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To say these are “interesting times” for fast lube/carwash service providers is a vast understatement. To help stem the tide of declining car counts and improve ticket averages to make up for that lost revenue, savvy operators are looking more and more to employee training as a solution.
If that is not a compelling enough argument to encourage you to take a closer look at how you train your employees, consider this: National Oil and Lube News, in its 2005 Fast Lube Survey, noted that 63 percent of all respondents said customer service was the key factor in determining the future success of their operation.
A well-designed, comprehensive employee training program can positively impact many fast lube business challenges. Having satisfied, educated and motivated employees is probably the single most important step you can take to retain customers, differentiate yourself from your competitors, lower operating costs and improve business processes.
Hiring for success
In most respects, you are only as good as the people you hire. Having friendly, confident people around you who have good communication skills is the first step in creating a positive “culture of customer service” in your business.
More importantly, motivated employees help provide the types of experiences that virtually guarantee repeat business.
When hiring, be objective and view your prospective employees as a customer would. Ask yourself:
- Do I trust this person?
- Does he or she seem interested in my concerns and questions?
- Does he or she act like they want my business?
Once hired, great employees are like liquid gold — and you should treat them accordingly. If you dedicate yourself to making an investment in proper training, you will reap the long-term benefits of lower employee turnover, fewer customer complaints, increased productivity and a smaller time commitment for supervisory tasks.
No train, no gain
Your employees benefit from training as well. The confidence they acquire will not only motivate them to continually improve their skills, it will help them to set personal goals and work toward advancement in your organization (such as gaining professional certifications).
At the end of the day, it’s rarely money that motivates employees long term — it’s the opportunities you give them to improve themselves.
There is an almost indisputable link between the quality of your employees and how you differentiate your business from your competition.
Friendly, articulate employees create an environment of trust with customers. That environment, above all else, is what keeps them coming back.
Quality, trained employees give your customers confidence in their purchase. In fact, some research indicates that 85 percent of consumers say the experience they have with a fast lube greeter/service writer directly impacts their purchase decision.
Of course, creating a process of continual positive customer experience isn’t always an easy task. It takes time, investment, patience and a dedication to instilling a high level of honesty and trust between your employees and your customers.
One of the keys to building trust with customers is to make sure your employees (especially greeter/service writers) make a commitment to solving a customer’s problems, not just in selling them a service. A great example of this is in the area of preventive maintenance.
As rising fuel prices put the squeeze on household budgets, consumers are more likely than ever to forego regular preventive maintenance to their vehicles.
Train your employees to do a service review with customers and fully explain the importance, details and benefits of recommended services (especially if the service is based on the manufacturer’s recommendation) such as:
- Adjust tire pressure;
- Inspect/replace air filter;
- Inspect/replace fuel filter; and
- Perform fuel injector cleaning service.
Teaching your staff to promote fuel-saving services and, most importantly, listen to customers’ concerns, goes a long way in creating an atmosphere of trust.
Make training a priority
It cannot be stressed enough that employee training is not a one-shot deal. It needs to become part of the fabric of your business for it to be truly effective — and for it to deliver the positive results outlined above.
As such, make training and certification programs an integral part of employees’ periodic performance reviews.
Additionally, consider instituting a “mystery shopper” program (where a trusted friend or colleague poses as a customer) to gauge training effectiveness and measure day-in/day-out performance standards. A mystery shopper program can be used as a team-building tool and can become a cornerstone for an ongoing reward and recognition program for your service technicians.
Training not only teaches employees to be good technicians, it helps them become great listeners, communicators and educators.
The investment you make in them will not go unrewarded. The skills they acquire will ultimately produce happy, satisfied customers who are far more likely to tell others about their experience and help secure long-term success for your business.
David Kunkel is the retail/installed/private label sales and marketing manager for Automotive Lubricants, CITGO Petroleum Corporation.