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The Internet, Our Shops and Our Technicians

The resources employees would have access to outweigh your fears about losing their focus.
Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 07:00
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Though I think the automotive repair industry has decidedly not made the most of broadband Internet services, I strongly believe the future of training, troubleshooting and diagnostics is very much tied to the use of the Internet.

In a previous career where I daily talked to shop owners and service managers across the country, I always was surprised how often I ran into shops that had dial-up Internet connections. The truth is about a third of all U.S. shops do not have any Internet connection. In this era of e-commerce, webinars and mobile technology, it is hard to imagine trying to run something as complicated as an automotive repair shop without the Internet. There are businesses trying to make it happen, though these shops are working with a handicap in an industry that is as changeable as automotive repair.

In this day and age, I do not know of anything that has revolutionized shop operations like the Internet and mobile technology. I say this knowing the automotive repair industry has been far too slow and much less imaginative in general than many other industries. But I would not want to think about creating estimates or ordering parts without the Internet, and certainly would not want to consider diagnostics and troubleshooting without the many online resources available out there today. Maybe you feel 100 percent comfortable with your techs’ broad knowledge and their ability to handle anything and everything that would come in the door. But with deference to their ability, the Internet gives me access to knowledge and experience way beyond my four walls.

There is no doubt that bringing the Internet into your shop or expanding access to it could be a distraction to your technicians, but just understand that it is already there in the form of that smartphone your techs carry everywhere they go. And in the same way you need to provide oversight and set standards for the use of cellphones in your shop, you need to do those same things with Internet access at workstations in your shop. It is only a problem if you let it become a problem and fail to provide guidance. 

Online Resources and Techs
I know in that previous life I referred to, three of our big initiatives were selling maintenance, selling diagnostics and identifying service trends in the industry. We worked hard to educate and reeducate our technicians to approach these areas in new and different ways. All three of these represent areas where we, as an industry, miss out and where we could do a much better job. 

We partnered with Identifix, though there are similar companies that could have been great partners in this effort. Identifix is a group of automotive people who have taken their (and all of our) real world experience and made it available in an accessible, user-friendly format that allows me, as a technician, to troubleshoot, diagnose and recommend based on the experience of the thousands upon thousands of technicians that routinely use the service. Nobody knows everything, but sometimes our expectations of a technician would seem to put an awful lot of weight on his or her shoulders. 

An Internet-accessible service allows a technician to know what manufacturer specific maintenance services to recommend, to identify applicable Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) and to better troubleshoot and diagnose performance problems based on the experience of technicians from across the U.S., Canada and Central America. That’s a lot of experience that would only be available to our technicians with Internet access. 

Identifix started out as an auto repair hotline offering live technical assistance to professional shop owners and technicians seeking a trusted second opinion and additional expertise on various vehicle issues. These hotline interactions have enabled them to compile an exclusive database of shortcut tests and confirmed fixes that have been documented and made available to technicians standing in shops just like yours. The Internet has every opportunity to be a distraction and to be abused, but it also has untapped potential to make you, your shop and your techs better.

ALLDATA, a name that is very familiar to us of the automotive repair world, quite simply would not exist without the Internet. They are a huge, ready and available resource waiting for you and  your technicians to log in.

With ALLDATA Repair, according to the company, you get online access that instantly provides unedited manufacturer information you need to deliver accurate repairs, including TSBs and recalls, complete OE wiring diagrams, diagnostic trouble code (DTC) descriptions, tests and procedure, component locations, Mode 6 data including PIDs, TIDs, CIDs and scaling, parts and labor integration information, TPMS reset procedures and more.

In addition to these two companies, the International Automotive Technicians Network (iATN), provides countless resources for your technicians. They can join forums with other techs, sharing information, solutions and asking questions of their own. It features a database of hundreds of thousands of vehicle fixes, a waveform library and OEM, industry and government resources. You can check it out at www.iatn.net.

Another important resource available is online training. In years past, training was both expensive and inconvenient, requiring our technicians to be out of the shop, often for days at a time. Now there are untold online training courses available, frequently broken into smaller modules, allowing for much more flexibility in getting our technicians trained. 

Besides the many manufacturers that offer timely and relevant training, there are broad and in depth training programs available from I-CAR, AutoShop 101 and CARQUEST Technical Institute (CTI). Training has undergone a revolution in recent years and whether you are trying to stay current on emerging technology or want to study for an upcoming ASE test, the Internet offers unlimited access to what is out there and what you need to know to stay current and relevant in today’s automotive repair world.

The best argument for Internet access out in your shop is the revolutionary changes that have taken place on our counters. From parts ordering, to customer relationship management and marketing, the front end operation is barely recognizable from what it was 10 or 15 years ago. Customers often arrive at our counter as the result of an automated service reminder on their cellphone. 

We now are able to communicate and interact with customers in ways that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago. Instead of describing the condition of their brakes to them, we now routinely send digital photographs of that wasted rotor or a video of the leak in their radiator. Why should you and your service advisors have all the fun. Access to all the resources that the Internet has to offer makes a good tech great and a great tech phenomenal. 

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