mondays, for example, when it is very much open.

I’d argue the second line of defense is a digital voice assistant integrated with the online scheduling tool to handle and appoint inbound phone calls. A digital voice assistant stops all those ringing phones and frees up employees to work with customers in the shop. It will also always book an appointment for five on a Friday if the time slot is open (digital voice assistants don’t have weekend plans).

Next, tackle status calls. These calls 100 percent affect CSI and drown employees in busywork, affecting efficiency. Part of an ironclad process should be that every team member asks customers how they want to communicate, sets a specific time to call or text with an update, and follows-through with that promise.

Expanding shop hours to the evenings and weekends is also an effective way to increase capacity without adding bays. An added benefit is that more hours may enhance the ability to hire and retain technicians. Many people prefer a workweek of longer but fewer days. A 10-hour, four-day workweek, for example, is very attractive for anyone wanting three-day weekends.

Finally, weed out inefficient processes that pull technicians away from their bays. Hire floaters to retrieve parts, install computer terminals in workstations to get the most current diagnosis information and technical bulletins, and migrate to paperless dispatching and repair orders. Advanced job-tracking technology can also keep technicians on track and inspire friendly competition that drives efficiency.

Service will always be the best bet for steady and consistent dealership revenue. Those who prioritize bay productivity and maximum capacity will be rewarded with more sales and greater customer loyalty.

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