Make Sure 'I'm New' Is No Excuse

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The last shop i worked at before getting into the education field was a Honda dealership in Phoenix. The service manager, John Sarno, made the decision to hire me based on two simple criteria: He liked my personality, and I held a "factory-trained" certificate. Little more was discussed than that, and I rolled my tool chest into the dealership on the Monday of the next week. The first two days went smoothly. John assigned mostly routine services. The atmosphere was pretty quiet as the other four techs did little to make a personal connection with the "newbie."

On day three, John gave me a top-end rebuild. No big deal, but that's when the fun started. After buttoning up the motor and returning from the washroom, I found a piston pin clip lying next to the motor. Lucky for me, I have somewhat of a photographic memory, and I distinctly remembered installing all four clips. It was a prank, so I called the techs on it. All four of them busted out in laughter. They admitted to putting the clip there to see how I'd handle it.

That night we all went out for beers and had another good laugh about their "good-natured" joke. Later, when sufficiently lubricated, I asked the motley crew, "What if I had started to tear the motor back down to check for the missing clip?"

My new friends said they would have 'fessed up, but you know what? In the following months they pulled the same stuff (and worse) on other new hires they didn't like as much as me, and they never 'fessed up. In fact, they watched techs waste as much as a whole day tearing motors and transmissions back down to recheck their work.

This sort of thing goes on in some way every day in every powersports shop in the country. Service departments are predominately male, and that makes us naturally mischievous. My problem with this is that it wastes money, and worse, can result in running good people out of the business. I know. I've seen it happen.

WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR?

The best scenario is to start new hires off right with a formal orientation program. At the least, the service manager should assemble what a new hire needs to know to function effectively, and should eliminate any major malfunctions by being consistent in breaking new hires in. It starts with relating what differentiates your store from others. Sadly, most employees and even some owners don't know what this is. If you don't know what your store stands for, then what guides employee decisions or directs your marketing? Why should your customers shop with you if they don't know what makes you different? A few examples of differentiation are:

  • Racing/performance expertise.
  • Expansive selection of vehicles/accessories/gear.
  • Quick and quality service.
  • Great prices.
  • Mom-and-pop atmosphere.
  • Destination for events or hanging out.

WHO THE GO-TO PEOPLE ARE

This should include an introduction to each person on the list during the first day walkaround and an overview of his or her job duties.

  • Service adviser for all things related to the RO assignment and any issues with the job.
  • Technical mentor if the hire is a green tech.
  • Parts-to-service liaison.
  • All service, parts and sales staff.
  • All managers and owners.
  • Payroll/human resources.
  • Chain of command (typically the service advisor > service manager > general manager).

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

  • Pay plan, typical withholdings and payday.
  • Job comeback or vehicle damage policies (often one per year for free and the rest to be paid for by the tech).
  • How ROs are assigned, managed and closed.
  • Staging area for service parts.
  • Overview of paperwork unique to the shop, such as a multipoint checklist.
  • Who moves the vehicle to and from the work area. Some shops have the service advisor do this to make the tech more efficient.
  • Safety procedures. Some shops require techs to strap vehicles to the lift, use tank and fender covers to protect paint, and wear protective gear to prevent injury to themselves and the vehicle.
  • Customer interaction policy. Some shops prefer to have the service adviser do all of the customer communication to make the tech more efficient.
  • Test ride policy: whether mandatory, whether helmets must be worn, and where to ride.

SHOP LAYOUT

  • Vehicle and parts cleaning — here it's done and who does it. Most shops now have a "hydro-tech" to do the pre- and post-cleaning so the techs can be more efficient.
  • Where to get and dump lubricants.
  • If there's a special grinding area to prevent the contamination of clean parts.
  • Location of special tools and equipment and which of them need approval before being used.

SPECIAL TREATMENT FOR GRADUATE HIRES

I'm not suggesting that shops coddle grads from technical schools, but I know that inexperienced grads need help making the transition from classroom and lab to service department and work bay. With this in mind:

  • During the first 30 days, only assign routine work such as 1,000- and 5,000-mile services, tire changes and simple accessory installations. This way, the newbie can put reasonable effort into learning the routine of working at your store.
  • From 30 to 60 days, start assigning more complex jobs like 10,000-mile services, light drivetrain work and electrical troubleshooting.
  • From 60 to 90 days, test assign a little of everything. Remember, one sign of a great service adviser is that he or she assigns the right work to the best people while growing the abilities of all techs.

At the end of the day, it's still a crapshoot. Some new hires will flourish, and some will flounder. Your job, if you're the service manager or service adviser, is to wring the best performance from every tech on staff, and you can't accomplish that if your new hire is confused, conflicted or convinced the other techs are gunning for him.