Unhappy Technicians Are Bad for Business

There are many aspects involved in running a smooth and profitable business, and service is obviously a big part of any dealership’s success. What may not be obvious, however, is how impactful service technician satisfaction is and the overall effect it has on your bottom line. At Carlisle & Co., we recently surveyed 9,000 technicians from 15 major auto makers on their level of job satisfaction. We found that poor communication with service advisors and limited career advancement opportunities are resulting in unhappy technicians and inefficient workplaces. And the problem isn’t just limited to fewer smiles in the repair bay—unhappy technicians lead to higher costs, reduced capacity, and reduced customer satisfaction.

When selecting where to take a vehicle for service, car owners consider a number of factors, chief among which is the estimated wait time for a repair. When customers arrive at their dealership’s service department, this estimate is more often than not provided by a service advisor. These advisors, with expertise often grounded in sales, not repairs, often provide customers with inaccurate expectations of wait times. Whether due to poor communications or no communications between the service advisor and technician (an issue to be examined in Carlisle’s 2014 Technician/Service Advisor survey), this is a critical driver of customer dissatisfaction. Compounded by technicians’ complaint of unclear repair orders from service advisors, it’s not surprising that the industry struggles with providing clear customer expectations.

When we asked technicians about this communication issue, we found that 43 percent of repair orders require additional clarification from the service advisor, costing each technician 30 minutes per day of follow-up time. Taking a broader look at that figure, we can estimate that a typical dealership with 12 service technicians at $60/ hour, each losing 30 minutes a day, would result in approximately $90,000 in lost revenue per dealership, per year. The issue runs even deeper, as technicians also estimated that 1/3 of customers are given unrealistic waiting times by service advisors. As more customers continue to receive their vehicles later than the expected time, many are choosing to switch channels for their service repairs. And once customers leave the dealership channel, it is very difficult to get them to return.

To combat the decline in service retention, dealerships have started to offer high volume/low margin services such as 30-minute oil changes (Quicklube). These services bring in customers, but present dealers with the challenge of balancing labor costs with lower revenue. To solve this problem, dealerships are hiring entry-level technicians at a low cost, promising eventual progression to more complex services and higher-paid repairs. Unfortunately, that promise might be a difficult one to keep, and 80 percent of technicians across the industry reported that their dealerships do not have realistic Quicklube career progression paths. The result? Technicians are spending more time in Quicklube than promised and growing increasingly dissatisfied with their careers. Furthermore, these unhappy technicians aren’t just switching dealerships to find better opportunities, they’re leaving the automotive industry altogether.

Service technicians represent a critical link between service customer and their product satisfaction and repurchase loyalty. To increase sales in the service department and stem a loss of business to a rising tide of retail outlets, dealerships must take steps to improve technician satisfaction. Facilitating better communication between service technicians and advisors and implementing a trusted technician career progression path are two viable tactics for responsive managers. Until then, the pool of skilled technicians will continue to dwindle, and dealers and OEMs will find fewer qualified entry-level candidates willing to sign on for jobs with unpredictable opportunities for advancement. By improving the job satisfaction of technicians, dealerships and OEMs can also improve customer satisfaction and will see increased revenue through their service department. It’s just good business.

Harry Hollenberg, partner at Carlisle.

Harry Hollenberg


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