How to Win the Battle of the Generations

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On one side is the ‘old timers.’ The loyal, dedicated service writers and techs who have been with you for 10 or 20 years, or even longer. On the other side are the newbies. Young and eager but without decades of experience to back them up, their opinions are often ignored.

The battlefield: technology, or lack thereof.

On the sidelines: the dealer, who doesn’t really want to get involved in this battle.

Unfortunately, it’s still very common to find service writers using paper ROs and route sheets. Approximately half of dealerships still follow processes that were established 30 years ago. The other half have made the changes; hard fought but necessary to stay competitive.

I have asked dozens of service managers and dealers why they’re not using technology proven to increase service revenue by 30 to 50 percent; e.g. electronic ROs, mobile tablets for check-ins and MPIs and auto dispatch.

These are the responses I get. “We have 10 techs here who have been here over 20 years. They don’t want it.”

Or, “We’ve been doing it the same way for 20 years. Why change now?”

Why change now? Did I not mention the 30 to 50 percent increase in revenue? If that isn’t enough incentive, how about:

  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Forces employees to stick to established processes
  • Your competitors who have embraced technology are luring your service customers away
  • If not now, when? Waiting until half your workforce retires isn’t a strategy for success.

Now, tenure and longevity are definitely things to be revered in a dealership. However, as a dealer you can’t let reverence get in the way of progress.

The good news is, if this battle is being waged in your service department, you’re not alone. The bad news is, resolution is not easy. But it is necessary. Every day you wait is a day that you’re operating at a disadvantage.

So how do you win this battle of the generations? There are two strategies that you can try, and I actually recommend doing both.

Change Mindset

The first step in changing stubborn minds is to identify their pain points. What do your service managers, writers and techs struggle with? Could technology reduce the pain or make it go away? This takes careful questioning, observation and paying close attention to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

The next step is to reframe how your present a technology solution. Take mobile tablets, for example. Some techs may view these as nothing more than gizmos or gadgets to be tried and then perhaps discarded in a drawer. They don’t realize it’s a tool that is meant to be used as an extension of them, and should be considered as vital to doing their jobs as their Craftsman wrench set.

Even dealers may view technology solutions as an unnecessary expense. Why spend a small fortune to implement something that people don’t want anyway? The reason is because every dollar you spend on technology will be returned, along with many more. Technology is an investment: in your employees, in your customers, in your future. If you care at all about these things, show it by insisting upon new solutions that will benefit everyone.

Carefully and deliberately, spend some time on your presentation of how and why a process needs to be changed. If you have to, be blunt. You just can’t afford to keep doing it the old way.

Start Small

Change can seem overwhelming. Your service employees are probably working long hours as it is, so the thought of having to spend any time at all learning something new creates resistance.

So start small. If you’re not sure where to start, act like a consultant would if they were brought into your dealership. Or, you could bring in an actual consultant to do this part for you.

1) Assess. Which processes in your service department are still done manually? Which ones incorporate technology? Which processes are hybrids; a combination of both? Review and document every process, answering the following questions:

  • How do customers make an appointment?
  • What is the customer check-in process?
  • What is the MPI process?
  • How are RO’s created?
  • How are jobs dispatched?
  • What does the service menu presentation look like?
  • How are customers notified on the status of their vehicle?
  • What is the customer check out process?

2) Observe. Once you have documentation of how your processes are supposed to happen, it’s important to observe how they actually happen. On a busy Monday morning, quietly observe the customer check-in process. How long does it take to drop off a car? On a busy Friday afternoon, quietly observe the check out process. Is there a line at the cashier? How long does it take your service techs to do an MPI? Too long and the customer is not happy. Too short and you know that items are being skipped.

3) Make recommendations. From information gathered during your assessment and observations, make a list of recommendations. Prioritize these because you’re only going to start with one thing at a time. Then break down the end goal into a series of manageable steps. Create a 30-day, 60-day and 90-day plan. If ninety days is the deadline for 100 percent compliance to the new process, where should everyone be at 30 days and 60 days? Measure your progress along the way.
Another strategy is to enlist the help of the younger generation. It’s a good bet that you have at least several younger service department employees that would love to see technology used more. Millennials and even Gen X’ers grew up with technology and it’s second nature to them. They don’t view it as intimidating.

Rather than task one service manager with the entire change, you might consider forming a committee or team and task them with implementing the new solution. A team promotes cooperation and accountability. And very likely, one of your younger employees will provide the necessary enthusiasm, knowledge and determination to ensure the project will be successful.

If possible, implement a slow rollout with a few of your younger employees. This may not be possible with all technologies. I successfully did this in a Subaru dealership with mobile tablets. There were eight service advisors; four old timers and four newbies. I told the service manager “Give me a couple mobile tablets to try.” I took the mobile tablets, trained the younger advisors how to use them, and they took to them like fish to water.

Within a couple days, the old timers were noticing the changes. They saw the benefits. They asked what was going on. They asked why they weren’t given tablets. These were the same guys who had resisted the idea in the first place!

Sometimes, perception and reality end up being completely different. As a dealer, you should never fear your employees’ perception of how terrible something might be. Reality is usually far less terrible than what was originally perceived.

One caveat in these recommendations: don’t cheap out. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Make sure your IT infrastructure will support and run new technology solutions. Buy quality tablets, otherwise you’re setting up your employees for failure. Get the necessary training from your DMS vendor if you need help with unfamiliar features.

If there’s a battle of generations waging in your service department, you don’t have to stand by the sidelines. Too much is at stake. Make the commitment to change and don’t accept anything less than total victory.

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Ken Rock
Ken Rock is a Customer Care Manager at Auto/Mate Dealership Systems, where he has been training dealership customers for over 10 years. Previously he was a Fixed Ops Director at a multi-store dealership group in New York and Massachusetts. Rock has more than 25 years of dealership experience and hands-on training of dealership staff.