Service Provider Issues

Service providers and fleets face a variety of challenges in doing business with one another. Some key problem areas: communication processes, downtime, unfair bill times, padded estimates and warranty coverage and procedures. A new TMC committee has been established to deal with such matters, and one of its task forces has held a session on "truck triage."

In an effort to deal with the long-standing issues that service providers and fleets often have in transacting business together, the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) has established a new committee: the Service Provider Committee (SPC). Formed during TMC's annual February meeting, the SPC's objective is to create industry practices, improve efficiencies and build better relationships between fleets and service vendors.

"The Service Provider Committee will promote activities that will improve maintenance practices and relationships relative to both the independent service and OEM dealer network, and transportation providers," says Steph Sabo, TMC General Chairman and maintenance manager for NOTS (Norrenberns Truck Service), Nashville, IL.

"The committee will work to raise the bar on service," adds SPC Chairman Charles Voyles, service director for Truck Centers, Troy, IL. "As the committee evolves, and with the involvement of TMC's fleet members and its growing service-dealer membership, committee members will gain a better understanding of the challenges that both the fleets and service providers face, enabling the creation of procedures that will benefit both parties."

Seven task forces have been formed within the Service Provider Committee to target issues frequently identified as problematic. These task forces met during the TMC Annual Fall Meeting held Raleigh, NC, in mid-September.

"Each task force is working towards developing a TMC Recommended Practice to benefit both the service provider and fleet customer," Sabo says. "More tasks forces will be created in the future."

AREAS OF FOCUS

The initial task forces are:

Repair Assessment Task Force. The scope of this group is to create a workflow process to provide customers with a repair diagnosis within a specified period of time. This would be along the lines of Freightliner's Rapid Assessment, Volvo's Triage, International's Service Partner and DDC Distributors' WheelTime programs.

The objective is to establish an agreeable time frame with service providers to allow customers to have their unit diagnosed and a repair plan provided. This task force will also implement a matrix to measure the success of the assessment time frame to determine the best way to communicate between the service provider and customer.

Chairman of this task force is Scott Zeppenfeldt, vice president of service operations, Velocity Vehicle Group, Whittier, CA.

Warranty Task Force. This group is charged with identifying the workflow process for each OEM to determine fleet basic and extended warranty coverages.

Often, a fleet may have extended coverage with a truck OEM or parts supplier but dealers don't have visibility to this coverage, observes Sabo.

This task force is working to institute a common process to:
• Identify a customer's extended coverage with truck OEM or parts suppliers.
• Gain visibility of the coverage.
• Develop reporting tools for customers and service providers to submit warranty repairs.
• Find expedited ways to check for parts replacement warranty.

Jack Porter, fleet/service trainer, Decisiv, Glen Allen, VA, is this task force's chairman.

Approval and Authorization Task Force. The purpose of this task force is to produce a workflow process for estimating repairs and creating an approval process for the repairs to begin. From this will come a Recommended Practice between service providers and customers to supply guidance during the process of obtaining mechanical repairs to equipment from service providers, and to establish the guidelines for both parties to aid in the successful completion of repairs in a timely manner

Chairing this task force is Gary Cummings, executive vice president, Fleet Net America, Charlotte, NC.

Customer Notification Task Force. This group is developing a process to communicate the status of customer's truck (estimated completion time, when the truck will be ready for pick up, final price, etc.) while in possession of the service provider. The goal here is to enhance a customer's and service provider's awareness and knowledge of each truck being repaired through recommended processes, communications, procedures and technology.

Ike Chunn, group service manager, Lonestar Truck Group, headquartered in N. Richland Hills, TX, is the chairman of this SPC task force.

Customer Satisfaction Task Force. It has been formed to provide a training outline that will cover the elements needed to facilitate a successful and repeatable service event from a customer satisfaction perspective. The goal is to advance, through effective training, a better mutual understanding of the needs of customers and service providers, as well as to promote procedures both parties can follow to maximize efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Serving as the chairman is Dick Von Lehman, national sales and marketing manager - service, for Paccar, Bellevue, WA.

Successful Practices Task Force. Identifying the practices that successful providers employ to achieve the highest levels of trust with their customers is the purpose of this group. In addition to collecting ideas, information and positive past experiences, it well gather proven successful policy and procedures from service providers, OEMs and transportation experts to develop guidelines for world-class service

This task force is chaired by Bob Bullard, service director, Empire Truck Sales Group, based in Jackson, MS.

Fair Bill Times Task Force. Its scope is to define and develop a standard of fair and accurate labor and repair times for service providers. It will work to come up with better ways to arbitrate issues and identify what the standards times are between the service providers and customers.

Randy Haines, service center division manager, Bosselman Companies, Grand Island, NE, is chairman.

GREATER PARTICIPATION

Since its formation in February, the Service Provider Committee "has been busy working toward its objectives," says the group's chairman Voyles, and "we're off to a very strong start. A wide variety of people are helping on each task force. Those people include OEM, independent service providers, service dealers, vendors and fleet personnel."

In its meeting at the recent TMC meeting in Raleigh in mid-September, all task forces met to continue their efforts to recognize issues and come up with solutions that will work for all parties involved.

Voyles says more participation in the SPC is needed, especially participation from fleets and independent service providers.

To learn more about the committee or to participate, contact Voyles at 800-669-3454, ext. 3241 or email at cvoyles@truckcentersinc.com.

MINI-TECHNICAL SESSION

Following its meeting, the SPC held a mini-technical session to discuss the rapid assessment concept in truck repair. This approach is intended to keep fleet customers better informed through all phases of the repair process.

Rapid assessment, as defined by the Repair Assessment Task Force, is: to deliver to the customer, within two hours, an appraisal - which includes a diagnosis of the problem, an estimate of the cost of repair, the availability of the parts needed for the repair and the estimated completion time.

The notion of rapid assessment has come about over the past several years because of the chronic problem of getting trucks into the shop, said moderator of the session Jack Porter of Decisiv. A major complaint of fleets has been that service providers don't understand the impact of downtime on fleet operations and profitability. Too often, fleets are left with an inaccurate or vague idea of how long their vehicles will be out-of-service for repairs they can't perform in-house.

Participating in the panel discussion session were Adam Kobeloch of Daimler Trucks North America, Jason Graham of Dallas Freightliner, Kevin Bowers of TransSource and David Foster of Southeastern Freight Lines.

The top concerns for fleets, says Kobeloch is promptness of the service write-up, the ability to correctly diagnosis the problem and the accuracy of the estimated time and cost for the repair. These worries have lead to the rapid assessment concept, a kind of triage for truck repair.

KEY COMPONENTS, BENEFITS

Some of the key elements for creating a successful rapid assessment program, concur the session's panelists, are:
• Appointing dedicated diagnostic technicians, preferably those who are best at troubleshooting problems. Dallas Freightliner's Graham says with his dealership's rapid assessment program, the technicians decided among themselves who would be the diagnostics technicians. This helped provide a better a higher level of trust among the technicians, he notes.
• Having a dedicated parts person and foreman.
• Continuously measuring how the program is doing and constantly making changes to improve.

The typical processes suggested for a rapid assessment program:
• The service adviser gets with the customer to find out the issues with the vehicle.
• The truck then moves to the dedicated triage bay where the dedicated diagnostic technicians identify the problems, check for parts availability and then get back to the service adviser to make him aware of the situation.
• The service adviser determines whether it is a quick lane repair of something that needs to be scheduled into the shop for further diagnosis or repair.
Graham and TransSource's Bowers says there are a number of benefits service provider can reap from rapid assessment, including:
• Reduced time for initial diagnostics.
• Increased gross profit through better job assignment based on technical skill level.
• Fewer comebacks due to proper diagnostics and repair the first time.
• Greater volume as a result of a higher level customer satisfaction.

NECESSARY UP-FRONT INFORMATION

For service providers thinking of setting up a rapid assessment program, Southeastern Freight Lines' Foster suggests that they first establish good communication on the front end concerning problems with the vehicle and have a solid understanding of a fleet's requirements. This, he maintains, "will save considerable time and aggravation."

Information about vehicle issues ought to come directly from the driver if at all possible, stresses Foster, rather than from a dispatcher or fleet manager. This usually helps in diagnosing, troubleshooting or repairing the problem.

Service providers should have a technical contact at the customer company - such as a fleet or regional maintenance manager - so that technical issues may be discussed and agreed upon, he advises. It can be difficult to explain a technical problem to a location manager, dispatcher or other non-maintenance related company employee.

Additionally, Foster recommends that service providers have in place such things as:
• A road test agreement.
• Agreed upon labor rates, overtime rates, call in rates, road call rates and other charges.
• Agreed upon customer and vendor spending limits, beyond which requires additional approval.

Customer preferences should also be known and agreed upon before repairs, says Foster. This includes brand name or generic parts; types of fluids (synthetic or conventional); company supplied parts or tires; any specialized company practices, adjustments, procedures and standardizations; and driver request limitations for such things as radios, seats, power complaints, ride complaints, extra lights, extra brackets, etc.

"We need to get over the first come first served mentality," Graham says. Beyond that, applying rapid assessment is no easy undertaking, agree the panelists, because "it's tough to change culture in this industry," says Foster.

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