Tire dealers who want to succeed in the cutthroat business of automotive service need technicians with solid communication skills. Today, techs who speak intelligently and write clearly on work orders are not just niceties-they're necessities. I've long carped about the importance of good communication skills at every level of the dealership. To earn the fees they need to survive-let alone thrive-dealers need workers who look and act like professionals. Part of a successful professional's modus operandi is explaining clearly how he's spending his customer's money.
Some automotive colleagues think I'm too critical of service personnel in general. But anyone who picks up a newspaper, watches television or listens to talk radio hears and sees the same message: Consumers are fed up with doctors, lawyers, accountants and repairmen of all kinds who don't or won't communicate clearly.
John Long, director of a progressive, successful automotive training program at Montgomery County Community College in eastern Pennsylvania, summed up the situation succinctly: ``The days of the 'dese, 'dem and 'dose mechanic are over!''
Recently, I witnessed an incident at a training seminar that exemplifies the attitudes we need to change in order to improve the industry's overall image. The situation also reminded me of an example we should follow when it comes to service personnel and communication skills.
The instructor began the class with a basic pretest consisting of short, declarative sentences in which attendees had to fill in the blanks. A typical sentence read: ``In any electrical circuit, all current must return to the (blank).'' (For non-technical readers, the answer is ``battery.'')
After the class, some attendees grumbled that pretests should be multiple-choice format like those given by ASE. Some seminar sponsors chimed in with comments such as, ``Remember they're only wrench-turners. They're mechanics, not scholars, you know!''
These apologists missed some important points. For instance, most consumers would agree that ``technician'' denotes a higher-caliber worker than ``mechanic'' does.
What's more, manual dexterity with wrenches and the ability to read and write well are not mutually exclusive talents. To the contrary, top automotive techs possess both talents. But techs who lack the schooling or confidence to speak well can be groomed to improve their verbal skills.
Meanwhile, the seminar instructor told his critics the techs who really knew the topic usually had no trouble with the quiz's short sentences and extremely basic content. Plus, experience showed the best technicians were, in fact, good students who like to read and are eager to learn.
I can't agree more with this instructor. Stop coddling incommunicative techs and making excuses for people who can't read well or write clearly on work orders. Owners and managers need to redefine their expectations of new hires.
The example we should follow here comes from the movie ``Stand and Deliver,'' the true story of high-school math teacher Jaime Escalante, who left industry to tackle teaching math to ghetto kids in east Los Angeles.
Colleagues criticized Mr. Escalante for being too hard on disadvantaged students. However, he stressed that with effective leadership, the kids would rise to standards he set for them. An unflagging optimist, he argued that the students were underchallenged instead of underprivileged.
To the amazement of almost everyone but Mr. Escalante, his students began entering and winning major mathematics competitions. This pattern of unqualified successes continued during his tenure. While the man is brash and opinionated, he nonetheless inspired students and got results.
Sadly, his style, personality and unexpected successes brewed intense jealousy and bitterness among other teachers. The tension forced him to relocate to another high school in northern California.
Mr. Escalante's achievements with kids who weren't expected to perform are the perfect parallel to tire dealers who don't expect service personnel-especially technicians-to speak and write clearly.
It's time to encourage those employees to raise their heads, making and maintaining eye contact with customers. Coach them to open their mouths and enunciate words instead of muttering.
As the title of the movie suggests, service personnel must stand and deliver: Replace the 'dem, 'dese, and 'dose with clean, simple English.
And when they do that, more people will trust them more often.