One of the most serious challenges facing tire specialists is the increased intelligence of their customers. Many consumers are becoming cynical about automotive and tire services and service personnel. Price changes, unmet promises, shoddy workmanship and poorly trained workers have all contributed to this attitude.
One answer to the problem is to have proper training.
It's not easy to be a tire specialist these days, that's for sure. The market is in constant evolution. But it is essential to know how to interpret, understand and-if possible-anticipate market changes if you are to remain successful.
Even though we seem to be in an age when everyone is expected to eat Big Macs, do business with ATMs or pump their own gas, there is still a strong demand among consumers for a return to the human element in service.
After all, Big Mac eaters might want a better dining experience, ATM users might need someone to help them with their financial needs and, when cars or tires need fixing, the people who pump their own gas still want expert help.
One of the key factors in remaining successful is to be informed. The answer is constant, intensive and universal training.
This era of unprecedented demand for high-quality service requires that you use training to give every employee an understanding of how your firm is supposed to do business, what your customers want and how an employee's job and work life depend upon the customer.
But since you can only train so much, it is far better to pick the right people in the first place than to try to create a great employee out of a person who is just there to collect a paycheck.
The ideal employee for a tire specialist would be one who knows the business and how to service customers. But ideal employees are becoming hard to find-and keep. Today, many job applicants are woefully unprepared, and the skills required for the jobs of tomorrow will be far greater than those of today.
If you are one of those who is committed to service excellence, training becomes very important and very necessary because people don't always instinctively know how to treat customers. Managers, as well, don't always have what it takes to support and lead people on the front line.
One fundamental difference between your service department and your retread operation is that your front-line employees produce a product on the spot, often in the presence of the consumer. Retreads are manufactured and stored for later service. Customers rarely see this operation.
At the point of contact with the customer, the service employee is the product or at least a key ingredient in the product.
Many tire dealers and retreaders sincerely intend to create a good place to work because working conditions have a lot to do with keeping employees. But, as time passes, the pressures of the marketplace tend to open a gap between a company's good intentions and the reality of work life.
Most companies claim to have a training program to inform and motivate employees. But all too often, this program is only minutes long and consists mostly of rote recitation of a few rules with little time given to teaching employees how to treat customers.
As far as most retread plant training programs are concerned, training is often quite sketchy. Take, for instance, these cases:
A buffing machine operator got instruction on how to mount a tire on the machine and use the various switches. I arrived on his first day of work and prevented a number of casings from being damaged. I also spent several days teaching him to properly operate the machine. It was instruction he might not have received from management, since no one knew how to operate the machine.
Then there was the new employee who rolled freshly buffed tires on the floor, cemented them and then rolled them on the floor to the building machine. He was never taught to keep those surfaces clean. Yes, they had a high adjustment rate; I was there to determine the cause.
I was shocked upon visiting another shop to find the spray booth within several yards of an oil-fired boiler. Also, the operator smoked while cementing tires. Why this shop never blew up, I'll never know. We quickly moved the spray booth to an area far from the boiler, and requested a no-smoking rule.
There are only two ways to establish a competitive advantage in today's market: Do things better, or do them differently.
In the retreading industry, where all the players tend to imitate one another, you usually have to do things better than others if you want to gain market share.
One of the most expensive decisions you can make is to hire new employees. For a small business, the cost can be high. It is impossible to calculate the hidden costs of orientation, retraining and supervision, and then waiting for employees to know enough about the job to do more good than harm.
So do it right.
Industry sources, including suppliers, offer a wide range of training programs, including audio-visual aids and hands-on training, covering all phases of the retreading and new-tire industries. I've often wondered why more dealers don't take advantage of them.