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TAMPA, Fla. – Trucks may be powered by diesel, but the repair procedures are powered by information. That becomes clear when Gary Cummings describes the process at FleetNet America, which manages 75,000 service events a year. An average...

TAMPA, Fla. – Trucks may be powered by diesel, but the repair procedures are powered by information. That becomes clear when Gary Cummings describes the process at FleetNet America, which manages 75,000 service events a year.
An average truck repair involves 9.4 conversations by phone, e-mail or another communication method, the company president and CEO said during the annual meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council. Most discussions take 2.4 minutes.

Simple multiplication can translate that into the hours and days that are added to the time spent on the repairs themselves.
Consider the steps for a shop looking to secure a single Purchase Order. There’s the initial conversation with the customer, the time to understand requirements for the repair, determining the final charges, delivering the invoice, and securing payment. The Repair Order itself involves detecting a problem, assessing the problem, directing the truck to a shop, authorizing the diagnostics, authorizing the repair, orchestrating the repair, and summarizing the invoice.

Many of the steps overlap. The first two steps in the process for a Purchase Order can easily match five of the steps in the Repair Order, Cummings noted. “We still need that data interaction, and in some cases I would argue we even need more conversations.”

But there are opportunities to streamline the procedures.

Step 1: Assess the problem
Cellular technology and remote diagnostics could be better used to create a Repair Order as soon as a truck arrives at a shop, said Bruce Love, president of DP Solutions, which develops an array of hardware and software for heavy-duty dealerships. “Before (a technician) turns a wrench on the unit he’s got an opportunity to reduce his downtime.”

But Brian Mulshine, Navistar director, field service, warns there are some limitations. “Does the fault code always tell you what part to change on the engine?” he asked the crowd of maintenance managers at this seminar. The fault code could identify a problem, but it can also be a red herring created by a power spike during charging. “You can do remote diagnostics…but we also have to be careful that you have the right information at your fingertips.”

Another source of valuable information can come in the form of Internet access in a service bay, giving mechanics instant access to everything from fault codes to parts catalogues and wiring diagrams, Love said. Those who order parts from that location will also be less likely to waste 10 minutes an hour talking to the guy at the parts counter.

Step 2: Direct to the shop
Fleets have traditionally chosen specific repair facilities based on rates, proximity and reputation, said Mike Delaney, president and CEO of Wheel Time Network. But the right data can lead to more informed choices, particularly when shops have access to information about unique needs. “There’s no decision that can be faster or better than the one you make in advance,” he said.

The right information is not limited to the truck alone. A shop should be able to tap into specific fleet requirements, such as the need to authorize repairs over $1,000, preferred oils, or pre-defined procedures, said Dick Hyatt, president and CEO of Decisiv, which provides “cloud-based” service management platforms to 150 fleets.

It is the type of information that can avoid a number of conflicts.

Still, as much as information like this can improve the flow of communication, fleets need to commit to the process. “The investments are for naught if the customer does not want to use technology,” Mulshine said.

Step 3: Authorize diagnostics
According to Delaney, the most important step in a smooth repair process will involve the diagnostic work. In most cases, this task should be completed in a mere two hours, he said. And if done correctly, it will create a firm estimate and a firm time for the repair to be completed.

The real conflicts emerge when the invoice doesn’t match the original discussions about these diagnostics.
“If it’s all done verbally, you’re going to get in trouble,” Mulshine added.

Step 4: Authorize the repair
Love it or hate it, the telephone still plays a big role in the repair process – even in the days when data can be swapped in real time. “The worst of all is when you connect and get to hear two minutes of promotions about why they care about customer service,” Hyatt said.

Delaney stresses the limitations of a phone call by asking whether kids answer a text or voicemail more quickly. Text messages are simply more efficient, he said. “It may not be good grammar but it’s a helluva way to communicate quickly.” One of his customers will now approve repairs in five or 10 minutes using a text message, while the process traditionally took one or two days when trying to reach people by phone.

 “The phone is the enemy,” he stressed. “Fully documented and time-stamped communications mean faster and better (repairs).”

Maybe he’s being too hasty. Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) systems give shops the chance to track who was on a call and how long a conversation lasted, Love said. Voicemails can even be attached to electronic Repair Orders along with text messages and e-mail. That way, all the related details can be tracked, and include the time stamps that let a shop see how long the fleet took to provide a Purchase Order.

Step 5: Orchestrate the repair
Let’s not lose sight of the real task at hand.

“The most important step in the process is to fix the truck,” Love stressed. The challenge is that Standard Repair Times (SRTs) are not always standard. “This is a very dynamic environment. It’s a manufacturing environment. Bolts are going to break,” he said of work in a modern shop. An initial diagnosis might be wrong, a technician might be ill, or the facility can be overloaded on a particular day.

Better software makes it possible to build a standardized workflow based on a shop’s actual experience.

The best systems even offer more “visibility” into the related transactions, Mulshine said. Someone in the shop may note that a part needs to be ordered, but the fleet may be able to respond that it already has a spare part in stock. “That’s where we can hit home runs,” he said.

Step 6: Summarize the invoice
One of the biggest steps to avoiding problems with an invoice will involve the better sharing of information. Love foresees a day in the near future when Web-based computer platforms will eliminate the need to re-key in the same information over and over again.

But fleets, manufacturers, technology providers and service providers often use different standards and platforms. “This is where I feel sorry for a fleet,” Mulshine said. “We’ve got to prevent creating more Web sites.”

“We are asking too much work,” he said, stressing that there needs to be a better sharing of information. “That’s where we’ve got to focus.”

Hyatt suggests that cloud-based computing models make it possible to link a long list of data. A simple unit number could connect to information about the truck, warranties, parts, and fleet profiles. “History is captured and maintained,” he added. Then the information can be used to measure, track and analyze every step in the process.

Much of that could be accessed through a QR code printed on a truck’s door.

The good news is that the capability exists, Hyatt stressed. “Data can be shared and it can be exchanged and it can be exchanged effectively.”

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