Wednesday, 26 August 2015 18:44

‘MSO Symposium’ Panels at NACE Offer Ideas on Human Resources, Customer Satisfaction

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Attracting, training and retaining quality employees was among the topics tackled at this year’s NACE “MSO Symposium,” a half-day event in Detroit in July that focused on the needs of multiple shop operators (MSOs), as well as those who aspire to become an MSO.

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During one panel discussion at the event, for example, Max Sorensen of Minnesota-based ABRA Auto Body & Glass explained how his company has a 300-module “learning management system” that covers subjects ranging from how to greet a customer coming into the shop to preparing final billing of an insurer. Employees can use the system to learn new skills, or use the system as a “refresher” when they have questions.

Darrell Amberson of LaMettry’s Collision, an MSO in the Minneapolis,  MN, area, moderated the panel discussion, and said that while large MSOs like ABRA can have staff devoted to employee training and development, his company is not that large.

“So we’re looking at developing a training department using some resident experts to help train some of other people,” Amberson said. That in-house training will become part of a formalized career path the company is developing to offer to entry-level employees.

“Knowledge is a company assets, but knowledge has a shorter and shorter shelf-life,” panelist Jeff Peevy of the Automotive Management Institute said, emphasizing the need to hire those who will seek out continued training. “But learning is the cure for that. The willingness and capability to learn is the only true source of a sustainable competitive advantage.”

Brandon Eckenrode of the Collision Repair Education Foundation said that organization is doing several things to help attract more people to careers in the industry. The Foundation is involved with the national association of school guidance counselors, for example, to help educate them about careers in the industry. The Foundation is developing a national job board, and is launching a series of career fairs across the country to help students and shops connect. The Foundation is also working to attract military veterans to training in the industry and to educate employers about veterans’ benefits that can help those vets transition to careers in the industry.

Several panelists said requiring entry-level employees to spend several weeks as a porter or detailer at a shop helps the employee get a feel for the business and the shop get a sense of the employee’s chances for success.

“You get a good feel about whether they have a good attitude, do they show up on time, that kind of stuff,” Kevin Burnett, vide president of operations for Gerber Collision & Glass, one of the largest MSOs in North America, said.

That can prevent both the shop and the employee from make an larger investment in training, etc., before they know if it’s a good fit for both, panelists said.
      
Entry-level pay an issue   

But Eckenrode also said the industry needs to address that fact that its entry-level wages often aren’t always competitive with those in other trades. That’s allowing other technical training programs and trades to attract students away from collision repair. He said the Foundation is working to help collision repair training programs understand the need to focus students on fewer skills – the skills that will help the students be more immediately productive in shops.

“We’re going to do a better job of helping to instruct these school educators to not teach a mile wide and an inch deep,” Eckenrode said.

Another panel during this year’s MSO Symposium focused on the use of customer satisfaction measurement to help manage MSOs.

Jason Bertellotti of Mitchell International, said some of the highest customer satisfaction he sees are at shops that offer employee incentives based on customer feedback. One such company, he said, uses formalized customer follow-up interviews, but also asks customers before they leave the shop to fill out a card asking for one thing they truly enjoyed about the process. Anytime a customer mentions an employee by name on that card, that is shared with all the staff at daily meetings, and the employee receives some sort of incentive.

“It’s all about creating the culture by talking about the customers’ experience, not pressuring the customer to give you a ’10,’” Bertellotti said.

Dean Fisher, a CARSTAR franchisee and leader of the MSOs field service team agreed that pushing a customer to give you a high CSI rating – something he experienced when he recently purchased a new car – is less effective than just focusing on the customer experience.

“You don’t sell CSI. You do CSI,” Fisher said.

Bertellotti agreed. Attempting to “manage the score” only communicates to your staff that it’s the score itself, and not your customer’s experience, that you care about. He recommends taking a step back, almost as a secret shopper, to see and hear what your customers are seeing and hearing.

“See how you would perceive that, from the minute they drive on the lot, what it looks like,” he said. “All the way through how they are greeted, how they are talked to, whether they are given some empathy during the process and so forth.”How to stay in contactDo customers prefer regular contact – including customer satisfaction indexing – by text, email or phone? Not surprisingly, the panelists said 'it varies.'

David Kulkis, business development director for ABRA Auto Body & Glass, said he still believe phone calls are the best way to keep customers updated. Such calls give you an opportunity for a personal touch and to convey empathy, he said. Electronic communication can augment that, he said, and there are some customers who just don’t want the phone calls.

That’s why it’s important to ask customers about their preference, Fisher agreed, because automated texting or email may even be alienating some of your customers.

“We find that younger customers prefer texting and email is great for them,” he said. “But there’s at least 40 percent of your clientele who want a phone call. They still want to communicate with you regularly that way.”

Bertellotti agreed that a hybrid strategy is best, particularly when it comes to follow-up customer satisfaction indexing.

“There’s a very high self-selection bias in email or any sort of electronic survey,” Bertellotti said. “People who are unhappy or extremely happy typically will take it – and always more of the extremely unhappy. So you self-select downward. The results are usually lower than they would be on the phone, and you miss all of the quality data in the middle. You never get their feedback and never know what’s important to them.”    

John Yoswick, a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988, is also the editor of the weekly CRASH Network (for a free 4-week trial subscription, visit www.CrashNetwork.com). He can be contacted by email at jyoswick@SpiritOne.com.

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