With GM’s latest recall bringing their year-to-date total up to 16 million vehicles, and then Ford announcing a recall affecting 1.4 million vehicles, dealers should look at preparing for a large influx of service work.
I doubt any dealership would be unhappy with a spike in service revenue; and it could last for quite a while, given the number of vehicles involved. It would therefore be wise to review your fixed ops staffing levels to ensure you have an adequate number of trained technicians ready to handle the influx of service.
Technicians are a valuable commodity and are getting increasingly hard to find and replace. Recently, Automotive News reported vocational schools are producing less graduates than ever. Additionally, those that do graduate are apparently ill-prepared to make a smooth transition from school to career. According to the article, the reason these graduates are ill prepared is because vocational schools are under-funded and unable to afford expensive updated equipment or software licenses that are a vital part of any good technician’s training. This leads to graduates who, at the very least, will need comprehensive on-the-job training once hired.
At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 9 percent increase in the automotive repair sector over the next 10 years. This shortage of qualified technicians, combined with an increase in service business, may place some dealerships in a position whereby they are unable to provide quality service to their customers.
Therefore, it’s time to get inventive about finding and training quality technicians. Sometimes the best technicians can be products of on-the-job training. Recently, I heard a great story about a couple of technicians at a Rusnak dealership that recruited a retail bike shop owner. He had no prior dealership experience whatsoever before joining Rusnak BMW. However, he was very passionate about becoming a BMW technician and was good with his hands. Through comprehensive on-the-job and OEM training, this retail bike shop owner was able to become the best BMW technician in the WORLD within 7 years. He actually won a nationwide BMW technician contest, the standard of which was incredibly high. On the subject of on the job training – think about that outside applicant who has been certified by another OEM but not trained in your brand. They might just be a little more valuable now than they would have been a year ago.
Something else to consider when searching to expand your technician team is to look to one of the most valuable resources a dealership has…your own employees. Identify internal candidates that have expressed an interest and have demonstrated the potential to learn and train to be a technician.
At the same time, create a continuing education/training program for all your technicians (new and existing) to ensure they are up-to-speed on all the latest technology and repairs. With automobiles getting incredibly complex, there is a real need for an ongoing development program including continuing education, in-house training and OEM training.
Any such program can also assist in employee retention, as these types of programs send a strong message that you value them and are interested in seeing them grow professionally. Retention will most likely become an increasing challenge for dealerships as the supply of trained workers dwindles.
As service business increases, so will customer demands. Most customers only care about what affects them directly. Excuses such as a very busy shop or unknown status of repairs only irritate customers. In our world of instant information, customers seek real-time updates on everything and expect businesses to deliver. It’s no longer acceptable to tell a customer you’ll call them back. They will expect you to know the status of their vehicle instantly and, if you can’t, they will get frustrated.
There are multitudes of ways we communicate today – phone, email, text, chat, instant message – and all customers will have a preference on which method works best for them. The single mom at home may not mind a phone call. The busy executive at work, however, may prefer a text message. Identifying which method of communication works best for each individual is a great start to making each customer feel important. Update your customer CRM, indicate their choice of communication and ensure you are reaching out to them successfully with service recommendations, relaying status updates for their vehicle, etc.
Keeping the customer impressed with your level of service is a necessity in maintaining customer retention. Gone are the days of grease-stained unreadable inspection forms passed from technician to technician, that the service advisor then has to try and decipher and review with the customer. Today’s customer wants to be informed, understand what a service advisor is recommending, and why it’s important. If a service advisor cannot convince them right then of the benefit of a service, they will opt to decline the recommendations and the business is lost.
In order to capitalize on this projected increase in business and not be overwhelmed, any service department should be run like a well-oiled machine. Provide your department with the technology it needs to increase its efficiency and you’ll be rewarded by an increase in production and a decrease in costs due to more efficient processes.
It may be a little premature to open the champagne bottle now, but it sure looks like that time is coming. Be prepared to accept the challenges that 17 million vehicles that will need servicing in the next few years will present. Make sure you are staffed adequately with properly trained technicians; that the dealership can provide an excellent customer service experience through real-time status updates and decreased service waits; and that the service department is running as efficiently as possible through the use of current technology. You will see your service revenue increase along with your absorption rates.