THE COLLISION world sure has changed since I first started in the industry in the 1970s. All of the key performance indicators (KPIs) and best business practices that many of us rely on today to help our businesses grow were unheard of back then. If someone at that time would have mentioned to me that they wanted to improve their cycle time, I would have thought that they were looking for a way to make their motorcycle rides more fun.
Thank goodness most of us have embraced all the changes introduced into the business that have helped us as an industry do a better job. In that earlier era, there wasn't much thought given to tracking this metric, and even if you wanted too, I doubt many shop owners or managers would have even known where to begin to do so. With the advent of modern estimating and management systems, it has become easy to do.
No matter what your personal opinion is about direct repair programs (DRPs), the insurance companies and all of their resources have really driven the KPI measurement buses. Logically, better service experiences in areas that the average shop never thought of bring customers back to insurance companies after a loss.
This drive to improve the overall customer experience in a loss claim has been great for shops as well. It has taught us all to become better business people and to improve our performance in what all of us forget sometimes – this is a service business. We would have gotten here eventually without them, just through the changes in the average customer's expectations throughout the years. But it's the insurance company big business know-how that helped speed up the process.
Think about the importance of cycle time as a metric. Faster repairs mean happier customers in general. Everything in our world has to be now. No one wants to wait for anything. Faster, higher quality repairs are just expected by today's consumer. Not only is the customer happy when a job is done faster, so is the insurance company. The claim is closed faster, subrogation can start faster and rental costs are less.
Shops benefit in all these ways as well, but in addition, cash flow improves because jobs get done and payment is made sooner. I know firsthand the pain caused by cash flow problems. Most of you probably do as well. In a small business setting, cash flow is king, so anything that helps improve it is very important.
Do you know what your cycle time is? You cannot improve it if you don't know what it is today. As I have said before, you have to be able to measure it to improve it. Most management systems will do this measurement for you; however, it is easy to do on your own by simply keeping track of the repair dates manually. I like to measure cycle time by the date the car was dropped, until the date the car was picked up. The slang for this type of measurement is called keys to keys.
This cycle time metric is the one most often used by insurance companies, and in fact is the most impactful with regard to cash flow, so it is a great one to use as a basis number. There are many measurements wrapped in between this metric, such as drop off to estimate, estimate to repair start, the start of repairs in body to when the vehicle arrives in paint, and many more.
Why would you want to measure cycle time at so many points if the keys-to-keys measurement is one of the most important? By knowing the details that make up your overall cycle time, it is easier to pinpoint areas of constraint in your process and work on improvements in those areas. Cycle time can be affected by many interference points throughout the repair process. Part of our job as effective managers is to figure out what is slowing down the repair process at these points and initiate a plan to fix it.
Improved cycle time benefits everyone involved in the repair process.
I have heard the negatives, "The damage is what it is. How can I get it done faster than I do now? I don't think it's possible." Not so. Think about this:
I am sure all of you have seen the show on ABC where they tear down a house and build an entire new one in a week. This is the ultimate in cycle time improvement. Most would say this is impossible, yet they do it every week on that show. Granted, they have all the tools and an army of workers, but essentially what they do on the show is remove all the roadblocks involved in the process and it gets done.
What you can do is what this show does – lay out an extremely accurate and concise plan before you start the project. Look at everything from every angle, gather all the materials you are going to need and have all the help and tools you may need ready before you start. Imagine what would happen if when they got to the site, then they started the project from square one. It would take months do what they do in seven days.
An accurate repair plan
In our industry, our planning stage starts with the estimate. The single most important thing you can do to improve your cycle time is to write a complete and accurate estimate up front. Anything less will cause unwanted delays in the repair process.
I suggest that the damaged vehicle is looked at and photographed before any tear down is done. After noting all the visual damage, a thorough tear down should be done, noting damaged clips and fasteners, as well as sheet metal damage. In the case of unibody or frame damage, measurements should be taken that show the amount of movement from square. Pull time is much easier to accurately gauge if you have documentation for the time you are requesting. Leave no stone unturned.
An estimate written using this process is no longer just an estimate. It now becomes more of an instruction manual for parts ordering and repair planning. Obviously, a repair plan written this accurately cannot be done in 10 minutes. It actually will take an hour or more, enlisting input from all the techs involved in the repair. The estimator, the body and frame tech and the painter should all be involved and provide input. This collaboration of expert opinion will help you build an accurate repair plan before any real work is undertaken.
Here's one of the biggest problems in our industry. Most customers are not aware that you don't have X-ray vision when they stop by at 10 minutes to closing with the hard-hit front end impact, with the kids and dog in the car, looking to get in and out in a few minutes. The traditional repair process, starting with a quick estimate, is where all the problems start. It is up to you at this point to try to educate the consumer in the process about what's needed to provide an accurate damage assessment.
Know your vendor
Once an accurate assessment of the damage has been built, it's time to get all the needed materials to the job site. Good vendors will help you improve cycle time. Of course, you have an obligation to provide your vendor with accurate information when placing an order, so always include the VIN number, production date and trim codes when you place an order. You can also email pictures of what you need.
I order almost all of my parts through email or by using my management system. I can get the vendor accurate information about what I need this way, insuring accurate and quick delivery of my needed parts. Monitor your vendor's performance. If they are slow in getting you what you need and the parts are wrong or damaged when you get them, say something right away. You have to be aligned with the best if you want to be the best. If you cannot get your vendors to provide top-notch service, look for another one.
Know your capabilities
This seems elemental, but proper scheduling of work is extremely important in controlling cycle time. Again, let's look at the TV show about building homes. Do you think that if the show undertook five homes on a Monday morning, all five would be done in seven days? Probably not. The same holds true for you in your shop.
When scheduling work, be cognizant of the type of work you are bringing in. This is called your mix of work. If you have one painter, you wouldn't bring in five scratch repair jobs that are all due out in one day on the same day, would you? Your painter cannot physically do that much in one day. The same constraints hold true in your shop in all areas of the repair process.
Even the shop's square footage and equipment affect what you can physically do in a certain time frame.
The idea is to try to schedule work following the abilities your staff and structure provide. This is really difficult to do, but with a little effort and planning, your work mix can be manipulated to provide a better cycle time result.
Organization and housekeeping
Having an organized and clean work environment is very conducive to cycle time improvement. Require your techs to keep the shop clean and all tools maintained in their proper place. If something is broken, make sure it is fixed right away and that you are informed when equipment needs repair.
Look at a hospital operating room. They are set up with efficiency in mind. Everything is there, in its place, and ready to use if and when it's needed. Of course, a collision shop is never going to be as clean as an operating room. But why not strive to keep it as clean and organized as possible?
Time wasted looking for tools is cycle time lost. Make sure you involve you entire staff in this project. Ask for input about shop layout and cleanliness. If your staff feels like they are involved in improving the entire process, they will be more likely to maintain the newfound organization.
These cycle time improvement suggestions are something every shop can do. You don't need super sophisticated equipment or tons of employees. What you need is common sense and desire.
Armed with these two tools, you can go a long way toward making your shop one of the most efficient ones around.