By Leonard Buchholz, Sales and Marketing Manager, DealerPro Training
Not only are we facing a serious defection in customers at 3-5 years of ownership, we are also having a crisis in keeping good people on hand to serve these customers. Trained, quality personnel are leaving our dealerships and going someplace else to do something else.
While it would be easy to lay the blame at the foot of “generational indifference”, it’s really our fault. See, in the past, whenever we needed someone, we just ran an ad in the local newspaper or on a job board and “poof” …a dozen applicants would come in. I remember distinctly running an ad for lot personnel in the 90’s and getting between 15-20 applicants.
We thought because our business accepts anyone who is willing to learn and work, that there would always be a supply of good people at the ready, including technicians. For years, we all felt that techs were still available and all we had to do was ask for them. So, we did a lot of things that didn’t contribute to our ability to keep people and in most cases, led to our current situation, which is a shrinking technician labor pool and an employee exodus to other industries.
It’s not too late. We can turn it around if we use our heads and get creative with pay plans, career paths, progressive benefits and alternative schedules. Listed below are 10 reasons trained, quality technicians are leaving and what you can do about it today!
1. Lack of a clear training objective and career path. WIIFM? Master technicians have more education in their field than a dentist. Many hours are devoted to not only learning how to do their job but also how to apply the training. Most technicians have not been counseled on a training plan that not only helps them progress, but this training plan also becomes a career enhancement guide to increased production and more pay.
Additionally, many techs have no idea how the career ladder works in your dealership. They can’t tell you what happens at 3 years, 5 years, or 10 years. down the road. They have no idea what to expect. Let’s guide them, let’s tell them. Nothing tells an employee they are valuable like investing in training and showing them a plan for their continued success.
2. Lack of meaningful communication. We only talk to them when they don’t hit production goals. This is the reason so many people are becoming disillusioned with management in our dealerships. People need to have meaningful dialogue about everything in their job performance, not just the “bad stuff.”
In fact, I’m going to give you a little experiment you can do in your own home. I want to encourage you to do the following exercise for the next 7 days: I want you to go home to your family, don’t say a word to anyone, sons, daughters, mothers-in-law, wife or husband or significant other, whoever is important to you in your household, except to criticize them and tell them when they’ve done something wrong. In fact, I dare you to tell your significant other that “dinner is not meeting expectations” and see what happens.
You’ll be eating cheap takeout sushi from the corner gas station for a month. Talk to your technicians about more than “just the numbers”. Think, “relationship.” Relationships are more important than 99.9% of whatever else you come up with to keep quality technicians and advisors.
3. Pay plans that are non-competitive with today’s workforce, expectations, and individual performances. We can make our pay plans better. We are out of step with expectations.
One of the biggest wants is reimbursement for tools or at the very least, making it a shared expense. Many industries have taken the step of making sure that the production personnel are taken care of by providing resources and reimbursement. Why can’t we do that for our techs?
What we must do is match the need for production with the need for individual respect combined with real-world dollars that meet expectations. Many plans are simply regurgitated fixed ops trash that worked 30 years ago and won’t work today.
I am not big on “socialized” pay plans either. What I am big on is balanced pay plans that provide stability while rewarding performance. Build a pay plan that “makes the mortgage” and then incentivize it to increase performance, sensibly. In the old days, we would build hard stair steps, make a person jump high to get that number. Why not build smaller incremental stair steps that encourage growth? Build in as many steps as you need.
And I can’t say enough about not putting in limits. Performance-minded people (go-getters) need to see infinity…or at least know which direction to look for it.
4. Too many back-to-back-to-back 12-hour days. I still don’t see the advantage of making anybody in service work 12-hour days, Monday through Friday and then bring them in on Saturday for another “half day.” I never have.
In fact, at one OEM meeting, I was singled out when I voiced a forceful opinion on this very subject in a crowd of owners, managers, and OEM personnel. I was told that “in our business, that’s the way it is” which is stupid talk for “we can’t think of a way to do something different.”
Build a schedule that meets the customer’s needs (especially at peak times) and get your people in and out of the store at a decent hour so they can have dinner with their families more than once a week. 4/10 has been a staple in many industries and there are many professions that work these types of schedules. Want a better technician? Start there.
5. Too much downtime and too many bottlenecks to increased production. We have packed so much into the technician’s pre-repair task list that it looks like 20 lbs of potatoes in a 10 lb bag. Lumps and bumps everywhere. What if we simplified it? Would we get better performance and less attrition? I say yes.
Bring the vehicle and the part to the technician so they do not need to wander the lot looking for a vehicle or waste time at the back parts counter. Instant production increase for you and pay raise for them.
6. Lack of leadership in service management. We have too many desk jockeys. We need people to get out of the service managers office (aka “the coffin”) and lead the way, plain and simple. The days of getting out of your car in the morning and going to the office and then back to the car at the end of the day are over.
Isn’t it hard watching the shop and not getting involved? I know it is for me. All the action is happening out there… in the shop.
I’m not suggesting that you can spend every minute of every day in the shop or in the drive, but the more time you spend there the less time the customer spends in your office and the happier the technicians are.
7. The overall belief that technicians are just workers, with tools. Technicians are professionals. Treat them as such. They need training, performance-based pay plans, esprit de corps, spiffs, contests, performance coaching…everything that you find in other parts of the dealership you need in the back end as well.
Failure to provide them with the same respect and working environment that are industry standards everywhere else will cause them to feel like they are not important, and they will leave.
8. No real effort to promote the technician as a professional career choice. We need to put some real effort in not only advertising our “sale of the week”, but we also need to start advertising the “dealership heroes”, the people working all day every day, repairing vehicles in every kind of weather, dealing with incomplete repair orders and “check and advise” one line RO’s, providing customer service and “assistance” with technical questions. Have a hero of the week and give them some recognition.
There is no better way to tell people and promote our industry than by telling everyone about what it is we do and how we do it better than everyone else and these are the professionals doing it! When we pump up our people and elevate their standing, everyone wants to be one of us.
9. Perception that aftermarket positions are easier because there are no factory directives or performance metrics to hit. Working in a dealership is hard! There are a lot of metrics and performance indicators to meet. Professional sports teams are not made up of Wednesday-night softball players, it’s the real deal when you step out on that field of play.
It’s no different in the dealership world. It’s the real deal. Instead of trying to make it “easier”, what if we tried to make it more professional?
10. Poor customer behavior and incidences of extreme behavior are on the rise. People are less and less inclined to be reasonable and it’s getting harder to reason with them.
We must get our communication game up to speed. Whether it’s more access to technology or better communication through training or transparency, we need to make sure we are doing the right thing with our customers while conveying a loud and clear message: “We will do the right thing as long as you do the right thing.” Maybe I’ve oversimplified it, maybe you won’t agree. The point is that your team needs to feel that there is a unified front and consistent message.
There is always going to be a certain percentage of customers who want to take advantage of you, the situation, or manipulate the circumstances. What we can’t do is make rules and policy for the 90% based on what the 10% does. And we need to broadcast that message consistently to all our fixed ops personnel.
If you do have those customers, shake ‘em off and get to the customers that want to do business and get their vehicle serviced. If you make it so that everyone feels like they were treated with respect, listened to and given options, then you will reduce the number of instances of bad behavior and focus more on the things that matter most. And that is doing the best job possible taking care of the customer and your team.
About the Author
Leonard Buchholz is the Sales and Marketing Manager for DealerPro Training. His background includes professional workshop and seminar delivery, fixed operations and communications. He has completed onsite in-depth Fixed Operation evaluations in automotive dealerships across the country.