Steps to accurately pair work orders with the repair work

May 2, 2019
One of the issues with matching problems is that they can be easily overlooked or the fault for their negative consequences is placed elsewhere.

On the surface, matching a work order with a repair should be no great challenge. But this is the collision repair industry where even minor tasks can become very complicated and feed into even more sophisticated repairs. Indeed, as the complexity of vehicles and repairs has grown so has the difficulty in producing an accurate work order/repair match, with the result being re-dos, incomplete/unsafe work and lots of lost revenue.

While you may believe your shop’s efforts have been up to snuff, there’s actually a very good chance you may be struggling, even if you haven’t noticed. One of the issues with matching problems is that they can be easily overlooked or the fault for their negative consequences is placed elsewhere. Then there’s the fact that a shop can be doing well financially even with a brewing matching issue.

The only way many shops, including yours, can spot this problem is by actively seeking it out.

(Photo courtesy of Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes) A “back-end” estimator who can thoroughly blueprint a repair can be your ticket to accurate work order/repair matches that produce more revenue

Use the following information to determine if your shop could be doing a better job matching the work order to the job. Turn to the steps included here to fix the problem.

The core of the issue

Michael Bradshaw is a 14-year industry veteran, Director at Large for the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) and Operations Manager of K&M Collison in Hickory, N.C., which holds fourteen OEM certifications. Bradshaw recently hosted a presentation at the NORTHEAST Auto Show on proper blueprinting for structural repairs and has consulted with other shops to help their businesses.

Bradshaw says the failure of work order/repair matches doesn’t occur so much during or after the repair (when the work is being checked) but when the estimate and damage analysis are performed, long before any work is done. The first part of the problem: Too many repairers rely on a “front-end” estimator who doesn’t have repair experience or fully understand the collision repair process.

How much work is involved with a typical quarter-panel replacement?

Michael Bradshaw hoped to open minds and give repairers plenty to think about with his presentation at the NORTHEAST Auto Show on the structural repairs this work can include. One of his points was this these tasks need to be addressed during repair blueprinting.

Just a few of the operations to be considered while repairing a 2011 Audi A6 Avant included:

  • Pre-measure
  • Unibody or fixture setup (fixture rental cost)
  • Cover/protect vehicle and removed components
  • Structural realignment pulls or pre-pull for removal
  • Removal of cavity wax, grease, seam sealer, tar or any materials that would affect repair processes
  • Removal of adjacent components (airbags, bumpers), doors, electronic modules, glass, headliner, hinges, interior trim, lamps, rocker molding, seatbelts, trunk lid, wheels and wiring
  • Test fit/alignment of structural components
  • Adhesive application
  • Adhesive cleanup
  • Adhesive bench cure time
  • Repair any welding burn damage to adjacent panels previously outlined
  • Wash/tack after repairs
Consider whether your shop would correctly blueprint and charge for this work.

“Shops need to have a ‘back-end’ estimator who works out in the shop and who can work with the technician during vehicle disassembly to blueprint the repair,” Bradshaw says.

Moreover, this back-end estimator needs to have repair experience to blueprint the job properly.

Without an understanding of the repair process, estimators have to rely almost solely on software to write a work order. Bradshaw says this software frequently doesn’t outline every aspect of a repair. “If it’s a quarter-panel replacement, the estimator selects the quarter-panel repair option. That selection isn’t going to include all the tasks that are necessary to do the job,” he explains.

This fact only turns up later when the tech notices. Then, says Bradshaw, the tech typically notifies the estimator who orders the additional parts but frequently neglects charging the necessary labor.

(Photo courtesy of GM Media) Michael Bradshaw, Operations Manager for K&M Collison, says his shop requires back-end estimators to take the same training as techs to ensure they have a full understanding of repair processes.

Lost labor revenue isn’t even the worst fallout from an incomplete work order.

Critical work that’s initially overlooked may not be performed at all. This includes calibrations needed to return safety and other vehicle systems to working order, leaving shops open to come-backs and liability for unsafe repairs.

Important to keep in mind here is that an accurate work order/repair match only happens when a vehicle is fully diagnosed and the repair blueprint accurately and completely lays out the repair in the proper sequence. Following up the blueprint with the full repair is actually the easy part. Estimating software comes with all kinds of available check sheets and ways to record work. The hard work is creating a thorough blueprint that produces the best cycle times, captures all the revenue a shop is due and rebuilds the vehicle to pre-accident condition.

Stopping a cycle of mistakes

With this being the case, why doesn’t every shop make a priority of building an accurate blueprint? Bradshaw says there are two reasons. First, many owners are “ingrained in doing things the same way they did 20 years again today’s repair demands didn’t exist.” Second, too many shops rely on performing work in volume, for DRPs most notably. They become so focused on doing everything they can to push cars out their doors, they don’t believe they have time to perform a proper work order/repair match.

Addressing both these attitudes is the first step in resolving this issue (more on that momentarily).

The second, Bradshaw insists, is setting up a damage analysis/blueprinting process that incorporates a back-end estimator. He calls adding this estimator “one of the biggest changes a shop can make to help profitability.”

Adding one can be broken down into a two-step process:

  1. Identify an estimator on your staff with repair experience or who understands the repair process the best. Bradshaw says shop personnel often come in two types, those who are better suited handling customers and those with technical skills. Shops often throw both together at the front of the shop. He recommends moving those with technical skills into the shop to help manage and communicate the technical aspects of a job.

If you have a small shop with a limited pool of estimators, consider bringing another on board with the skills to be a back-end estimator or one who will be able to fill in for the estimator you are moving to the inside. Adding personnel always comes with cost, but there’s a great possibility the lost revenue you’ll reclaim will more than pay for this move. A more palatable move for cash-strapped shops is making better use of its existing estimator pool. Reorganizing other tasks estimators may be performing and transferring those to other staff can free up the time to move an estimator into the shop.

  1. Educate your back-end estimators. Bradshaw’s business sends these estimators to the same training courses as its techs, even hand-on training. While that may seem like a misuse of training resources, it actually punctuates just how important the work of a back-end estimator is and the necessity of keeping these employees up to date on the latest repair information. Note: Having all your estimators train regularly is vital. Front-end estimators whose skills are up-to-date can provide important assistance to those inside the shop.

Grasping the lost dollars

For shops balking at the thought of adding a back-end estimator or those who believe their current method of creating a work order is good enough, Bradshaw presents the following example of what an accurate blueprint can offer.

(Photo courtesy of GM Media) Without accurate damage analysis and blueprinting, critical tasks such as calibrations can be overlooked, leading to come-backs and serious liability issues.

Again, he points to a quarter-panel repair, which an estimating system may log as an 18.5-hour task. With the majority of the industry paying its techs a flat rate, many techs will attempt to complete this work in 12 hours (to build a 150 percent efficiency rating) and move onto other work. In actuality, the complete repair can take between 40-60 hours, which a tech may try to complete in 25-30 hours.

If the tech performs the work in 25 hours, the shop logs an addition 13 hours of labor, which at a $50/hr rate brings in $650. That’s just for a quarter-panel.

Bradshaw recently consulted at a shop generating $250,000 monthly with eight front-end estimators. Consider two things here. On the surface the shop appears to be doing incredibly well even as it’s potentially losing significant revenue in lost labor (serving as an example of how an otherwise successful shop may be sitting atop a big problem). With proper blueprinting, and therefore an accurate work order/repair match, it could be doing even better.

Those lost dollars can go a long way in adding locations, paying for training and equipment, and planning for the future. Not being subjected to a lawsuit for an unsafe repair is another bonus.

With all you have on your plate as a repairer, being told to worry about an area where everything seems fine can seem like a bit much. But you don’t want to miss out on making an accessible change that could transform your operation. In an industry where complexity continually challenges your business decisions, having a clear path to improvement is a rare benefit.

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