The Automotive News Retail Forum last month in New Orleans included a panel discussion of fixed-operations issues called "Build Your Bottom Line." The panelists were Frederiek Toney, president of Global Ford Customer Service; Mark Smith, co-owner of Principle Auto, a dealership group in San Antonio; and Harry Hollenberg, founding partner of Carlisle & Co., a consulting firm in Concord, Mass.
On service advisers:
Hollenberg: "The handoff between [service advisers and technicians] is critical, and today it's not done very well. A lot of the service lane technology over the next year or two is going to have a huge impact on that -- smooth the communications. I'm looking forward to a big leap in that relationship."
Smith: "We hire college grads. We test them to deal with high anxiety, with the desire to care for a customer. That's something we can't train. We do like to hire women. They have more empathy. They take a little longer to get to the level of knowledge and production that we would like. But when they get there, they're the best."
Toney: "When you participate in an audit, you can look at the repair orders. If you have a disproportionate number of flushes and things like that, you know that somebody's probably not got their head in the right place. If you want to be known as an industry with integrity, you've got to treat everyone with integrity."
On recognizing service employees:
Smith: "Where is your scorecard for your technicians to know what their production is, and are you recognizing that? Do you read your comments from your customers about your service advisers and technicians, in public? When I talk about recognition, it's not the stuff that's got a whole lot of money attached to it."
Hollenberg: "That is the way to do it. It's not the money -- it's that technicians don't feel valued, that anyone cares about them. It's not, "Here's a jacket.'"
Toney: "If you show technicians and service advisers that you give a rip about them, they'll love you back. Dealers bombard me with, "What are we going to do about more technicians?' What I've said to our Ford dealers is, "You've got to get out and compete.' The dealer I know who does it best, he rewards [service employees] competitively. He celebrates them. They love being there."
On developing technicians:
Toney: "We work with a number of institutions to try to provide training. We have to educate our kids, to ensure that they want to be technicians. That's our biggest void."
Smith: "When you talk about training a tech, I believe they either have the ability or they don't. I bring in students [from technical schools]. Their learning curve is six months. They're learning how to work on my product with my shop equipment, and how to navigate my city. I don't have time to grow them, but I have to grow them. I'm going to take the highest-producing, highest-knowledge guys."
Hollenberg: "In the dealer principal survey we did, technician issues were the No. 1 issue in terms of growing fixed ops. We asked, "How do you spend your time in the dealership?' The amount of time spent dealing with recruiting technicians was about 1.5 percent. It seems that's not on the radar for a lot of folks."
On service customer retention:
Smith: "Don't sell more than the cars require."
Toney: "Deliver on your promise. Take the amount of time it should take to complete a repair."
Hollenberg: "Technology is going to allow you to customize the way you treat customers individually, rather than one size fits all. That's going to have a dramatic impact on retention."