Literacy always has and always will separate average technicians from the elite ones.
Savvy service shop operators and tire dealers should recognize that solid reading skills are invaluable traits for today's techs.
My field experience has convinced me that literacy is a vital building block of long-term success for technicians — not to mention your service department's reputation. Fixing vehicles correctly the first time is the key to building and maintaining a loyal customer base. Loyalty, in turn, breeds repeat business as well as referrals.
Bosses may not have noticed a trend in automotive service. That is, the need to read has increased exponentially within the last 25 years or so. This is a direct result of the increasing sophistication and complexity of vehicles on the road today. Out in the bays, a tech's sheer intuition and prior experience provide some solutions — but only some of the time.
Sooner or later, today's techs must consult detailed and potentially lengthy instructions for troubleshooting on-board systems. What's more, they may need to read and follow printed procedures simply to remove and reinstall certain parts properly and profitably. A removal technique, for instance, that's obvious for one vehicle may not be a wise, effective method on the next one.
All too often, technicians prioritize past experience over reading the procedure, thereby wasting untold amounts of time. What's more, they may damage part of the vehicle because they didn't read proper procedure first.
Wasted time and busted parts are not intrinsic parts of meeting or exceeding customers' expectations. No, these blunders are certainly not “reputation enhancers.”
The sheer number of makes and models on the road today also heightens the possibility that techs need to research and read proper procedures. Many tire dealerships and service shops compete by servicing a wide array of vehicles. The wider the range, the more difficult it is for techs to memorize every procedure. Rather, the broad selection of vehicles entering the service department nowadays increases the likelihood that techs must read first, wrench later.
These trends bring me around to the place of social media, such as YouTube, in repair shops today. I've heard owners, managers and shop foremen discuss the pros and cons of techs referring to You Tube for help. Yes indeed, YouTube's videos may solve some problems some of the time. Plus, watching an accurate procedure on a well-produced video can be invaluable.
But the mere presence of someone's video on YouTube does not and cannot ensure the relevance, accuracy and practicality of the material presented. To me, some people who place items on YouTube either grossly oversimplify a topic or else needlessly complicate it. These presenters mean well, but that doesn't ensure that they've done their homework — nor edited and filmed the material effectively.
Many people I encounter in the auto service marketplace cling to the notion that a worker's manual skills (call it “good mechanic's hands”) and access to YouTube enable a tech to fix anything. When the planets align themselves correctly, this assumption is correct. But it's not correct when a technician bungles the job and hurts your business' reputation.
Long-term, I believe the techs who read and comprehend printed procedures will outperform those who can't or won't read. Ultimately, literacy fosters speed, accuracy and profitability. The faster a tech digests information, the faster the job is done correctly the first time.
Always look for literacy skills when hiring and make sure you promote and advocate the “read first, wrench later” philosophy in your service department. If and when you sense that a worker is struggling to comprehend printed procedures, confidentially but firmly encourage the person to get tutored or attend a remedial reading course. After all, it's your reputation at stake.