Engaging onsite training aids in establishing a solid company culture

Jan. 11, 2016
Whether you are a manufacturer, distributor, retailer or repairer, your aftermarket business can benefit by analyzing your company’s culture. Does your workforce aim to go the extra mile or to cut corners? Or does it fall somewhere in between?

Whether you are a manufacturer, distributor, retailer or repairer, your aftermarket business can benefit by analyzing your company’s culture. Does your workforce aim to go the extra mile or to cut corners? Or does it fall somewhere in between?

From the top down to the bottom up, your opportunities for success are greatly enhanced by cultivating a customer-centric company culture while developing standardized operational efficiencies.

“I’m a big believer in company culture,” says Greg Byler, CEO of Pit Stop Consulting, highlighting the value of obtaining professional hands-on training for everyone at your facility – including ownership, managers, support staff, sales and counter personnel, and the production crews out on the shop or factory floor.

“At the end of the day it’s going to save you money and make you money,” according to Byler. “It’s more than a good deal. It’s required. You have to keep yourself prepared.”

Utilizing an onsite assessment and engaging a training team to specifically instruct your entire staff is the most effective method.

“Make sure it’s hands-on,” he urges. “There’s nothing wrong with web-based information, but to train someone on sales and production it just doesn’t work to do it online. You need to walk them through it. We guarantee results by going toe-to-toe with your people” to ensure the proper procedures are implemented and adhered to on a routine basis.

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These all-encompassing aspects are especially important in this era of Internet-posted customer reviews that potential patrons peruse prior to ever stepping foot in, or just driving by, your place of business.

“I’ve found over the years that giving people the ‘wow factor’ is a good thing because people can go online and find out if they like you or not before they even visit your shop,” says Byler, who established his consultancy in 1999.

Quickly and effectively addressing customer service issues is a particularly key factor amid the immediacy of no-holds-barred cyber commentary.
“If there are enough negative comments about your shop people are going to take notice, and by investing in training and certification you’re going to broaden your footprint and marketing,” he points out. “Speedier service and fewer mistakes” should be the prime goal of any aftermarket business.
For starters, hiring a suitable trainer involves carefully researching your potential educational partner by ensuring that they have “clean references” free from business connections or other relationships with certain vendors or others that could taint the advice you are about to receive.
“If someone is helping you they need to come in and look at your operation,” says Byler in citing the need for an onsite assessment. “They’re paying us to come out and look at what they are doing.” Such an inspection does not necessarily mean that a widespread redo is in the offing. “Why change something if it’s working very well?”
Perhaps an operational tune-up, customer service refresher or a set of documented company protocols can adequately meet your needs and boost your bottom line.
“Operations manuals are crucial because it gives clarity to everyone involved – there are no gray areas,” he says. “Everybody needs to be on top of the rules and procedures; it helps you manage people.”
In addition to spelling out sales and production specifics, “they should know what to do in case of a robbery or medical emergency.” Delineating the required steps for a given function creates a much more effective operation among veteran employees and rookies alike.
“When I walk by the oil cap is going to be off the vehicle when there’s no oil in it, and if someone puts the cap back on they better be the person who put that oil back in there,” says Byler by way of explaining the benefits of consistency.
“True, there are more companies realizing that training is simply a cost of doing business, putting training in the yearly budget. Some of the better operators have gone as far as putting together a training department. Unfortunately, this is overshadowed by an overwhelming number of other operators whose idea of training new employees is to simply assign them to vacuuming and tires their first month, hoping they will ‘catch on’ to the process. I refer to this as training via osmosis,” he says.
“If the No. 6 guy comes in (as a recent hire) and there are five different guys already there and they’re all doing something different, the new guy has to learn all that and/or do it his own way.”
Even a family owned company that has successfully been in business for years can glean money-making and money-saving advice by enlisting professional consulting services. “If you do state- or emissions-testing at your facility you’re going to want those credentials,” Byler suggests. “As the owner you’re going to be dealing with unhappy customers or selling customers over the phone. You need to be educated or you’re going to be writing a check for the problem.”
Byler also tells Aftermarket Business World that “I believe in an engaged manager” who displays transparency in communicating with the staff. “Open-book management makes a lot of people nervous, but I use open-books. I show them how much we pay for an oil filter and how much we pay for a replacement fender.”
By discussing the company’s day-to-day and task-to-task financial data “you can sit them down and show them exactly how they are doing and how they can improve.”
A certain amount of friendly openness with the patrons is a desirable company culture trait as well. “I encourage owners to let the actual mechanics talk to the customers,” Byler reports. “Make sure you’re hiring the correct person for the job – someone who can talk to the customers; and their dress and behavior is a standard. You don’t want someone dropping f-bombs. The simple fact is that people are more likely to spend money if they are comfortable with your shop and employees.”
A forthright yet non-selling approach from a technician regarding a vehicle’s current and future repair requirements can carry significant appeal. “Their honesty is impressive to the customer.” It is also important that a presumably auto-enthusiast technician resist the urge to overly discuss his or her racing and mechanical prowess with someone who has no interest in such matters.
“It needs to be ultra-clear that the customers are there for a reason, and that’s part of the training as well.” An easy or routine repair should not be dismissed as a trivial matter: “It’s a huge deal to the woman in the minivan,” says Byler, who has prepared a series of essays detailing the details of presenting stellar customer service.
“When I mystery shop locations around the country I am commonly unimpressed by what should be the most simple things; unhappy or uncaring customer contact people, long faces, poor grooming habits, dirty lobbies, cold or old coffee in the waiting room are examples. But the biggest and most consistent problem is simply a blatant lack of concern for customers. The average customer doesn’t feel wanted, needed or appreciated. If a customer doesn’t feel wanted, why would they return to that business?”
Into the fast lane
With a lengthy background in owning and developing quick lubes and carwashes, Byler’s consulting business, based in Springfield, Mo., tends to specialize in these categories, and he sees a trending shift toward the quick lube segment becoming more involved with offering additional repair options given the complexity of today’s vehicles.
“It’s rare when you see a straight oil change anymore.” A quick lube that in the past might have seen 50 vehicles a day is now down to a daily rate of 30 because of the other services being performed – and these added tasks are a necessity to effectively compete with the bargains being proffered by car dealer fast lanes.
“Dealerships years ago gave away their oil changes (to the quick lube segment) because they viewed them as a waste of time – which was a mistake – and now they’re trying to take it back.”
Thus the best strategy is to become certified for conducting more repairs, and “make sure the customers understand that they are not voiding their warranty” by coming into your shop. In addition, “make sure the service is done quickly; if you have an empty bay people will come in.”
Special attention is useful when dealing with long-time DIYers who are evolving into DIFMs. “Every time a DIYer buys a new car they get further and further away from what they are comfortable with servicing,” according to Byler.
“This isn’t an average customer; don’t treat them as if they are. This customer is watching closely and is more likely to be interested in the hows and whys of your service.”
Asking them open-ended questions about their approach to car care, offering tours that point out the various tools and introductions to the crew and senior technicians while emphasizing the quality of the parts can be effective techniques to ease any anxieties about allowing someone other than themselves to work on their vehicle, he suggests. “Former DIYers tend to take a little extra time while they are there, but leave happy and tell all their DIYer friends what a great place you have.”
An owner who has reaped the results of establishing a customer-centric company culture and leveraged his or her learning efforts to better the business may be ready to open another location. Rather than relying solely on a local realty agent, Byler encourages you to engage an industry professional for additional assistance.
“We do site assessments before a place is built. You’re going to be competing with all the national retailers to get the best spot,” he explains. “It’s going to cost the same amount from the ground up, so build it in the best place you can afford.”
While noting that this bit of advice may be an over-generalization regarding site selection, Byler observes “if you can imagine a fast-food place there, it’s probably a good location for your facility.”
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