Thursday, December 27, 2012

What Happened To The Dream?



                                         What Happened To The Dream?



While talking to shop owners and helping them realign the business for success, the conversation of staffing always comes to a head at some point. Building the team that works well together can sometimes take years.  In those years of adding people and working with everyone to find the best spot for their skills, we build a sense of loyalty to those who have been with us through the good times and bad.  Loyalty is a cornerstone in any organization and is a vital to its growth, but at what point does loyalty become a liability? 

The average worker in the U.S. typically reaches their maximum earning potential between the ages of 45-55.  They have paid their dues, they know the job and have become good at it.  In many occupations, the golden years can continue past 55.  In order to do that, continuing education plays a major factor in maintaining ability at its peak level.  The senior tech in many of our shops may be 50 or older, may have worked with us for an extended period, may have been valuable to the organization and may have reached the end of their best producing years. 

This is written for those technicians and the shop owners who employ them.  We all know we cannot stop time and the effect it has on the body but it is even harder for the technician.  After 30 years of bending under a hood, the up/down/squat/kneel of setting thousands of lifts, the busted knuckles and the strain on shoulders and elbows; the body starts to protest.   I have never been a technician, but I am well aware of the limitations that my body is starting to place upon me.  The key here for myself and the technicians we are talking about is to keep the experience and knowledge that we have now at the forefront of the industry.  We cannot fall behind.  My wife has reminded me that our experienced workers are usually the ones that come in on time, are willing to go that extra mile and call out from work less often.  All that is well and good, but if we do not encourage the continuing education of these same technicians their skill level can drop too far.

When cars switched from carburetors to fuel injectors, some people fell behind.  When the computers became part of the cars’ operating system, some people fell behind.  When those same systems switched from OBD I to OBD II, some fell behind.  Now we have Electric cars and who knows what else in the future, how many more will fall behind.  As shopowners, are we providing the opportunity for continuing classes?  Are you making education part of the culture of your shop?  Are you encouraging your staff to attend?   Do we sponsor the atmosphere for growing the knowledge base?  As technicians, are we attending these classes?  Are you seeking out training on your own, if it is not provided to you through the shop?  Are you taking the responsibility for your professional and personal life?   If you are not finding that additional training, growing your knowledge base and putting it to use, then problems are looming on the horizon that will rob you of your “Golden Years”.

It is a national holiday today.  I am headed for a gathering and a great day with friends and family.  The sun is out, the weather is good and I am deeply troubled.  On Monday, I will have to advise one of my shops to let a technician go.  He is 59 years old, was a master technician but now is as skilled as the average ‘C’ tech.  He has not kept up with the changes in the industry.  The work that he is performing can easily be done by technicians making far less than his $28/ hour flat rate wage.  Worst of all, he is only producing, on average, 26 hours of billed hours a week at that lower skill level.  He is producing too little; at too high a price for the tasks he now has the ability to perform.  There was once a time when any technician could get a job almost instantly.  That time is not now.  Shops have closed and literally thousands of shop bays are now behind locked doors.   Who bears the ultimate responsibility?   We all do.  Shopowners need to reward the loyalty shown them and encourage the constant technical upgrading that is vital.  You need to provide training and support so your staff can prepare for their future.  The painful alternative is letting someone go who has been with you for years because the industry has passed him by.  The technicians need to find the classes and attend, the training must never stop.  If your shop does not actively support training, then you must find it on your own.  It is, after all, your life we are talking about here.  The Industry must continue to provide the education so we are equipped to satisfy the consumer’s needs. 

I have fun writing most of the things that I do, but not this time. Hot food and cold beer with good people is always good.  Today will be a good day.  Monday will not.  On Monday, I can assure you that the taste in my mouth will not be from a fresh pie hot form the oven.

By George Zeeks

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Psychology of the Phone Shopper






       The Psychology of the Phone Shopper
            By George Zeeks

The Automotive Industry is filled with contradictions.  We spend thousands of dollars and untold man hours of effort to make the phone ring but many of us fail to understand how to make the most of the call when it comes.   A potential customer, calling and asking for prices on services, is often viewed as a price shopping bottom feeder, whose only concern is the cheapest price.  When you understand that the call concerning the question of price is the most natural and predictable question of all, then you are on your way to having more customers walk through your door.
The mind of the phone shopper, what is going on?
Many times, if a customer is calling a shop and have never been there before, their motivation could be that they have already been to another shop and did not make the purchase (this could be due to a lack of trust, the amount of the purchase, maybe they just didn’t like them) or perhaps they do not have a shop to call “Home”.  The resulting calls are at the least, an inconvenience, and for a good many people it can be almost painful to sit down and make all those calls and talk to all of those people.  Remember that the customer, many times, is as uncomfortable asking the question as you are trying to answer the question. 
Why do they make the call?
It is clear that when customers are calling you, someone else has “Failed” at the sale.  They either did not build the Relationship or establish the proper Value for the service.  We all understand Relationship, or think we do, but people will not buy from you unless they feel comfortable with you.  The higher the ticket price the more comfortable they need to feel.  Another major sales hurdle to establish the Value of the service.  Simply it means that the amount of money you are asking for the service matches the perceived value of the service.  Telling someone that they need brakes is not enough.  You have to paint a picture and explain the process of the repair so they can see that “Value”.  If you fail in either area, you will probably not make the sale and any other shop the customer has been to will not make the sale either.  Next thing that happens, your phone starts to ring.

Why do they ask about price?
Most potential customers do not really know what they are asking about.  They do not have the same technical background that we have so they ask about the one thing they do know.  How much does it cost?  The trick is that this is not what caused the problem in the first place.   It is not really the answer they are looking for.  If the first shop failed to establish a Relationship, then that is what the customer is really looking for.  Giving a price, even a low one, without building a relationship on the phone will not get you that new customer.  If they failed to establish Value, then things become a bit more difficult and must be handled the proper way.  We must agree that is very hard to quote any type of accurate price without knowing all of the details.  Even if you quoted a price the customer will probably not come to you since there is always someone who is willing to quote something less just to get them in the door.  The Value you have to establish is all about you and your shop.  Show them the Value of dealing with a professional shop and the Value of the appointment and they will come in to see you.

If you keep in mind what is going on inside the head of the customers that are calling , you will increase the capture rate of those calls.  You will have more people coming through your door.  Invest the time to create a process that will increase your capture rate and measure it so you know how well you are doing.  The phone is one of our most valuable tools, learn how to maximize it’s potential. 
  The time invested will increase your capture rate and your car count.  For additional phone tips, please contact your Coach and mention this Article.  Have fun on the Phone……

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Banana Theory: How Customers Spoil



The Banana Theory: How Customers Spoil

           By George Zeeks

How many times have you purchased a bunch of bananas at the store?  I’m talking that perfect, firm, just the right shade of yellow and smelling exactly like a banana should smell.  You bring the bunch home and maybe even snack on one or two right away, thinking that all is right with the world.  Then, like a lot of other things, we take them for granted and forget about them.  The next time we look for that perfect banana, we find instead a soft, mushy, thing that looks like a leprous banana with big black spots on it.  Sound familiar?  In every business, there is a time when the customer is in a perfect position to make a purchase.  In every business there are also circumstances that come up to “spoil” that opportunity and leave us in a far from perfect situation.  The Banana Theory differs in all its various forms but always deals with the same problem.  How do businesses sabotage their own ability to sell their product by not paying attention to the customer?  For now, let’s look at the automotive service industry and how The Banana Theory applies to these consumers.

I have trained and coached managers and owners in the Automotive Industry for many years and one thing continues to amaze me; very few of them like the customer who waits.  One of the most actively disliked consumers is the lowly oil change customer who wants to wait for his car.  The Quick lube industry has embraced this customer and has been profitable doing the very thing that many of the service providers dislike the most.  In the economy that we find ourselves in, we need to wake up and smell the banana.  If you are having problems with low car count, low repeat business and low customer loyalty, you need to read on and you might just find a piece of that puzzle that you are missing.  

Fulfilling the customer’s expectation is the key to success in every industry.  In Automotive, we have some control in setting that expectation but we cannot forget what the customer wants.  Many shops not only forget what the customer is expecting but purposely set up situations that cause the opportunity to turn into a rotten banana.  From the time that the Customer is greeted and the work order written, the clock is ticking.  A meaningful, accurate expectation of when the car may come in for service needs to be established.  If we quote when the car will be finished then we have already shot ourselves in the foot.  Most advisers, when they quote a finish time on a service, do not allow any additional time to perform any services that the car might need and the customer may want to have done.  The customer is now thinking of the things they need to do when they leave your shop and they are making their plans based on that “finished “ time that we quoted them.  STRIKE ONE!  Always quote the expected time that we will start on the car, not finish.
Once the car is in the bay, we have 15 minutes to bring the customer out to the car and present any additional services that they might need.  This means that we have to do a “Courtesy Check” of the car, find any issues and have that “Courtesy Check “ back to the adviser within approximately six minutes.  I know, I know, there are people out there reading this and saying it can’t be done that fast and still do a good job.  Keep an open mind or stop reading!  The Quick Lube Industry has been doing this very thing, correctly, profitably and with very good customer response for many years!  Wake up! 

For the naysayer’s out there, let’s break down what we need to do to get the estimate back up to the adviser in 6 minuets.  As soon as the car enters the bay we should be working as a team to do a quick check on the lights and turn signals to make sure they work, approximate time one minute.  Before we even set the lift, we need to check under the hood for fluids filters, belts, hoses, etc…. approximate time 2-3 minutes.  After setting the lift and taking the car in the air we can do a visual check under the car for CV Boots, Muffler problems, approximate time 2-3 minutes.  At this point we need to turn the ticket into the adviser so they can disengage with what they are doing and build the estimate on the waiting car.  Most of the items found will be routine and probably already packaged so building the estimate should not take that long.  The final step is to make sure that we get the customer out to the car within 15 minutes to begin to make the presentation.  As we get further from the 15 minute window, the Banana is starting to get rotten.  I cannot tell you how many shops do not turn the ticket into the adviser until after the oil change is done, 30 minutes have passed and now the chances of making a successful presentation are just about shot. STRIKE TWO!!  The customer wants to leave, rightfully so, and we have neglected our duty to provide service to the best of our ability.  If your shop does a brake inspection during the Courtesy Check, then do it after you have turned in the ticket.  You have time to remove the wheels and perform a basic brake check before the advisor returns with the customer.  The ability to practice “Show and Tell’ with the customer is essential in building a better relationship with the customer, the need of the service, the value of the service and the urgency to do it now.  Presenting at the counter in the office just does not cut it.  If we are rotating the tires, why not do it after we have turned the estimate in and, while we are at it, lets check the balance on the worst tire to see what the status is.  It will be easy enough for the technician to add on to the estimate while we are presenting.  Many times people have forgotten to have their tires balanced and it is our job to let them know if it is needed.  It not only helps to save the customer money, but heaven forbid we might actually make a couple of dollars while we are doing our job.

The speed of the presentation is what keeps the banana from turning bad on you.  It will take practice, maybe a revamping of our Courtesy Check process, making sure we measure how much time it takes to get the paperwork back up front.  The reward is happier customers, cars with the proper services provided to them and a healthier bottom line.  Take a hard look at the processes in your shop; are the bananas ripe or rotten?