Happy Employees Make Happy Customers

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Merry Christmas to all! What a great year we have had in the quick maintenance industry. It seems all facets of our industry have celebrated one record or another this year. When I first started as a quick lube advisor with National Oil and Lube News, Jimmy Grant was the president of the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA). Grant said something that has proven itself more than once, especially this year, “This industry is huge, and there are plenty of cars for all of us.”

I have been fortunate to work with people from dealerships who have put in quick lubes for franchisees and even a few single or two-shop operators. Most have experienced an uptick in one way or another this year. For the first time in years, many operators are reporting increased car counts and ticket averages.

Speaking of dealerships, it looks like the new car dealerships will also finish the year with record-breaking sales of new vehicles. So far, Toyota leads the way, but most vehicle manufacturers are reporting banner years. Why is this important to those of us in the quick maintenance industry? Well, soon those new cars and trucks will need service. I hope you are seeing the door of opportunity opening for you. Servicing these new vehicles, as well as continuing to service our existing customers, takes people.

As has been discussed many times in this space, training our personnel is an ongoing task. The other day, I was in a shop when one of the technicians made a comment that reminded me continued training is fine and good, but at the end of the day, a very important cog in this training is creating an environment where people are happy.

More than once I have been asked to recommend some needed personnel adjustments within a shop because productivity is low, employee morale is low and there is a lack of teamwork. There are mounds of advice on how and what to train on. There is an equally large amount of material on who needs the most training and what to look for to ensure your technicians are receiving the training they need. What we do not spend enough time on is creating an atmosphere that creates happiness. So, in this season of cheer, let’s look at a very fundamental concept that is the real difference maker in a well-trained employee — a happy employee makes a happy customer.

OK, we have all experienced the results of what happens when you go into a business and the employees are happy. Sadly, we have also experienced what happens when they are not. I had my own experience last month while doing some training at one of our newest operators. In the evening, I found a local eatery that came recommended by the staff I was working with. I went in and was met by a very cheerful greeter who took me to my table. On the way through the restaurant, they made light and fun conversation with me. Soon the waiter came out and also was equally fun and enjoyable. During the course of my meal, he came by and checked on me. He was always professional, and it was obvious he enjoyed his job. Soon, my check came. I happily included a tip and left the place feeling good.

Now, I admit at the time I was not even thinking about the fact the employees were happy and, in turn, they made me happy until a few days later when I went back to the same restaurant. As soon as I walked in, an employee with a blank look on his face literally gave me a head nod as a greeting, grabbed a menu and started walking back into the restaurant. Soon, a waiter came by the table to ask me what I wanted to drink. When I ordered my drink, he never acknowledged anything, just walked off. When he brought my supper to me, he sat it on the edge of the table and briefly said, “If you need anything, let me know,” before walking off. He never returned until I finally asked for my ticket. I wasn’t as eager to leave a tip, but I did. In fact, I also noticed I had not ordered as much, so in turn, the tip wasn’t as high. When I noticed my ticket was less than before, I started to consider what happened. Same restaurant, same menu, same food, what was the difference? You got it — different employees with different attitudes.

My curiosity got the better of me, so I asked the head nodder if the manager was in. “Yeah, sure is,” was his answer. I asked if I could speak to him. “Yeah, gonna be a while ‘cause he is on break,” was his response. I said, “Never mind. By the way, do you rotate managers? He responded,“Yeah.” “Do you know if he was the manager on duty last Tuesday?” I asked. He said he could check the schedule, so I said I’d wait. He came back and said, “No, Marie was the manager on duty Tuesday.” Hmm, that was interesting, I thought. I told him to have a nice day and left.

I am not sure who said it, but I have heard it before, and I am repeating it now — happy employees make happy customers. I have read several reports over the years about this subject, and the one thing consistent in the reporting on happy employees — and, in return, happy customers — is the company culture. The owner and the managers set the company culture. This is not hard to believe. No one wants to work for a mean ol’ grouch who is a dream killer.

It is easy to understand, but it is more than that. A happy employee or an unhappy technician will get their cues from the owner or manager and behave accordingly. The attitude of the management will be the attitude of the shop.

Another way to have a happy employee is to provide good training. Good training will provide the employee the resources they need to perform the job successfully. Everyone wants to be successful, and good training will provide him or her the ability to succeed.

Another new catchphrase, but also an ingredient to a happy employee, is work/life balance. I had never heard of this until a few years ago, but it makes sense. Our employees want to have balance in their lives. The opportunity to have time off, or even breaks during the day, can help foster a happiness growth spurt with employees.

Recently, I spoke to an operator who had waged the no-cellphones-in-the-shop battle, but who had finally given in and now allows two 10-minute breaks he calls, “Facebook breaks.” According to him, the breaks have helped his employees stay connected to the outside world while maintaining the peace about cell phones in the workspace.

Another happy employee idea for our shops is as simple as having the right tools for the job. Over and over again when I talk to technicians they are frustrated because they do not have the right tools. It is interesting how technicians will interpret an owner who says they want a job done right and then tells them to make-do with the tools they have. What the owner is really saying is do a job mostly right. The right tools and equipment to work with is also a company culture issue. Shops that have and maintain the correct tools and equipment will have a lower car-comeback ratio than shops that do not have the correct tools. To ask an employee to do a job and then not give them the tools they need is a very mixed message for the technician.

So you may be saying, “Show me the money!” I have been stunned by this little fact. Overwhelmingly, when employees in every sector of business are asked about what makes them happy, rate of pay is always down the list. When owners and managers are asked what they can do to move the needle on the happiness gauge, they assume rate of pay is the biggest factor. Rate of pay is important, and if you want to have long-term employees, then obviously you will need to pay them accordingly; however, a pleasant environment with positive energy where an employee’s opinion and ideas are taken seriously will move the needle much more than money will.

A good and continuous training program and having the right tools and equipment constantly ranks higher in motivating an employee. When long-term employees have been asked about what keeps them in place, it is the life balance idea. Most long-term employees do not want to change their way of living. They like their routines and when approached by other potential employers do not want to change the balance they have.

What are you doing to have happy customers? I would suggest starting with your staff. A happy employee will produce happy customers. Merry Christmas!

RAGAN HOLT is the quick lube advisor for National Oil & Lube News. He is available for consulting and training in the quick oil and lube industry. He can be contacted at: ragan.holt@noln.net

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