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Five steps to build a more effective quality assurance system

Thursday, February 7, 2013 - 10:20
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In November, ABRN published "Avoid redos, bump up your sales with these tips" (see detailing some of the most troublesome and overlooked repair issues that can send customers racing back to a shop demanding satisfaction or dialing up the business manager to complain.

These issues typically involved problems that fell outside the actual repair areas – leaks, suspension and braking problems, and previous damage. The message here was that shops could best serve their customers and themselves by taking the entire vehicle into consideration and spending a little extra time addressing any potential issues that could impact the customer service experience.

An estimator speaks with a technician. Consider making your estimators your chief quality inspectors. IMAGE / G&C AUTO BODY

One of the presumptions of focusing on areas outside the immediate repair is that the repair itself was handled as thoroughly and completely as possible. Shops keep quality inspection or assurance systems in place to handle this task. The number of issues outside the repair that can affect a shop's business makes the tasks performed by quality inspectors more important than ever.

It's time to review your shop's quality assurance program and to consider instituting some changes to ensure it provides the best possible results. Use these five steps to build a solid foundation for a system that will ensure top quality is part of everything your shops does.

Step 1: Proper foundation

Upgrading quality assurance is like improving other areas of your business, such as customer service. Certain standards apply industry-wide, but because every shop is different, every assurance program will be as well. As you assess yours, you'll need to look at factors such as industry standards, employee capabilities and talent, and how to most efficiently and effectively implement a system in your operations.

Handling the human factor is the wild card. Determining repair quality is a subjective act that will vary, even if slightly, from shop to shop and employee to employee. Based on their training and experience, employees can set different standards and "judging" guidelines. Also, some employees just have a better eye for assessing work. How do you best manage all these factors?

Start by creating and documenting a set of quality standards. Include input from all of your employees. Note that the goal here is establishing uniform guidelines for your entire operation.

Next, make your quality program specific to the challenges that most affect your shop. Ask employees what problems they see most often or get the most feedback on from customers.

You'll also face the fact that upgrading your system could be a long-term project.

"We had no idea how badly we had fallen off the mark on quality until we started looking at what we were doing," says Mike Bilderbury, owner of WC Automasters, a three-shop MSO near Sacramento, Calif. "We faced almost as many difficulties with our quality program as we did going lean."

Bilderbury recommends getting outside assistance from a consultant and suggests shops seek help from their paint vendors.

"It really helps to look outside your business," he says. "When you get used to looking at everything from the inside, you end up getting some bad habits. I thought we had a terrific, modern operation, and then I was shocked at how far we had strayed from industry best practices."

Those practices include multiple quality checks (with a minimum of two checks) as a vehicle passes through the repair process, new paint assessments under artificial and natural lighting, and an audit of each estimate or repair order to verify that all work was performed.

All these reviews and checks potentially can impact cycle time. Bilderbury says this issue can be addressed through continuous efforts to efficiently incorporate quality checks into the repair process. This goes back to setting the proper foundation for a quality assurance program.

Creating clear repair standards and inspection guidelines and training employees on them makes for a quality program that can be smoothly incorporated. With that done, Bilderbury says employees can work these tasks in with their other chores with minimal impact on work times.

"Like going lean, inspecting for quality is a mindset everyone needs to buy into," he explains. "It becomes a normal part of doing your job."

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