How Dealerships Can Overcome the Service Technician Drought – John Fairchild, Fixed-Ops Expert

technician drought

Every dealer knows that there is a lack of good service technicians in the fixed-ops department. So how can dealership’s proactively prepare themselves to make the best of this situation? Well, our next guest is here to tell us. Today, we speak to John Fairchild, fixed-ops training and management expert, about how dealers can overcome the service technician drought.

technician droughtVIDEO TRANSCRIPT:

Jim Fitzpatrick: Welcome back, John.

John Fairchild: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So you wrote a piece, “Technician Drought”. I want to talk to you a little bit about that today if we can.

John Fairchild: Yeah, that sounds good. That’s a very critical problem that most dealers are facing at this point and time.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, NADA mentioned or said it at the convention this past January, that is about 76,000 … we’re in need of about 76,000 technicians over the course of the next four years in the industry. I think that was an eye-opener for a lot of dealers that were there, not realizing that the need was so strong. Talk to us about the symptoms of the service technician drought.

John Fairchild: Well, as far as symptomatically, let’s break it down into two categories. One, from the customer aspect, obviously, longer wait times on waiting jobs that should be able to be waiting for jobs and being able to wait. Longer repair times that are on drop off jobs, which I think inevitably lead to less quality of repairs because everybody is so stressed out to get to the next job. And overall, higher costs as far as the customer is concerned. Then, let’s also look at it from a dealer’s aspect and a management standpoint. All of those things I just described are inevitably going to lend to lower CSI results, and for the dealer, higher technician costs to hire and maintain those technicians. And, when it’s so competitive out there, there is a lot of attrition because people feel like they can go to the next better job for a couple dollars more an hour. So those are some of the customer and dealer symptoms that I’m seeing.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, sure. So how do you compensate for a lack of ready-trained techs out there?

John Fairchild: There are some scheduling things you can do to schedule properly. You really gotta be careful that you’re not over-scheduling the skilled work that your highest level skill of technicians are gonna have to perform, because then that can put you in a really bad spot. Also, some dealers will do extended hours, but if there’s lack of techs, you’re gonna end up burning people out.

But, I’ve got one little nugget that I would like to share with everybody, that I don’t see most dealerships doing that they should do, is when I’ve got a repair category, that it’s a highly skilled category, that customer may have to leave that vehicle for a period of time before we can even look at it. Let’s face it, that is an extreme turn off to a customer. If I call you on the phone and you tell me, Jim, as a customer that I can’t even get my transmission looked at for a week, then I’m out of the mood. I’m not really digging that or feeling that. What I propose is that the dealers make a concerted effort to do their diagnostic first.

A lot dealerships that I deal with will do this. In the morning, they’ll get their brand new cars that have come in the last day or so, and they go ahead and get those diagnostics out of the way, as many of them as they can get out of the way, until a certain time of the morning. Now, they may have more than they can get done. This is a problem that is widespread. But, that way, if I can get back to you as a customer and say, “Hey, Jim, we’ve got your vehicle diagnosed, it is gonna need a transmission, and also while we had it in the shop, we did that multi-point inspection like I mentioned to you, and you are past due on these services, X, Y, and Z. We can get all of it done for you for X amount of dollars. We’ll need to keep the car for about a week.”

That’s a much better explanation, and the customer is then not gotten so frustrated that they’re not willing to listen to the additional services that you’re trying to sell them. Let’s face it, if I’ve been waiting a week, and there’s two things that happen. The advisor doesn’t want to present it at that time, because they feel like the customer is already frustrated. And, the customer has kind of shut off their inner hearing canal. They can’t hear that when you do present it. So that is one nugget that I think most dealerships should try to accommodate.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure. Most people don’t understand why does it take so long just to diagnose the problem. I mean, I just wanna get in there, and it should take maybe 15, 20 minutes, half hour tops, to tell me at least what’s wrong with it so that I can make a decision.

John Fairchild: Right. Well, then what happens is that a lot of dispatch systems and management systems is, they just take a strict first come, first out. So that’s blowing the heck out of their CSI, and it’s also setting their customer up to be extremely frustrated with the whole situation. Where, in the front, if I could tell you it was gonna take 10 days, that’s much more agreeable to you than waiting 10 days and then finally getting my hands on it, and telling you what’s going on. Does that make sense?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So what are strategies to attract techs, and the needs and the desires of the techs that are out there? How do you … how do you attract good technicians?

John Fairchild: As far as channels to attract techs, you’ve got your usual channels, which would be advertising mediums that are out there, as well as any of your vendors that are visiting dealerships as well. I did see something pretty cool that a couple of people are using locally here where we are, to Atlanta, is, I saw a dealer that had some stickers made up that were putting them on the oil filters of the cars that they did service on, in case they got to a different shop. What it said was, “Technicians needed, such and such dealership. Call Joe Smith, the manager.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s tricky.

John Fairchild: But, some of the strategies that I’ve seen are really signing bonuses, is a pretty popular strategy. Now, the dealer’s gotta protect himself, that he’s got a longevity in that employee before they go paying them a bunch of money. But, that can be paid out over a number of months. It can almost be performance related, so if you’re not getting the throughput from that tech, you’re not paying out the bonus. Just basically also, increasing the fringe benefits that go along with the job. Let’s face it, it’s not all about the money, there’s vacation time, there’s 401K, there’s health insurance. There are a number of other fringe benefits that people really, they eat it up. They want that stuff.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. That’s right. Yeah, there’s no question about it. It’s not always top pay, is it?

John Fairchild: No, no. In fact, it’s not.

Bridget Fitzpat: Yeah. Yeah, it’s no question. So well-rounded technicians versus specialization, talk to me about that.

John Fairchild: Well, yeah, I would love to, and I think that we did a segment not too long ago about the career path in fixed operations, specifically in service. The career path, you may have somebody that starts as a cleanup person, or a lube bay tech, and that progresses into the next level. What I see dealers, smart dealers, doing more and more these days, they are creating technicians that can clean a ticket, so to speak. Instead of so specialized. That’s been the vein of your domestic franchises for quite some time, is that you’ve gotta have a high tech electrical technician. You’ve gotta have a diesel technician. You’ve gotta have a transmission technician. Whereas, some of the import brands, you can pretty much dispatch that vehicle to any technician.

So I think that the more that we can grow our own technicians, the better we’re gonna become, for a number of reasons. Not low on the list is the cost of acquiring one. If you’re acquiring a top level tech, then you’re either getting somebody from out of the area that’s moving in your area, that’s the best case scenario, or you’re stealing them from your competition. To do that, you’re gonna pay exorbitant amounts of money just to get that technician in the door. Then, you may not even be able to keep them, if they’re that type of person that’s just looking for the next two or three dollars. Then, the next dealership may come along and just snag them out from under you.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right, that’s right. We had one dealer that we spoke to about this very issue in terms of attracting the right technicians and such. He said that he put up a $5000 signing bonus. Half of it, $2500 was paid at the time the person came on board, and then another $2500 in 60 days if they hit certain criteria that were very attainable. But, he had two of his best techs walk in and say, “We’re outta here if we don’t get our $5000 bonus that you’re giving the guy right off the street that you don’t even know yet. We’ve both been here six or seven years, knocking the cover off the ball, making you a lot of money. Yet the guy walking in the door, you don’t even know his characteristics or his habits, he gets five grand right off the bat.”

John Fairchild: I’m glad you brought that up, because I have had several dealerships just totally rework their technician pay structure, so that doesn’t become an issue. You asked earlier, and we were talking about attrition, and a lot of times that I find that it’s not the money. It is the … the number one thing is they don’t wanna work for somebody that doesn’t treat them right, that they don’t like.

They want a service manager that they can relate to, that knows covering their bases, that can accommodate them a little bit when they need a little bit of accommodation. And, that’s going to really hear them out about special tool issues, or whatever issues that concern them, by getting their job done in a quality way. They don’t wanna work for somebody that is not likable. They have to like you.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. Well, John Fairchild, fixed ops training and management expert, I wanna thank you so much for joining us once again on CBT News. It’s always a pleasure, and your insight in this industry is invaluable. So thank you so much.

John Fairchild: Thank you, Jim, very much a pleasure. Thank you very much.

Thank you for watching the official news source of the retail automotive industry. This has been a JBF Media production.