On Acceptance Testing…

My car needed an oil change today.  It’s been about 5 months, 6,000 miles and while I know I can push it that far, it was finally time for me to get it done.  I thought about doing it myself and decided that Jiffy Lube would more efficiently meet my needs.  But I always feel a little weird about oil change places – they show a long list of things that they supposedly check… but unless I stand out there hovering in the bay, I don’t feel confident that they’ve actually completed the work.

Today I didn’t hover, I was reading e-mails.  When they called my name to pay, they quickly read off the list of things they checked and reviewing the computer screen, I asked the guy behind the counter: “Did you check the engine coolant level?”  With a slight hesitation, he replied “Yes.”

I paid, took my keys and walked out to my car.  Deciding to check the coolant level, I popped the hood and looked.  Sure enough, the fluid was below the line marked “Fill”.  I walked back inside and told the same employee that I thought that the fluid wasn’t checked and could he come confirm.  He looked a little shocked, walked out to the car and confirmed that the fluid was low.  He apologized and made some sort of excuse about the shop being busy and that my question during check-out didn’t raise any red flags – that he figured I’d asked them to check it and that his employees did (apparently, he was the manager).  I said it was no big deal, but that I would like it topped off.

[OK.  If you haven’t already figured it out, this story parallels many services-type engagements from the IT world.  You pick a provider when you realize you don’t want to do it yourself, you “order” a set of services… and at the end, you are presented with a completion check-list and asked to pay.  What services providers don’t want prior to payment is anything conceptually equivalent to an Acceptance Test.  They want payment first and then resolution of any “defects” under their services warranty provisions (if any).  This way, they have control of the money and can book the revenue as earned.

But don’t let their desire to avoid Acceptance Testing sway you… and don’t fall into the trap I did today and pay first.  What happened next was predictable and I should have seen it coming.]

The manager then said, “well, we normally charge for topping off the coolant.”

Oh.  Alright, I thought, whatever… just get my car finished and get me on my way. “How much does that cost?”, I asked.

“Five dollars.”

Thank god my negotiation-sense kicked back in … and I just stood there silent for a few beats too many.

“But because of the confusion, I’ll take care of it.”, he continued.

I smiled and said “Thank you.”

While he was retrieving the coolant I scanned the engine compartment and realized that the large rubber gasket between the hood and the firewall had completely come off and was just laying across the engine!  Holy cow.  I was really glad I popped the hood today – this piece of rubber, which probably came off during the oil change and was simply overlooked due to its matching blackness to everything else under the hood, could have gotten wound into various belts, heated and set afire or fallen down to the road and lost.  It was a no-brainer fix to simply push it back onto the car’s frame – but catching it was the biggie.

The same is true for many acceptance testing issues – the no-brainer is to look for them at the right time (preferably before payment).  Don’t get suckered into someone else’s process (they moved my Jeep out of the repair bay and into the parking lot (keys in it and running) as “customer service” perk.  But it’s meant also to get you off the lot before you notice anything wrong (where they can attempt to reasonably say that the problem happened outside their control).

One again, learn from my mistakes.  🙂

3 thoughts on “On Acceptance Testing…

  1. Jeff Dix

    Great points. Clients or customers have to overcome the awkward feeling of checking the vendor’s work. People almost always feel strange when they do this kind of acceptance testing. I like the metaphor here.

    1. Jeff

      Thanks for the comments, Jeff!

      I hadn’t really thought about the “feelings” part, but you’re absolutely right. It didn’t feel good to have to say something… not just that I “had” to, but I actually didn’t WANT to – as if it was MY fault that the service was not 100% correct.

  2. Clayton Berry

    This is a great analogy. To briefly shed further thoughts on what to do, think of the process in reverse: ask them to show you exactly what they will be doing before you sign on, and, how you will be measuring it NOW and AFTER they do “whatever”. Measurement is quite fun because often a service provider will offer something but not actually have a way of measuring what they did.

    To add my own recent oil change story….I went to a nice place, got oil changed. As part of the service, they always suggest things that might need to be done. This is usually based on cars mileage and is just a suggestion. When he got to the timing belt, he actually said they checked it and it was bad. … Read More

    Knowing this was a big problem, I asked for confirmation of this. Then he came back with “no, just based on mileage.” This may not sound like much, but I had just had that belt replaced by someone else and so naturally I wanted to make sure their work and parts were top quality.

    This goes to how do you continue to monitor service that may affect you long term, and how to do establish real relationships where service is ongoing? This is not easy, yet many managers in companies simply look for the low cost, 1-time option and go with it. Which is usually a mistake, that haunts them later, but by then either they’ve moved on or no one realizes this really could have been avoided.


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