Running an automotive repair shop can be incredibly tough in today’s environment. But though we are probably doing things to keep in tune with what is going on in the industry and even though we try very hard to listen to what our customers are saying and doing, we cannot be everywhere and cannot be aware of everything.
Our technicians, who are not sales people and certainly are not aware of the challenges we are facing as shop owners or service managers, do live in our community and it is certainly worthwhile to include them in our planning. Above and beyond this, our technicians are the pointy end of our operational spear, and including them in our planning just makes sense, from the operations and the strategic perspectives and very definitely from the human perspective.
One of the most common complaints I hear from shop owners and service managers is turnover among technicians. Far too often this can be traced to a work environment that does not support technicians. Far too often, outside the actual hands-on process of fixing the cars we take in, we find an environment that tries to ignore our technicians and discount their perspective. And where our technicians do not understand all the challenges we face as shop owners or service managers (and why should they), we far too often fail to understand the world they live in and that is a problem. Sitting right there in our shop is a huge resource waiting and even anxious to be tapped, and very often we are treating them as though they didn’t exist or more correctly, as though they were a piece of shop equipment. If we want to understand why technicians are not sticking around, we might start with our relationship with them. I can promise they are not leaving because we are making them feel too appreciated or because we have gone too far in listening to them and addressing their concerns.
Now don't get me wrong, our technicians just like our service advisors and anyone else that we employ, need to perform, behave and contribute. I have known my share of hacks, have known my share who could not make it to work on time or as regularly as was required, and I have certainly known my share who were not anything close to capable, competent or productive. But those guys are in the distinct minority. Most of those guys didn’t get it, won't get it and fall well outside the items we will talk about in this conversation.
The secret to making our shop successful, and by that I mean productive and profitable, is to make working for us a win for our technicians and a win for us. I can assure you we are not going to get the things we want without our technicians, and we can certainly assist them in moving the shop in the right direction. Shops that are productive are profitable. Technicians that are productive should enjoy enhanced wages and I would hope enhanced job security. There has to be a win in there for both the shop and our technicians.
The very best way to achieve this is to bring them into the conversation, letting them know where we want to go and letting them know what we want to accomplish along the way. It is sad, unfortunate, and unacceptable, given the number of shops I go into, how few shop owners or service managers have talked to their technicians about productivity, selling maintenance, the development and implementation of a vehicle inspection process, and most especially our vision for the business. All of these are things that are important to the success of a shop in today’s environment, and all of these are things that could have a dramatic impact on sales, profitability and technician wages, yet somehow we have forgotten to involve our technicians in the process or the conversation.
And just so we are clear, gathering your technicians around the time clock at the start of a workday and telling them that we are going to implement X, Y and Z effective today and then walking away is not a conversation, and is certainly not going to get their feedback. This is more of just doing the same old things and somehow expecting a different result. Some people would call it insanity.
When we involve our technicians in our solutions, we all share the blame if something goes wrong and all share the credit when things improve and go right. If we support increased production and reduced comebacks with training opportunities and bonuses or a revised pay plan, we address shop concerns and the technicians are rewarded for improved results. Taking the time to listen and understand our technicians and the challenges they face every day will give us a more complete understanding of our shop dynamic and allow us to come up with better, more comprehensive, and long lasting solutions. All of us are certainly stronger and more capable than any one of us. It might be time to make our technicians part of our team.
Our technicians have every potential to make or break our shop, but the direction that takes is much more determined by us than it is by them. If we involve them in our planning, set expectations for their performance and support their efforts with a great work environment and a training plan, the chances are very good that we all will succeed. If we burden them with inefficient or cumbersome shop processes, do not support them with training, great shop equipment and technical resources, then our chances of success and that win we had talked about is very much diminished. Setting higher expectations for production or a requirement for fewer comebacks are nice thoughts, but until we get inside of those perceived issues and understand what might be driving them, we are in essence blaming our technicians before we have even investigated what is going on. It might be training, it might be an inconsistent inspection process, it might be inadequate diagnostic equipment, and it might even be incompetent technicians, but until we start looking we cannot know for sure.
A great way to start this process is to set up a meeting before or after normal operating hours and have a conversation with our technicians where we can begin to express our concerns and give our technicians a chance to give us their feedback. Listening to our technicians is a free and open discussion, and thoroughly investigating what might or might not be driving shop performance and going to great lengths to include our technicians in this process will allow us to move forward and correct our shortfalls while making our technicians part of the solution.
Doing this gives them ownership and a renewed interest in our success. I can promise you that our technicians have opinions on industry repair trends, technology, diagnostic tools and training. Tapping into this and giving value to the opinions and concerns our technicians have will strengthen the relationship we have with them and expose us to a very relevant resource and perspective we have been ignoring up until now. Who knows we might even learn something we didn’t know. We may, in the process of understanding shop issues, choose to ignore the feedback we get from our technicians, but that is OK because we at least went to the trouble of asking their opinion in the first place. Everyone wants to feel they have a voice and are being listened to. This certainly includes our techs.
Our technicians are a very rare and valuable resource and nationally they are in very short supply. You can use and abuse them and suffer consistent and continuous turnover, and all of the shop disruption that goes with that, or you can value them, support them, and invite them into the conversation.
My strong advice is to find the right technicians, give them great reasons to stick around, and make them feel like part of our family.