Gender means nothing when hiring for the Service Dept.

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I’ve always believed women should be part of our industry workforce, particularly in dealership parts and service departments where I worked. But it hasn’t been easy for females in these departments, particularly because this male-dominated world sometimes contains small thinkers on both sides of the counter.

Case in point: Back in the early ‘80s, I referred a female graduate of the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute to a Phoenix dealership to interview for an open parts counter position. I was confident that I had found a progressive store that embraced women taking an equal role in the powersports workplace.

And this graduate was sharp; her grades and hands-on performance had placed her in the top 10 percent of her class. It didn’t hurt that she was 6 feet tall and strong enough to move bikes around, either. Physical weakness had been a dealer complaint about female hires of the past. I was sure she had gotten the job, but to my dismay, she had turned it down. She informed me that early in the interview she had offered her transcript of grades for review. That’s when the male parts manager quipped, “I don’t care about your grades. I just want a set of boobs behind the counter.” Unfortunately, this terrible incident caused her to become so disenchanted that she went back to her previous career.

That was then and this is now. Let me introduce you to a shining star in our industry, Darrell Golden. Golden has been service manager at Texas’ Midland Powersports since August 2007. His team of five technicians annually produces close to $1 million in billable parts and labor. Did I mention he has two female service advisers? And that he believes women are the best gender for that particular position?

When Golden took the job in 2007, one of the first things he did was hire female service advisers. The idea of females at the service counter wasn’t new to him — his previous 33 years of working in automotive dealerships had provided him with ample experience. Whether it’s politically correct or not, Golden prefers female over male service advisers because the women he’s hired have been easier to train, follow departmental procedures better, communicate well and are naturally empathetic to customers — all desirable traits for this frontline position. In situations where a customer might normally get upset with a male, Golden says his female service advisers easily calm them down.

For example, recently a customer paid for a complete clutch overhaul on a Kawasaki Mule. Within two weeks, the customer returned, upset, with the clutch burned out. The female service adviser asked a couple of questions: “Who was riding the vehicle? What were they doing when the problem happened?” It turns out that the customer’s kids were riding the Mule, and they had gotten it stuck in the mud. The service adviser explained how rocking the Mule back and forth was what caused the damage. In the end, the customer admitted, “I was mad at first. Then I realized it was my fault. It won’t happen again.”

Now, if you’re warming up to the idea that your next service adviser hire should be female, be prepared for a little resistance from the “boys in the back.” In the last 12 years of teaching parts and service classes, I’ve always asked the women in my classes what it’s like taking on a male-dominated role. In almost every case, the story has been the same: It took them about a year to gain the respect of the boys on both sides of the counter. But once the dealership had established a respectful workplace for females in service, the stage was set for greater success going forward. This was confirmed by Golden. He told me that at his store, girls in the garage are considered the norm.

But hiring different genders is just one of the factors of the department’s success. Menu-selling is another. Golden has created a service menu for every job. It’s no small undertaking for a store that carries five brands, and that caters to all types of riders. Each menu includes the labor and parts needed to complete the work, which simplifies selling for the service advisers and, most importantly, eliminates customer confusion. Customers know what they’re getting and what the costs are — every time. Proof that menu pricing works is in the service revenue, and the fact that very few customers get upset about the cost. Golden proudly told me there have been no customers in the last several years who have gone up the chain of command to complain about service or cost. Because of this, Golden thinks women are better salespeople than men, noting that his service advisers upsell brakes during tire replacement 70 percent of the time.

Of course, from a male perspective, it doesn’t hurt that the people delivering the news are attractive, have great personalities and are excellent communicators. Let’s face it, as men we take our medicine with a lot less griping when dished out by a friendly female.

Golden also pays his staff well. Commissions and incentives are in place to keep service advisers and technicians motivated to do it right and do it quick. The income his technicians earn is higher than most other dealerships I’ve known. In retrospect, Golden’s success can be summed up in three core principles: Hire naturally talented people regardless of gender, create simple policies and procedures, and pay for performance. That’s a winning combination.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews May 2011 issue.

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