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Double Digits

Dealing with a few returns is a huge hassle and a waste of time for everyone, but double-digit returns are much worse. Catching the mistake in the beginning can prevent headaches from turning into migraines.

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There are a few common themes that seem to surface any time professionals from both sides of the parts counter get together. Returns are, perhaps, the most common topic of them all. No one can dispute how serious the problem is when nearly one out of every four parts is returned, regardless of the reason. After all, it doesn’t really matter what went wrong or who is to blame once the part is headed back because the damage has already been done.

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Service bay productivity falls apart when technicians are stuck waiting for the right part — a part that actually works. Customers watch as their chances of having their vehicle “Ready When Promised” slowly and painfully evaporate. And, the shop owner gets to look on helplessly as profits quickly disappear. In the end, the only thing that matters is performance, and returns, regardless of the cause, can cripple performance as fast or faster than just about anything.

This has been a chronic concern for as long as I can remember. It’s been going on so long that we’ve learned to tolerate the pain and accept the condition as incurable. Well, I’m not entirely convinced that double-digit returns are an unpleasant, yet somehow unavoidable, reality. And, I’m certainly not convinced that returns can’t be reduced substantially and without a great deal of effort or expense.

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Here’s just one example of what you can do when you move from failure analysis to failure prevention. Yesterday, we ordered a water pump that arrived in what looked like a sealed box. That’s important because we won’t accept anything that’s been opened unless we can verify that everything that’s supposed to be there is actually there and that it hasn’t been previously installed.

I feel the same way about parts that I do about fish: If it isn’t “fresh,” I don’t want it!
Unfortunately, this particular box appeared to be sealed and intact because someone had worked diligently to make it look that way.

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We have bin boxes out in the shop for each technician where parts that have been ordered are placed after they are received. It’s the technician’s responsibility to check those bins regularly during the day: First, to see if the parts they are waiting for have come in. And, second, to ensure they are, in fact, correct. The pump arrived mid-afternoon. When the tech opened the box it was obvious that someone had switched pumps, removing the new pump and exchanging it with a pump that had already been installed. He brought it to the counter and we called for another pump.
The supplier was out of stock and we had to source the pump elsewhere. We lost time and the ability to deliver the vehicle as promised. Our supplier lost the sale. My technician had to cycle on to another job. Trust was shattered both up and down the supply chain. A customer was disappointed, and, worst of all, it could all have all been avoided if someone had just taken a moment to look at the box when it was checked back in stock the first time it was returned.
I know what you’re thinking: Here he goes again, picking on us when he should be focusing on the horse’s ass who put a used pump back in the box and then sent it in as a return.
If you want me to focus on them I will, and here’s what I say: Fire them! I don’t care how much they buy. Don’t sell to them! They are fooling around with your future.

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What would it have taken for whomever picked up the return to check the box to ensure it hadn’t been opened before it went back? What would it have taken for someone at the store to notice that the box had been taped? Doesn’t it make more sense to identify the problem at the beginning of the process instead of having to play detective at the end?

You find it, you fix it! You fix it when it happens, as it happens: “Hey, this pump isn’t new! It’s been installed before!” Case closed.

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The appropriate charges and credits are documented. The right parts, the real parts, are where they’re supposed to be. It beats getting cheated out of both the sale and the profit. It beats the anxiety of dealing with whatever is in the box, especially if what’s in the box isn’t supposed to be there. And, it certainly beats doing nothing about a problem we both face.

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