Opinion: What is the Best Way to Train Your Service Advisors?

By Jeff Cowan, Nationally recognized Fixed Operations Expert

HALLELUJAH! You have finally decided to get your service team the training they so desperately need! Now the question is, what is the best way to get them that training? Do you appoint someone already on your staff to conduct the training? Do you hire a full-time trainer? Do you rely on your manufacturer? Do you allow your product vendors to take over this task or do you hire a training firm to get it done for you?

The answer to these questions depends on several factors. What are you trying to accomplish with your training? Do you already have a training program? What level of training are you seeking for your team? Are you wanting to train your entire department, certain parts, or specific individuals? How much time are you willing to commit to training? Are you looking for a one-time course or an ongoing program?

Before starting any training, I highly advise you to do your homework. Training is only valuable if your employees feel that the training is going to yield tangible results. If you make the right choice and deliver training that is truly inspirational and comprehensive, your employees will be excited and look forward to the opportunities the training offers. If you provide the wrong training, presented by the wrong people, you will make your job twice as hard. Your team will fight back about being involved in a program that they perceive as useless and not worth their time and effort.

In preparing to offer training, you must do the following:

  • Explain to those attending the reason they have been selected for the program. Explain how their participation and commitment is going to directly impact your customers, your business, their department, and most importantly, their personal success.
  • Commit to making the changes the training will demand and hold your staff accountable for making these changes. Only with commitment and accountability will you achieve the results you are seeking.
  • Look for reasons to obtain training. Don’t think yourself out of it. One of the most common excuses we encounter is that businesses think that they don’t have the right people in place, so training would be ineffective for them. My question is, how do you know that? If your people have never received the proper training, how do you know whether or not they are the right people? When someone tells me they don’t have the right person to train, nine out of ten times, they are wrong. After I have trained that employee, they become one of the best, if not the best performer on the team. I have never met a person that did not want to deliver successful results. But I have met thousands of employees who did not know how to deliver what was expected of them by their departments head or business owners. The reason for this is because they have never been properly trained in how to achieve those goals.
  • Understand that training is rarely a one-time event. You should look at training as an ongoing investment. The needs of customers, manufacturers, businesses, and employees are ever-changing and evolving. It’s a moving target. To ensure that you and your team remain current and cutting-edge requires that there is always some type of training being conducted. The training will be defined as the needs are revealed through the ever-changing business environment.
  • Most training should deliver immediate or near immediate results. As a general rule, if you invest in training to correct a situation or concern, the results should be seen immediately. If the training does not solve the concern, something is wrong. Wrong training. Wrong presenter. Wrong content. Wrong delivery. Wrong method. Wrong people managing and following through, or all of the above. Identify the problem, correct it, and retrain. Hold your team accountable to deliver. Move swiftly with your corrections. Don’t delay. When you allow your team to underperform, you allow them to dictate your level of success.

Now that you have an idea of the mindset needed to commit to and implement training, I will present to you, the pros and cons of the different methods of training available:

Current Employee: There are several employees in an organization who are commonly identified to take on the task of training. These include corporate trainers, department managers, and co-workers. Corporate trainers can be a good option since they are already on the staff and you can spread the expense out over the several departments. The question to ask is, has the person doing the training ever held the job that they will be training your team to do? If so, this may be a great option, assuming they were successful when they did it. If they were not a stellar performer, your employees are likely to have little respect for the training and as a result, they will get little out of it. Most employees actually like good training, but they despise trainers who teach based off of theory because they lack real-life experience. I have personally delivered training to salespeople of all kinds and have found auto service employees the hardest to impress. If you are going to step in front of them in an effort to train them, you had better come prepared and know what you are talking about because they will seriously put you to the test.

Department Manager:  This might seem like a great option, but many department managers fail when it comes to providing the type of training service advisors truly need. Since very few managers were ever taught the sales profession themselves, it is a tall order to expect them to train in this area. Even if they were great salespeople prior to sitting in the management chair, it is unlikely that they will they have the time to create an effective training program and teach it long-term? The few that can do this, usually run out of steam within 30 days of taking on the assignment or they run out of ways to keep the training fresh and interesting.

Having a veteran service advisor do the training sounds like a good idea too, but I have almost never seen this work. The idea usually tanks quickly because a great advisor does not want to devote valuable time to training a new person when they have their own customers to tend to and their own goals to meet. In 32 years, I have only seen two veteran advisors do this well and achieve outstanding results. In both instances, a strong financial incentive was offered by the dealer.

Manufacturer Training: Many, many dealerships and service departments use manufacturer training. While they do have good training in some areas, in the key areas of customer service and selling, they are severely lacking. Most dealerships only use it because it is required by their manufacturer. Most of those using these programs, find them ineffective and wholly missing the mark. This is mainly because the people creating the content and presenting it have never done the jobs they are teaching, and it shows. Since this is where the bulk of dealerships and service departments get their training, you only need to look at national numbers to learn how effective it is, or in this case, is not.

Vendor Training: This is another highly popular option. Nearly every vendor that walks through your front door with a service product will offer some type of service and service advisor training. A lot of this training is very good, but it falls short in going beyond showing your employees how to use or sell anything other than that particular vendor’s product or service. It does not provide an all-encompassing approach to training. If what they offer provides you with the tools to accomplish your goals, then this may be your solution. If not, you will likely need others to help.

Training Firms: Depending on how deep you want to go and how broad your needs are, this is usually your best option. It will also, most likely, require the largest investment. The reason training firms typically deliver the best results is simply because they have to. Their very survival depends on it. Since training is usually their only product, they will focus on nothing but training your team. They will address ALL the products and services you offer. They will be inclined to make the entire department better, not just certain parts of it. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that every training firm is equal because they clearly are not. You want a company that has content that has been developed and continues to be developed by those who successfully practice what they preach. Likewise, you want the trainers and installers to be highly skilled individuals who have successfully done the job that they will be asking you and your team to do. When looking at these firms, you should ask very specific questions and ensure that they can indeed deliver what you need. You may find one firm that can accomplish your objectives. However, you may require two or three different firms to handle the various disciplines and skills you want your team to embrace. It will also be better for you if the firm you hire has a customer service team of their own, so that they can handle any questions or concerns before, during, and especially after your trainer leaves and the training is fully implemented.

In the end, the direction you take should be decided by what you are trying to accomplish.  Any of these options could work if they can meet your expectations. Avoid looking at training as an expense. Look at it as an investment. An investment that will yield the results you seek. The proof is in the numbers. For example, let’s just consider one piece of your service team, the service advisor. A service advisor who can address 15 customers a day, will generate more gross income for your business, than a vehicle salesperson who delivers 25 vehicles in a month. This is accomplished by professionally trained advisors who know how to respond to and adjust to the daily challenges that customers present. These trained advisors have direct influence over your survey scores, customer satisfaction, and customer retention, yet they get less than 5% of the training you offer your vehicle salespeople. Investing in training for your service team is going to result in high returns on your money. You expect your employee’s commitment and dedication to your business and its mission. It is smart business for you to commit to their success by investing in the training tools they need to achieve that success. It’s no secret that you need to invest in your business to have it thrive and grow. Don’t overlook investing in training. It doesn’t matter what type of training you choose. Your needs and budget will dictate that. What I want you to understand is that you will not be successful, or sustain your success, without consistent training. It’s that easy and it’s that hard.

Source: What is the Best Way to Train Your Service Advisors?