We all talk about it, and we all say we have a training plan that provides our employees with all the training they need to do their jobs safely and efficiently.
It’s a necessary cost of doing business that is often included in the HR or marketing budget as an operating expense with no offsetting revenue.
In most cases, the training budget is determined by a simple calculation: the number of employees multiplied by a set amount of money per person.
A training budget must also be allocated for your auto service provider (ASP) clients.
Prior to COVID-19, product knowledge training was typically hosted as a lunch-and-learn, or done after hours with a meal, drinks and a manufacturer’s sales rep delivering a “how-to” training session.
This type of training is either offered free of charge or at a small fee. Of course, most training today is delivered virtually and has varying degrees of success depending on shop owners’ willingness to participate. All product knowledge training comes with a cost, but, if it’s done well, you’ll likely see an uptick in sales on a particular product.
Having said that, I want you to explore training with me through a slightly different lens, one in which training can benefit your company in more ways than one. In fact, you can even benefit financially from targeted programs aimed at the personal and professional development of both your team and of your clients!
First, let’s take a look at the internal training plan currently in place for your business.
What makes a good training plan?
A training plan is typically crafted in compliance with specific health and safety regulations, that every individual must complete to become a legitimate employee of the company. Workplace Hazardous Materials Information Systems (WHMIS), anti-harassment, antitrust and forklift training courses are perfect examples of such plans. First and foremost, they keep employees safe. Secondly, they are necessary skills that employees must learn to perform tasks in their everyday roles.
While these courses are necessary and will continue to be a part of your business, I question whether this sort of training plan is enough.
If the goal is to meet or exceed various regulatory requirements in your region, then I would say a training plan is exactly what you need. However, if the goal is to engage your team in a manner that encourages and excites them to grow their skills and develop a passion for a career at your company, then I would seriously consider adopting a professional development program for your team in addition to your existing training plan.
Professional development is a concentrated effort which aims to grow a team member’s most critical skillset so that they can advance their career. If done right, their career advancement will be within your company.
Boost employee retention rates
Team members who are engaged and passionate about what they do will become long-time employees and ultimately will become a walking advertisement for your business. If they feel that you’ve invested in their career personal well-being, they’re more likely to remain with your company, and perhaps even invite other like-minded people to seek out your company for employment.
The next time a position opens up at your company, think about how much you could save, if an existing employee refers a highly qualified candidate right through the door? How many open jobs do you have posted right now? How many employees are recruiting for you?
If the answer is none, I urge you to consider adding a professional development program to your plan with courses that are of particular interest to your team where they can learn some “soft skills” that make their jobs easier and ultimately more enjoyable.
Be creative and be sure to ask your team what they’re interested in rather than telling them what courses they need to take.
Continuing an internal examination, professional development programs should be offered to ASP clients.
When you offer training sessions to your clients on particular products are you simply regurgitating the list of features and benefits from the manufacturer’s sell sheet with the hopes that they will buy the product from you rather than a competitor?
Can they get that same information from your competitor who also sells the same product or a comparable product?
What is it about your training that sets you apart from your competitors?
Is your “training” actually a sales pitch in disguise?
Which products require training?
It goes without saying that some products, especially tools, require some degree of product knowledge training. These products are considered high-ticket items that deserve support so that your client gets the best use out of the tool for their money. Diagnostic tools in particular, should be a revenue generator for your clients and should deliver a good return on investment for them.
There’s no question that product knowledge training will remain a part of your business.
However, being that you are in the parts business and your ASP clients are in the service business, I would wager that they could benefit greatly from some business development training that helps them provide better service and sets them apart from their competitors.
In fact, I would even go so far as to argue that “Service is King” for your ASP clients in today’s environment, where consumers are eager to stretch their dollar further. Consumers crave convenience, friendly and professional service, and the job done right the first time. A business development program for your ASP clients should engage them in a discussion about how to transform their business to realize higher net profits.
It should help them create a superior business culture that attracts and retains qualified technicians and support staff. Teach them that they don’t have to have the lowest door rate in the area to attract new business and that putting more hours in every day at the shop is not necessarily going to deliver more to the bottom line.
The reality of today is that ASP’s are not be able to sustain their business by simply installing and selling parts. They must offer superior service to their consumer clients so they can secure a larger part of that vehicle’s total repair and maintenance. They are in business to be profitable and to provide for their families as well as their teams and it is your responsibility to help them do just that.
I strongly believe that developing and strengthening your internal team with a clear and concise professional development program, coupled with a quality business development program for your ASP clients, is a winning combination that should become a staple of your business model.
Editor’s note: Susan Hitchon is the Ontario business development manager for the Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.