Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2009   by Andrew Ross

Ride Control Training Class Is Out. Now What?

There is no doubt that an effective ride-control training program can have very positive results while the lessons learned are still fresh in the heads of you, your staff, and your customers.

But how do you make sure that the impact of that investment in time and money continues long after the smell of pizza has faded from the classroom?

“I think it is a wonderful subject matter of keen interest,” says Mac McGovern, KYB America LLC, director of marketing, product, and training. “We as humans tend to launch something, get it going and then abandon it. Then we question it later.”

He says that he has seen it often after training sessions.

“Front-of-mind awareness creates a spike. What we have seen is that the spike doesn’t come all the way back to the baseline. It comes down to a new level, and that is the new benchmark. We have created a new habit and effected a behavioural change. We don’t always get credit,” he says with a smile, “because it has become theirs. We have to identify that there is a recorded, data-driven increase.

“The goal for subsequent training is to get them up another notch or two.”

T. J. Fontana, manager of training and operations for Tenneco’s Monroe ride control products, says that the right training will leave a lasting impression on the business, as long as it does more than offer on-the-spot, spoon-fed information.

He says that programs like the Monroe 4 More training, that emphasize developing a business plan, can provide that longevity. (That training program was, incidentally, piloted in Canada.)

Customer and staff training programs that do not have a strong follow-up process are destined to fall short in the long term, he says.

“They do great for a couple of weeks. And then things move on. As time goes by they forget about it. What we’re saying with the 4 More message is [the importance of] developing a business plan. Placing emphasis at the shop level on inspecting a vehicle. Or at the jobber level, having the counterpeople talk to the shop owners and the consumers.”

The fundamental goal of the training being offered in the ride and drive programs and the 4 More business-focused training is communications.

It is no accident that the Monroe program, and that of competitor KYB, both spend a great deal of time and effort to provide counterpeople, technicians, and service advisors with the communications tools to talk about ride control.

While the reputation for overselling has rightfully been left in the past, ride control still continues to be one of the few systems on a car that can be severely degraded, or even non-functional, and not disable a car. In the vernacular of the industry, it must be told to be sold.

Yet the image of ride control as being a “comfort” component persists.

“We know that there is a huge opportunity and we really talk about developing a business plan to gain that business,” says Fontana. “We want to communicate how to communicate to the customer. People think of it as providing a comfortable ride. We are trying to communicate that there is more than that, that it is providing safety to the vehicle.”

He adds that often people within the industry talk about keeping the tire in contact with the road, which is true, but that properly functioning ride control also provides control over weight transfer.

Weight transfer is inevitable in any braking or cornering manoeuvre, but failure to control it properly can have a dramatic effect on the braking and handling characteristics of a vehicle.

While the research conducted into exactly those effects on behalf of Tenneco has largely faded into the background of discussions on ride control, and it has been a decade since USAC signed off on the test, the data is no less compelling today than when it was used to form the basis of the Safety Triangle concept — brakes, tires, ride control — that is still part of that company’s training ethos.

In one series of tests, vehicles equipped with one 50% degraded shock absorber and three fully functional units required 4.3% more time and 5.7% greater distance to brake from 100 km/h to zero over a bumpy surface. One popular SUV model required nearly 10% more braking time, and approximately five metres, when equipped with one degraded shock.

Research like this has caused all ride control suppliers to converge on the 80,000 km replacement interval.

But data is one thing. Real-world experience is another.

“I know myself, when I did the first ride-and-drive, I was totally impressed,” says Dave Foreman of Foreman Auto Service in Langley, B. C. “I had a hard time selling shocks to people when they weren’t leaking.” But the comparison driving provided the unmistakeable proof he needed to believe in the sale — and to get his staff through training too.

Of course, it has been four years since he first experienced the program, and two since he last spoke to Jobber News about it. The staff at his business has changed some since then, too. And so has his outlook.

He agrees it has been a benefit to the shop, but as a veteran of this and many other training programs, he has additional views to consider.

“I just find that the talk before was too much the same all the time. I feel that you would gain more by having more driving and more testing. In the first year you got to drive each car. In the next year you only got to drive some of the cars.”

Despite his call for more in-car experience, he does insist that there is a benefit. Still, he would like to see more rank-and-file staff take advantage — not just from his shop, but from all shops.

“Service advisors and the staff in the shop need to get the benefit. A lot of times the bosses get to go, but the service advisor is the one on the front line, and the staff need to have confidence selling it.”

He says that he has seen it too many times where managers come back from a course all fired up, then only communicate to their staff a part of the program, and eventually allow the imperatives to fall by the wayside.

“If management stops pushing, the staff stops pushing. The manager goes off course, changes everything, then he drops off, then the staff drops off. There is one thing that we have learned over the years: you need to get going continually to management courses, and you must reinforce what you are doing.”

For shop like Foreman’s, the experience following training is somewhat predictable.

KYB’s McGovern explains that there is a rule of thumb, actually a series of three rules, that are consistently part of effective training.

“We concluded that wherever there was success, whether at the counter or the service provider, three things were consistent: They believe in the sale; they have some communication system; and they ask for the sale.

“Whenever the three exist, they have already created a new behaviour that puts them into the higher category. Whenever any of the three are missing, there will be a much lower success rate.”

He says, though, that over time, individuals can shift away from the methods they have learned.

“They tend to move away from what you gave them and morph it into their own comfort level. We would call it a new habit. It is theirs and they are more comfortable with it.

“If you increase their belief in the sale, if you give them a system that they can convert into their own, then the last thing occurs. We don’t tell them to ask them for the sale,” he adds — it’s not necessary, as they will do it on their own.

Still, he advises, it is important to keep on top of a category’s performance following training to spot a loss in effectiveness.

“Periodic testing and periodic sampling is important — going back and comparing to the earlier data, and asking what new things [they] know.

“If you do a comparison, you will usually discover that they trend away from good practices. Whenever I have taught an advanced level of anything, I am really teaching them to do the basics better.
At that moment they are more receptive to sound practices. It moves them up to a new level.”