Knowledgeable customers, environmental worries and financial pressures are putting renewed emphasis on the importance of training.
Staff who are made aware of the latest policies and procedures make a stronger team than those who receive no training at all.
And they are better able to meet the changing demands of consumers. A car’s green credentials appear to be more important than ever while the internet means people often have a mass of information about a vehicle even before reaching a showroom.
Experts in the sector believe everyone can benefit from furthering their knowledge. Contact Consulting’s MD Graham Stickland said: “I think people coast and get comfortable. There are new ways of looking at things.
“The reason training is so important now is that the industry in the future will undoubtedly need new and different skills.
Larger, consolidated retail points, tighter margins, increasingly aware customers, more and more women making purchasing decisions and environmental pressures all mean managers must move with the times.
Investment in tomorrow's leaders
“Businesses that invest now to create excellent managers will be better placed to respond to the demands of the future.”
Dealerships need to consider whether a manufacturer’s training covers their needs before outsourcing.
If trainers from outside the business are brought in, it is important to ascertain exactly what they will do and when your business is likely to see a return on its investment.
Adrian Brabazon, Castrol franchise workshop marketing manager UK and Ireland, believes the first question to ask about training is how relevant the course will be to the participant and the business.
Consider whether it is for a specific role. If it covers general subjects, there is a danger attendees may find it less useful or applicable to their job.
Brabazon said: “If a service adviser is particularly good at handling negative customer situations, for example, but has difficulty upselling additional products or services, it makes sense to send them on a specific sales training course, rather than a generic one.
Line managers should also establish an action plan for staff on their return from the course, to ensure skills learnt are fully implemented.”
Another dilemma facing dealerships is who to train, as it can be expensive and time consuming to include everyone.
Brabazon’s opinion is to train all staff and keep people on a process of continuous development so they feel valued and motivated.
He said: “Research carried out by Castrol has shown that the less training an individual receives, the lower their job satisfaction.
Temptation to cut training budgets
While in the current economic climate it may be tempting to reduce or cut training budgets, this short-sighted approach will leave staff and the business ill-prepared for the upturn, when it comes, leaving the door wide open for more proactive competitors to steal a march when things improve.
However, Brabazon warns dealerships to spend their training budgets carefully during the recession. Spending is often allocated according to how much revenue each department generates. In most cases, this will probably be aftersales.
Brabazon said: “Within aftersales and the wider dealership, service advisers play a key role.
“Castrol Professional research shows they typically receive the least training of all dealership staff, with most receiving fewer than the industry-recommended minimum of five days training per year.”
Consistency in training
Simon Bowkett, managing director of Symco Training, says the key rule to well trained staff is consistency.
Too often people attend courses but do not receive follow-ups and quickly forget what they have been taught.
Bowkett said: “Any training needs to be consistent. We explain it by telling people to think of the England Rugby team.
They won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and think they are the best. They are for that moment in time, but need to train to stay the best.”
Train managers first
Bowkett said training managers first is important because they can hand knowledge down.
Stickland agreed, adding leaders must set the tone of the training and make it clear what is expected.
He said: “The most fundamental people to train are line managers and people with responsibility for the daily and monthly performance of staff.
“Line managers have often arrived in their posts because they were excellent performers in their individual roles, but this does not necessarily make them good managers.”
Last year Vertu Motors chief executive Robert Forrester led by example by becoming one of the first to complete a new training programme devised for his employees in partnership with Kream Automotive Training.
Forrester was joined by all directors and general managers in training on the best methods and effective practices for vehicle sales. Only once the senior team had been through the programme were the sales managers, business managers and sales executives put through.