Your service department is one of your biggest profit centers. But your service department is also the most expensive to operate. So, it needs to run like a well-oiled machine.

Back in 2015 (a time before global pandemics and Amazon rockets), George Russell of the Machinery Advisors Consortium wrote an article about automating the service department of the future. He highlighted some ways to use technology to create a paperless farm equipment service department and replace bloated processes with automation.

No doubt, you probably already know areas where your service operations could run more smoothly. But when you’ve been running your business a certain way for a long time, your eyes can gloss over processes and tasks that could be more connected, collaborative and agile.

Here are 5 questions you can use to audit your service department’s processes and identify areas that could be improved with automation:

1. How are work orders tracked & communicated to technicians? 

Many dealerships still use a bulletin board or whiteboard system to track work orders. We all know what that means: a lot of walking around, tracking down this guy and that guy for information, filling out work order documents and dropping them in boxes, where they can sit for days before someone looks at them … and so on.

When and how are technicians notified about new jobs assigned to them? How are work orders prioritized? What is the process for tracking details, ordering parts, etc.?

“Look for areas in the job lifecycle where paper is slowing communication down and consider going digital…”

There are robust service management software tools on the market now that make the entire work order creation, assignment, tracking and closing process digital — and streamlined. Look for areas in the job lifecycle where paper is slowing communication down and consider going digital.

2. When are work order updates communicated to customers?

Streamlining communication between your team members is only one half of the pie. It’s important to also make sure your customers aren’t being left in the dark.

One of the most common complaints dealers get from customers is that they don’t know what is going on with their equipment being serviced or why it takes the time it takes. Visibility is the key here. Your dealership should be sending updates to customers frequently enough that a customer never has to call you asking what is going on.

How often throughout the service cycle are customers notified about the status of their unit? Are service timelines communicated to them? Do they know why service is taking the amount of time it does?

We’ve seen email and SMS sales/service status updates used by other industries for years now. 

Finally, dealers are starting to catch up thanks to service communication automation tools that allow you to send canned and automated work order status updates via email and text message.

3. How are customer questions captured & followed up on?

Similar to sending customers frequent updates on job statuses, it’s also important for your team to provide timely responses to customer questions. 

How long does it typically take for customers to receive a reply to their questions? Do you have a way of tracking this?

If customers are calling in, that clogs up your phone lines and creates plenty of opportunities for messages to go undelivered.

“The days of needing a customer to physically step into your dealership to sign off on work orders and make payments are behind us…”

Your customer’s cellphone is a powerful communication line with your dealership. Give them the ability to send questions via text message or a digital portal. There are several  dealership software solutions that enable you to do this.

4. How long does it take to collect signatures & payments from customers?

The days of needing a customer to physically step into your dealership to sign off on work orders and make payments are behind us. Now, it’s possible to send email or text message requests for signatures and payments directly to customers on their personal computers or
mobile devices.

Aside from making the process more convenient for customers, this also gives your team more flexibility to move the process along while in the field or
working remotely.

How cumbersome is the process of collecting signatures and payments from customers? Where are these documents being stored and how easy is it to access them?  

5. How is your dealership delivering on service agreements?

It’s your team’s responsibility to uphold your service agreements with customers. That means letting customers know when their equipment is due for servicing.

How are you tracking when a customer’s equipment is due for servicing? How do you let the customer know? Are you tracking opportunities to let customers know about new parts and add-ons they might be interested in?

There are tools to help you automate seasonal and recurring maintenance reminders that can be sent directly to a customer by email or text message.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. But I hope these questions will help you examine where your service department could be optimized.