Quality Assurance – Not Just for Factories

I see conversations on social media about how to deal with potential clients who are particular. Most of the comments make me cringe. I want a client who is particular, I want a client who cares a lot about their car – so we get an opportunity to show that we care even more. 

Due to the complexity of system integrations today, we should all have quality assurance procedures in place. We would be horribly angry if our manufacturers shipped us defective product at the same rate that our industry delivers defective installations. 

This three-phase plan is based on a similar process used in the construction industry. I’ve modified it for us. 

This should not be free – no one should do it for free, and it should not be “thrown in as an afterthought”.  This should be baked into your price. 

Phase 1: Preparation

Is there a “work order”? This means different things for different shops – it might be an invoice, or a sales order, or an estimate form. Regardless of what your shop uses to start the job, it needs to be completed. 

Is there a system diagram? If the job has any complexity beyond a speaker swap, a block diagram is really important, even if it’s drawn with crayon on the back of a napkin. If the salesperson can’t block diagram it, I’m not convinced they actually have a plan. 

Are all the parts on hand? If not, what is the ETA for those parts, and how should that affect the sequence of installation tasks?

Is there a wiring diagram printed out? If one isn’t available, that may slow things down. If you don’t have access to Prodemand or Alldata, get that handled. Contact 1Sixty8 Media for a Prodemand subscription. 

Is there any gear you haven’t installed before? If so, read the freakin’ manual. 

Are there any tasks or skills required which are new for you? Let your supervisor know this up front. Research it however you can. 

Have you installed in this vehicle before? What open questions need to be answered? Door depth, channel count, stereo presentation, OEM signal type, etc? Answer these as early as you can, so you can modify the plan if need be. 

What are the client’s expectations ? For sound, for appearance, for vehicle modification, for access and storage? Seemingly small things like USB location and phone storage make a big impact on daily use of the car. It shouldn’t be about doing what’s easiest for you, it should be about making the client’s life easier. 

Is the project estimated correctly? Can it be completed in the time allotted? If not, make that clear to the salesperson up front, and to your supervisor. 

Phase 2: Installation

Follow shop standards. If the shop doesn’t have standards, follow your standards, but hold those up to scrutiny. It’s best to have shop standards on how channels are assigned, how fusing works, how to ground head units, etc. 

If anything throws the schedule into doubt, communicate this to the salesperson and management immediately, so that the client can be kept in the loop. 

If the person tuning the system is not the installer: 

  • The speaker polarity, gain, channel assignment, and noise levels should all be checked before handing it over for tuning. 
  • A system diagram is essential, with channel identification. Don’t pass a system off to be tuned if you don’t know if you got your polarities and channels right – because at that point, the statistics say you probably didn’t. We’re talking about quality control here, not casino night. 
  • Pass along the client’s expectations regarding volume, bass, stereo performance, preferred genres, and seat position. 

Take pictures. Document your job. 

Phase 3: Inspection

This must be performed by someone other than the installer, because if the installer has been missing something, a fresh set of eyes and ears are more likely to pick it up. This may be the same person who tunes it, but they need to come back before the car gets pulled out. My strong suggestion is, the car doesn’t get pulled out until it’s OK’d by someone other than the installer. This forces QA to happen for the day to progress. 

  1. Does the installation accomplish the core functions? Does it sound great, does it hit hard, does CarPlay work, does it detect laser? 
  2. Is the car properly reassembled? Are there gaps or loose parts? 
  3. Do new parts – fabricated or manufactured – look as expected? Are they in the location expected?
  4. Is the clock set? Do the lights match the dash lights? Did someone take the stickers off the radio? 

We had a 996-platform 911 GT3 in for a CarPlay radio installation. The installation was performed properly, the radio was perfectly functional – but the off-the-shelf dash bezel used in the installation was horrible. We ended up making our own to make sure this customer was happy. I don’t know if that customer would have been happy with that horrible dash bezel or not, but we weren’t willing to bet our business’s value and reputation on it. 

Now, pull out the car. 

This process builds huge equity in your brand, because you deliver a great experience at delivery. It builds confidence in your salespeople, because the delivery rarely includes bad surprises.  Finally, it helps you justify – to yourself and your customers – a proper and sustainable labor rate. 

So, create your QA process today, and start delivering more value.