Techs are salespeople, too: Use your expertise when convincing the customer to have the service done

May 1, 2007

Building trust with your customers is one of the most important ingredients to success in automotive service profitability.

And a knowledgeable staff of service technicians who can explain needed service clearly and concisely makes all the difference.

"The quality of our ASE-certified professionals on staff here is an important sales tool," said Ed Perry, owner of Dolson Auto & Tire Inc. in Middletown, N.Y.

"When they write vehicle defects on the shop ticket, we inform the customer of what they found and offer to show them.

"Sometimes they ask to see for themselves, but after one or two visits they tell me, 'If John said I need it and you agree, go ahead and take care of it.'"

Building trust by doing quality work makes you, Mr. Professional Technician, a top-notch salesperson without any sales pitch or high pressure. When it comes to automotive services, actions are more important than words.

Tom Talamini, senior technician at Lake Region Tire and Repair, is constantly talking to customers and explaining, in detail, what is wrong and why it needs to be done.

"Safety issues are easy to explain, but preventive maintenance and parts associated to other repairs are more difficult," he said. "Most people don't understand when a water pump is changed you really must also replace the drive belt, radiator hoses, heater hoses if they are hard, thermostat, radiator cap and flush the entire system.

"If you don't do it all at the same time you change the pump, they will soon need it and have to pay to (have it taken) apart and put together again. That will cost the customer a lot more money and cause you an angry customer. Our position: If the customer will not let us do the job correctly, we will not do it at all."


Sell professionalism

Here's a list of things that are highly saleable when technical team members interface with customers.

* Having ASE certifications demonstrate you are highly trained and have proven it by passing tests developed by ASE (otherwise known as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence).

* Wearing your ASE certifications on your uniform shows pride and professionalism.

* Clean uniforms, well-spoken technical team members and a positive attitude make customers feel comfortable that their vehicle is in good, professional hands.

* It isn't necessary to sell add-ons; they sell themselves if the diagnostics are done correctly and the job is explained professionally.

* Professionalism, from the oil change tech to the tire mounting and balancing tech to the Master Tech, is essential to your shop's success. The shop's success is what makes you successful.

The ASE has been testing techs since 1972. To become ASE-certified in a specialty, a tech has to have two years of working experience and pass the appropriate automobile or truck service exam.

The automobile-related test subjects include brakes, electrical/electronic systems, engine performance, and suspension and steering. There is also an exhaust systems specialty test.

ASE conducts its tests four times a year. Recertification is required every five years.

The institute also has created the "Blue Seal of Excellence Recognition Program" for repair facilities "with a large percentage of ASE-certified professionals."

For more information on ASE certification, visit


Team play, good pay

Techs who form a team with the owner will stay there longer and enjoy more benefits than a tech who changes jobs all the time for a couple of dollars more per hour. Both Dolson Auto & Tire and Lake Region Discount Tire and Repair offer their people full benefits: employee and family health coverage, dental and eye care, plus maternity. They also include two weeks paid vacation every year.

Professional technicians at both shops prefer the hourly pay system more than a flat rate. They say it allows them time to do the job correctly, even if they run into difficulties like broken bolts or rust. They don't have to take shortcuts they would be required to on a flat rate. This cuts down comebacks and improves quality.

All of the technical and counter people told us the same thing about their bosses, but Talamini said it best: "Clear communication is critical to getting along with each other.

"There will be days when the boss might be in a mood like a bear waking after hibernating all winter. Those days are just part of human nature. You will find yourself in moods like that also, and if you have open communication with your boss he'll deal with it also. Just don't let it carry over to the customers."

If owners could do everything themselves, they wouldn't need you. But they can't, which makes you an important part of any retail tire store. Understanding this relationship -- owner and tech alike -- is the key to success.

Best Practices: Tips -- Busting tires or delivering pizzas?

What do you pay your entry-level technicians or trainees? According to the "2006 Tire Industry Compensation Survey" sponsored by the Tire Industry Association, the median total cash compensation for a trainee/entry level employee, based on a 40-hour work week, is $9.48. (The Federal Minimum Wage will increase to $5.85 an hour later this year.)

Keep in mind that labor, particularly unskilled labor, may be sought by all businesses, not just your fellow tire dealers or tire retail outlets.

Here's a recent help wanted advertisement for pizza delivery drivers in Akron, Ohio:

* Earn $10 to $15 per hour (starting salary $7.50/hour).

* $1.25 per delivery in mileage.

* Get a $100 signing bonus! (Bonus paid after 30 days.)

* Flexible hours, cash every night, employee discounts. Opportunity to advance.

* Health insurance available.

The flyer also was good for a free pizza after the interview.


Successful shopes demand clear communication

Best Practices for Automotive Service is written to be read by your entire staff: owner, service manager, counter people and technicians alike. With that said, this story targets the professional technician.

In the process of interviewing two independent tire dealers for this story, two things were clear.

1. Without the quality work their technical staffs deliver every day, neither could maintain their business.

2. Both dealers ask their technical staffs to interface with customers.

That isn't to say they ask their techs to be salespeople. That would be a mistake, according to Ed Perry, owner of Dolson Auto & Tire Inc. in Middletown, N.Y., and both Mike Lofstedt Sr., owner, and Mike Jr., general manager, of Lake Region Discount Tire and Repair Service Inc. in Monroe, N.Y.

They do expect their technical staffs to do a very thorough safety inspection of every vehicle entering their shops, however. They also ask every technician to be able to explain and demonstrate each problem they find to the customer. They do not pay anyone in their organizations a commission for selling, so these successful shops demand clear communication and honesty from their technical people.