Repeat repairs

In his latest installment on ‘six ways to lose money’ in service operations, Jim Bell takes a look at one that can have arguably the biggest impact: policy


Policy is work we perform and it doesn’t pay. Some people call it comebacks, or repeat repairs. In the service department, we tend to avoid using the word comeback. The techs don’t like that term because it implies they alone were responsible for the customer having to return to the store.

Whatever you call it, this type of work can cost a service department a lot more than the dollars represented in the same named account on the financial statement. It also costs us lost customers, a poor reputation and it can erode our customer base, not to mention damage our CSI score.

To get a handle on what’s going on, you have to start by asking a few basic questions. Do you measure effectively why the customer had to return to the dealership to fix the same problem? Do you make the staff accountable for quality work? Do you take the time to find out why the problems are happening and implement effective controls? At the end of the day, do you process the repeat repair at the full door rate, so you can measure the real cost of not fixing it right the first time?

As a wise man once said, “There is never enough time to do the job properly, but always enough time to do it again.”

To be fair, there are a number of factors that can trigger a repeat repair other than poor quality work by the technician. Here are just a few of the common ones:

  • Poor write up, resulting in insufficient information being recorded on the work order;
  • An intermittent problem not evident while working on the vehicle;
  • The new part installed failed, which in the customer’s eyes was still a repeat repair.

When all else fails, blame the customer, sometimes referred to as the nut behind the wheel. That attitude of course carries a certain risk. Let’s face facts: Most customers don’t come back just to make your day bad. That would be like going back to the dentist and complaining that you still have toothache if in fact everything was fine.

Here is a basic process that seems to work well whenever a customer has returned for what we like to refer to as a “priority visit.”

No blame has been attached at this point. In fact, surprise, panic and blame will do little to improve customer satisfaction and will do even less to identify the customer’s concern.

  • A priority return sheet should be filled out by the service advisor;
  • When possible, the vehicle should be given back to the same technician, the exception
    being if they should have not been given the job the first time due to a lack of skill level;
  • If the complaint is not evident, then the customer should be contacted for more information;
  • If the complaint can still not be found, the customer should be contacted again and requested to come on a test drive with one of the staff;
  • The first time a comeback incident happens, it can be handled by a service advisor;
  • If the customer comes back more than once, the service manager should become involved directly. It is better being proactive than waiting until the customer demands to see them;
  • Under no circumstances should NFF (no fault found) ever be recorded on any work order at any time. “Unable to duplicate at this time” is a little more palatable to the customer and maybe the court.
  • If the problem only happens when the vehicle is cold or first thing in the morning, then ask the customer to leave the vehicle overnight;
  • Every priority return sheet should be reviewed by management or a CSI team monthly to see where the problems are being generated;
  • All repeat repairs should be charged at the full door rate and not at cost.

There is an old saying that goes, “Inspect what you expect.” If you expect to deliver a high degree of quality work to your customer, then that saying should become a culture of the store. If you find out that 80 per cent of customer returns are coming from 20 per cent of your technicians, you obviously have a technician problem.

Over the years, we found this technique works: Sit down, individually, with the technicians in question. Say something such as, “Joe, last month out of 22 customers who had to return for what we determined was poor quality work, nine were related directly to you. I know you must be as concerned about this as we are, so how would you suggest we fix the problem?”

It’s amazing how the quality of service improves when staff know that someone is keeping score.

Therefore, if we can’t fix the vehicle right the first time, it makes no sense to write up the priority repair as a waiting customer.

About Jim Bell

Jim Bell is a writer, consultant and motivational speaker. He can be contacted by phone at 416-520-3038 or by e-mail at

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