By Dan Marinucci (opinion column)
AKRON (Oct. 6, 2000) — Tire dealers should not lower hiring standards simply to fill staff vacancies.
Lowering standards will hurt your business—and hurt it sooner than many bosses realize. Here´s why.
First, let´s put the issue into perspective. For years now, people in every area of the automotive service industry have been screaming for good help. Everywhere I travel, bosses voice their anxiety over recruiting new talent. Many owners and managers lament that they´d settle for a warm body that actually shows up for work every day. (Hereafter, I´ll refer to this as the "warm-body" outlook.)
Second, finding good workers may be difficult, but not nearly as difficult as repairing the reputation of a business once it´s been damaged by poor service. Remember, providing service is much like introducing yourself: You may only get one chance to make a good first impression.
In other words, if poor-quality, warm-body types of employees disappoint a customer, why would the customer come back a second time?
One manager I know compares the hiring dilemma to the old Fram tag line: "Pay me now, or pay me later."
You can pay up front by investing the time and money in recruiting reliable people who are dedicated to repairing the vehicle right the first time. You can search diligently for employees who genuinely respect customers and show it.
The end result of paying now is satisfied customers who come back again and again. So paying now for good people is a solid investment in your dealership´s long-term health.
On the other hand, practicing the warm-body approach is very tempting but extremely, extremely risky. Certainly, filling vacancies or expanding the existing staff with warm bodies may maintain or increase the volume of work your dealership turns out. It may appear to keep your wholesale deliveries humming.
Unfortunately, many frustrated bosses who have resorted to the warm-body approach are already paying for it—whether they realize it or not. Depending on how closely the boss monitors the numbers and how competitive the local market is, it may be six months to a year before he or she realizes business is spiraling downward.
Most managers seem to assume that they´ll automatically recognize the signs of discontented customers. But in today´s fast-paced world, many customers get even instead of just getting mad. A consumer may be upset that his or her car wasn´t tested thoroughly. Or a steady wholesale account is angry that your delivery kid keeps bringing the wrong type and size tires.
But instead of screaming and yelling at you, these people quietly take their business elsewhere. Their time is too valuable to be gambling with your staff a second time. They already have enough pressure and aggravation in their lives from work and family.
If you were able to discuss the issues with them, they´d tell you what they tell me: They chalk up their dealings with you to experience and then try out one of your competitors.
Regular readers of this column know I´ve cautioned them many times that the manpower shortage in our industry certainly didn´t occur overnight, so it won´t be cured overnight, either. I have argued that creative leadership and overall flexibility will be key to coping with the problem in the short term.
Avoid lowering your standards and hiring the proverbial "warm body" for three reasons I´ve discussed many times in previous columns. First, these workers create unhappy customers. Unhappy people negatively influence far more friends, family and co-workers than happy customers do.
Second, no less a man than W. Edwards Deming, the mathematical genius who taught the Japanese statistical process control, stressed that these negative influences on potential customers are one of the most difficult things for any business person to quantify. Often, the boss only recognizes the damage when it´s too late—after business has slumped.
Third, any marketing expert will attest that it´s infinitely less expensive to maintain a reputation than it is to repair one.
Think about these things the next time you´re inclined to hire a warm body for your dealership!