Tech of the Year: Tamara Utley of The Lube Center, Lanham, Md.
When Tamara Utley started work at The Lube Center’s store in Lanham, she immediately began looking to that next level.
Utley was already an experienced technician, having worked in quick lubes for nearly 10 years when she came to The Lube Center in 2018.
“I came in as a shop technician,” she says. “Learned the ropes. Learned how to do it the WLR way.”
She’s referring to the company, WLR Automotive Group, which is based in Maryland and runs multiple locations of The Lube Center, as well as other automotive services. In short order, Utley showed her value to the company and hopped on a quick track of success. She’s now the assistant manager, but that’s no office gig. She’s still on the front lines, helping customers and servicing vehicles.
In Utley, the Lanham shop has an enthusiastic tech who works toward professional improvement as a part of her service to customers. In short: The better she can be, the better the whole organization will be.
“One main thing: You’ve always got to learn,” Utley says. “Because once you stop learning, you hurt that muscle that’s up there in that brain.”
According to those who nominated Utley for this year’s award, she has become a shop leader and teacher while still working hard as a tech and excelling at customer service. As Utley’s manager put it, she just has a way about her that makes customers return.
That’s what makes a great tech, and that’s why Utley is NOLN’s Technician of the Year.
Utley’s Success Track
August 2018: Started as a top technician
January 2019: Attended “The Art of the Customer Experience” training class
June 2019: Completed Management Job Description Training Program
June 2019: Promoted to Supervisor
January 2020: Promoted to Assistant Manager
2019-2020: Attended seven courses at Frederick Community College: “Managing for Success Leadership Program”
Utley was quick to jump into opportunities that put her on a successful path at The Lube Center. Vincent Jones, the manager at the Lanham store, says that Utley was highly motivated right out the gate.
“When I first interviewed, she already knew what she wanted to do and how she wanted to move up and how long it would take her,” Jones says.
Not six months after starting, she enrolled in job description training classes that emphasized good customer service and managerial skills to add to her technician acumen.
“It’s a leadership class,” Utley says. “We learn how to work with customers, learn how to run a WLR, learn how to deal with technicians. It’s a whole lot.”
Utley started supervising shortly after, and in January 2020, she was promoted to assistant manager when a position opened up. And she kept attending professional education courses after that.
A big part of Utley’s success is how her attitude and work ethic combine personal and professional work. She worked her way into the assistant manager position. When she got there, she worked on being a role model for the team.
“Coming from a technician to an assistant manager, you have to draw a line,” Utley says. “I have to be the one standing out.”
Utley says that her manager, Jones, has been a great leader for her. She says that Jones has shown her the ropes according to the WLR system, and they’ve developed a good rapport.
From Jones’ perspective, it’s Utley who’s stepping up to the leadership role. One of the ways she does that is demonstrating the right process.
“She leads by example,” Jones says. “If you want anybody else to be here on time, she does that.”
Punctuality is just the beginning. While Utley continues to work as a tech in the shop, she’s now overseeing the crew of seven other techs as they go about their business and getting new techs up to speed. So while she’s working with customers and doing her own job, she’s also checking in with other techs and sharing her skills.
All the while, she’s on the front lines of customer service in the bay. Jones says that her work is at the same level, whether she’s on car No. 3 that day or on car No. 50.
Utley says she just keeps it all in perspective.
“You got to want to do it. You’ve got to be consistent. Consistency is the key,” she says. “I know every day is not the same, but you’ve got to do it every day.”
Consistency is indeed a huge part of any quick lube process. If a tech starts to get into an autopilot mode, they might forget steps that are repetitive but crucial to success.
Jones says that Utley displays consistency in the service process, but also with customers. That means that each customer gets the same experience, no matter what’s happened before. Jones says that Utley has a great ability to reset after a poor customer experience, making sure that the next person is greeted promptly and politely.
“She's able to do that,” Jones says. “And a lot of technicians, it would ruin their whole day.”
Consistency in sales is just as important as the service itself. Jones says that Utley is great at explaining exactly what their dollars pay for when they come into the shop. That’s huge not only when there’s a dispute over the price, but it also displays the shop’s hard work for the customer.
Jones talked about a referral domino effect that can happen as the result of consistent, explanatory customer service.
“Sort of like the old days when they remember your name,” he says. “When they leave, they know they had an experience with Tamara. And they come back looking for her.”
In an interview with NOLN, Jones said that it will be a sad day when Utley is promoted again and leaves the store for another opportunity with WLR. Utley could be heard laughing in the background of the call, and the mutual support was clear, even through the telephone.
Those are qualities that any manager would love to see in a technician. Whether it’s customer service, personal growth or professional success, the consistency and drive is the foundation.
“As a tech becomes a leader, you’ve got to keep going like you did as a technician,” she says. “That’s what I’ve been doing, even as a tech. I just kept going, kept going.”