Now that you have hired a team of outstanding techs of various skill levels for your shop, it’s time to put them to work. This is your labor force, and you must deploy it in such a way that you achieve these goals:
- Customer satisfaction
- Employee buy-in
Let’s take a look at some of the ways to manage your techs to get the best possible results for your business.
Once they’re hired, train them properly
If you hired them right, your techs should all know how to fix cars, according to their individual skill levels. But that’s just the beginning. As your employees, they need to understand how your shop works, and how they fit into it. This is the first part of the training process, and it includes a knowledge of:
- The workflow process in your shop
- Your shop’s mechanical equipment and how it works
- Proper operation of your shop’s diagnostic equipment
- Your job-tracking software and how to operate it
- The inspection process for incoming and/or completed vehicles
- Customer contact procedures (if techs interact with them)
- Other employees and their roles
- Who to ask for help with various types of issues
The training process does not stop there. Your techs should have a way to advance their ongoing skill levels. This is a way for both you and them to make more money. It is also a great way to keep up with the new technologies that are appearing on the new cars that will soon be coming to your shop, as well as the specific systems on the cars you service and repair – especially if you are a specialist shop. Training your techs is an excellent investment in your shop’s efficiency. It will also make your techs feel valued, as they grow their skills. This “continuing education” should be a condition of your techs’ continued employment. It should not be optional.
As far as who pays for the ongoing required training (which you should approve in advance), you may find it useful for your techs to have some “skin in the game.” Having them pay for all or part of the training, with you reimbursing them over a period of months afterward, should improve their attitude and commitment to putting their new skills into practice, for the benefit of your shop. Reinforce these achievements by recognizing each tech’s newly added skills in your shop and on your website.
In addition to bolstering techs’ routine repair skills, there are several areas of training that can help to “future-proof” your shop, such as:
- Advanced driver assistance technologies
- Infotainment systems
- Hybrid vehicles
- Electric vehicles
Training is an advantage for your techs that also benefits your shop’s competitiveness within your market. If you can offer services and repairs that other shops can’t, your market share will improve, along with your bottom line.
Management and leadership go together
You can train your techs in the intricacies of your shop’s systems and procedures, but they won’t necessarily know how their efforts fit in with your shop’s overall business goals. It is your job as team leader to help them to understand their role in your shop’s business model, and to keep them focused on performing that role at a high level. And then there’s your company’s vision or mission, and where you see your shop within the auto repair industry.
Management is key for the best results
As the head of your shop’s operations, it is helpful to see yourself as a labor broker. You are paying your techs X, and you need to resell their labor to your customers for X plus the necessary markup. This should allow you to cover your costs of operating the shop and leave you with a profit. It stands to reason that the more you can get out of your techs, the higher your shop’s profits will be.
And how do you get more out of your techs? By setting clear expectations in terms of the goals they need to achieve, measuring them against those goals, and keeping them aware of where they stand. Continuous improvement should be everyone’s goal.
Another way to get more out of your techs is to eliminate any possible delays and wastes of time from your processes. Techs should not have to leave their work areas to communicate, send documents, ask questions, or know what their next job will be. The more time they spend working on vehicles, the more work gets done. Solicit and be open to suggestions from your techs on improving efficiency.
Leadership makes your goals their mission
To achieve the highest levels of performance and profitability, your shop’s techs need to be solidly behind your stated business goals. You can’t do it by yourself. Your techs need to believe that:
- Your success will be their success
- Better work processes mean more money in their pockets
- You will provide them with the training, equipment, and processes they need
- You will coach them when they need assistance
- You care about them and have their backs
- Input from each individual is valued and desired
- The process is continuous and will need their ongoing input
- It’s a team effort, so work together whenever necessary
In addition to articulating your goals for the business, you should set an example and always “walk the walk.” Create a respectful “feedback loop” that constantly lets you know how things are going in every service bay. Whether you do “management by walking around,” or ask for relevant email or text comments from techs when each job is completed, getting a read on how well your processes are working will help you to refine them or change them as needed.
Leadership is what will turn your techs into a cohesive group, working together on a common goal for the overall benefit of the business. Stimulating them to perform at a high level will bring out their best. When your techs understand the big picture, beyond the limits of the job in front of them at the moment, they can contribute their ideas for improving the shop’s efficiency. Once that they see higher income from adopting more efficient work processes, they will appreciate the value of your initiatives and buy solidly into them.
Even though your techs have a specific role in your shop, you may find it helpful to make them understand how other aspects of the business affect the bottom line, including
- Insurance costs
- Total cost of employees, including benefits
- Rent/Mortgage payments
- Competition from other shops
This can help your techs to understand that while your shop must cover its costs and generate adequate income to stay in business profitably, you don’t have the option of simply raising prices to meet that goal. Efficiency and profitability is the competitive edge that will bring success, and the more your techs contribute to that goal, the better the future will be for both of you.
Create a culture and mentor your techs for a better working environment
You can hire the best-qualified techs for your shop, but how can you know how well they will fit in? Getting your techs to work as a team takes some effort from you, but it can be done. Here are some ideas for creating that team culture:
- Involve your techs in the interview process when hiring a new tech
- Plan recreational outings and events for your staff so you and they can bond outside work hours
Mentoring means being aware of your techs’ performance and attitudes, assisting them when necessary, and dealing with any issues along the way:
- Let them solve problems on their own, but have them come to you if things don’t work out
- Help your techs maximize their incomes, based on their interests and abilities
- Know them well enough to know when there is a problem, either professional or personal
- Offer help and time off to techs when they have problems in their personal lives
Motivate your techs for great results
Most people are motivated to succeed. They desire to work and produce something of quality that results in suitable compensation, which allows them to live the life they want for themselves and their families. This is the average tech’s core motivation. It is satisfied every time a paycheck arrives.
But techs, as well as most other people, are also motivated by other, non-financial things. They need to feel valued and to belong. Your job as the shop owner or manager is to add these types of motivation to your techs’ working lives:
- Give each tech as much work as he or she can handle.
- Show appreciation constantly, thanking your techs for the work they do.
- Recognize outstanding achievements.
- Encourage techs to help each other when necessary.
- Don’t punish techs for mistakes, find the cause and fix it.
- Schedule regular team-building or technical training exercises.
- Ask your techs for suggestions on products and services to add, with a reward for any that are successful.
- Ask techs to point out problem areas that keep them from being as efficient as possible, then fix those problems.
Assign the right job to the right tech
You likely have techs of different skill levels, along with jobs of different skill levels. Keep things in your shop running smoothly by giving each job to a tech who can easily handle it. You will get more work done, without any needless delays or mistakes. If you find that some of your techs are unable to handle the types of work coming in the door, then you may need to invest in some additional training. Doing this will bring their skill levels up to what is required by your customers, and will also increase both the techs’ and your shop’s earning power.
Technology: your techs need it to succeed
Automobiles have been in the forefront of technology since they were invented over a century ago. It started with advances in engine design, mass production techniques, metallurgy, and aerodynamics. It continued with computerized engine controls, air bags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control. Today, we have cars with wireless hot spots, high-tech infotainment systems, and advanced driver assistance features like automatic emergency braking. At some point in the future, we can expect fully self-driving cars, which may be powered by electricity instead of gasoline.
For today’s auto repair shop, servicing today’s vehicles, you and your techs need several different types of technology to keep your shop efficient, productive, accurate, communicative, professional, and profitable:
- A self-check-in system that lets customers enter their cars into the system when they arrive
- Shop management software for scheduling, managing, tracking and pricing repair jobs
- A digital inspection system to track vehicle history and service needs
- OEM vehicle repair information for proper repair processes and parts procurement
- A diagnostic system for identifying causes of vehicle problems
- A communications system that connects your front office, techs, and customers
- Wireless tablets that techs can use to access these systems while working on vehicles
The amount of time that these systems can save you and your techs is truly amazing, not to mention their ability to eliminate all those handwritten paper forms filed (or misfiled!) in rows of filing cabinets. Instead, it’s all stored in “the cloud.” Countless hours of phone time can also be saved by simply sending text messages to customers and about upcoming appointments, as well as work in progress or completed. Internal chat features make for easy, efficient communication within the shop.
The end result? Your techs spend more time doing what they’re best at – fixing cars!
Benefits of using the latest technology in your shop
Imagine all the benefits of having the latest technology across all of your shop’s operations:
- Vehicles get into (and out of) the shop faster
- All needed information is at each tech’s fingertips
- Techs spend more time working on cars
- Faster diagnostic solutions lead to speedier repairs
- Instant communication that does not waste time
- Happier customers that have their cars fixed right the first time and get them back faster
- Higher profit margins result from the greatly increased efficiency that is now possible
- Improved cash flow from the improved productivity
- Instant access to information on your shop’s workflow and profitability
- The ability to attract technology-savvy techs who can make full use of these advanced systems
It may seem daunting to consider switching over to a high-tech system, but it may also be time to consider what will happen to your shop if you don’t adapt to the new technology. People of all ages carry smartphones, know how to use them, and depend on them for so many things. Your continued use of cumbersome working processes, inefficient use of labor, poor communication, and slow workflow that irritates your customers, may turn your shop into a relative dinosaur before long. And you know what happened to the dinosaurs!
Efficient workflow: the holy grail
The efficient flow of work through your shop is not only a recurring theme, it is a holy grail. As you continuously work to get more repair jobs through your shop in less time, it becomes more and more apparent that every aspect of this noble quest requires detailed preparation, buy-in from all your techs, and flawless execution across every area of your business.
Maximizing efficiency requires the interaction of the techs, other staff, and your processes in an intricate ballet that wastes no time and gets the job done right the first time, eliminating the need for time-wasting return visits. Every tech does work that he or she is fully capable of doing well, there is no gap between finishing one job and starting the next, and every available hour of tech labor is fully utilized, day in and day out. Techs can see what their day’s work looks like in advance, they know what their individual goals are, and any needed parts are readily available. As the day, week, month, and year progresses, you can monitor how efficient and productive each of your techs actually is, tweaking your processes and making improvements in labor utilization where necessary.
Analyze and share your results with your techs, both individually and as a group. It’s a great motivational tool, which recognizes the high achievers while spurring the less efficient techs to up their game. Reinforce with them again the importance of their efficiency to the overall success and profitability of the business they are a part of. Continuous improvement should be everyone’s goal.
Time management is the basis of efficient workflow
You can have the world’s most efficient workflow system in your shop, but if your techs aren’t constantly focused on getting the maximum amount of work done per hour, you won’t be meeting your profitability goals. Eliminate all distractions, make sure that your techs understand and follow the most efficient ways of actually doing their work, make each tech’s productivity goals clear, and keep them aware of how well they are meeting those goals.Give your techs work flexibility – they will greatly appreciate it
Let’s face it, life is complicated for all of us. Work-life balance can be difficult for your techs, especially if they have families or parents to care for. Giving your techs the flexibility to work the hours that are best for them (within reason) will make them more appreciative and loyal. And that should translate to increased efficiency from your techs, and improved profitability for your shop.
Managing your techs is the key to a successful shop
It’s complex, it’s demanding, and it can be expensive. But the proper management of your techs can make the difference between a profitable shop and one that loses money, a shop that has satisfies its customers and one that drives them away, and a shop that has motivated, efficient techs and one where techs just don’t care. Which type of shop do you want to be?