Setting Expectations in an Era of Parts Shortages

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Rob Ingram owns and operates Eldon Ingram NAPA Auto Pro in Stratford, Ont. You can reach him at [email protected] Photo Jack Kazmierski

Being realistic, both with your customers and your capabilities are key.

Many of us are currently experiencing parts shortages. There are some situations where it’s taking weeks, if not months to get a part for a customer’s vehicle. Even if it doesn’t take that long, we often find ourselves sourcing from other suppliers, just so we can complete the work and get the vehicle back to the customer. It’s important in these situations to have good relationships and be in good standing with all suppliers since you don’t always know who you will have to rely on to get the parts you need.

Efficient ordering

You also need to make sure that at your shop, you have staff that is efficient at quoting and organizing parts. One of the best ways to do that today is by having integrated software, where you can quickly source your parts online. Additionally, you need to make sure your staff is trained to order parts by using the VIN of the vehicle. You will not believe that some shops will still ask for parts for a vehicle simply by make and model. Let’s say it’s a Jeep Grand Cherokee that needs brakes. There are multiple different models and different parts for each of them, and if you don’t order using the VIN, chances are you’ll end up with the wrong part. That causes problems for you and also for the supplier since they now have to take those parts back and re-stock them.

Also, if a customer’s vehicle is going to be tied up for 3-4 days while you are performing work on it, they will likely need transportation during that time. One of the best ways to do this is to have a fleet of well-maintained courtesy vehicles and, if they’re wrapped in the logo of your business, it’s additional advertising. You want the vehicles to be well-maintained and clean, as that will set the customer’s expectations of your business. Ultimately, you need to have a fleet of vehicles you can afford to operate and maintain in order to make it work effectively.

Saying the right things

Perhaps an even bigger consideration in this era of parts shortages is ensuring your staff is trained to say the right things to your customers, as the language they use will set the precedent for expectations from your clients. Today, you just can’t say things like ‘it shouldn’t take long, or will only be a few minutes,’ or, ‘leave it with me and we will give you a call in the afternoon.’ In each of those situations, the customer will likely assume that it won’t take long to get the vehicle repaired. The problem is when you can’t get it repaired, because the parts you need aren’t available for at least a week and you’ve told the customer that it wouldn’t take long to fix, you’ve disappointed the customer and you’ve hurt the reputation of your business.

You have to be extremely clear when talking to customers. For example, if a client comes to you saying that they need their vehicle fixed and nobody has been able to find the parts needed, the last thing you want to do is commit and say to leave the vehicle with you. Instead what you need to do is take their information, explain that you’ll look into it, and when you have more details, you will get back to them. The key is being able to under-promise and over-deliver, and while in practice, that’s not always easy, it is critical to ensure the long-term success of your business.


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