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Soft skills bring benefits to business

Dealers coming out of a recession will have a renewed focus on keeping costs to a minimum and training is often one area which is the first to get trimmed back.

Measuring return investment from sending out staff is often difficult to calculate and can sometimes put senior management off when the training question is raised within the business.

Franco Boscarelli, accreditation development manager for Institute of the Motoring Industry (IMI,) is responsible for developing and growing the voluntary ATA and AMA accreditations.

Training and accreditation are often more focused on the technical side of things, but the IMI is now developing more accreditation guidelines that are looking at soft skills.
The IMI is now launching a level 3 senior customer service adviser accreditation ATA which highlights potential management material within the dealership, in whatever department they may be in.

Boscarelli said: “These are managers of the future and they might not be recognised for it on their business card yet, but the level 3 shows they have the potential to run a business one day. It’s a way of looking at employees within the business and giving them recognition for what they do and what they can become.”

“It works well because it’s achievable to get the accreditation in one day, so from a down time perspective it’s good for dealer principals that want employees out of the dealership for as little time as possible.”

Level 3 takes one day to complete and focuses on a series of tough written, verbal and role play scenarios which applicants are then marked on.
It involves problems and questions that engage empathy skills and the ability to develop relationships.

Short-term gain, long-term pain

Soft skills help staff focus their ability to get into the mind of the customer and to look at medium and long-term gains rather than short-term wins.

Boscarelli said: “There needs to be more medium to long-term views for objectives in this industry. Everything tends to be very much for the short- term gain.”

Dealers should look at balancing the desire to sell with the need to keep the customer coming back. One way could be to link incentives to gathering con-tact details and developing customer relationships, rather than being linked just to the immediate sale.

Boscarelli said: “From personal experience, management can often be the root cause of the problem because they have not come from a background which accepts training.
“Managers have been brought up to see it only as downtime. There’s also a fear element that people who go on these courses will then be highlighting further problems with the business. The don’t see it as a development opportunity.”

Nigel Head, Castrol franchised workshop and OEM marketing manager for the UK and Ireland, said it was imperative staff receive sufficient soft skills training so they are able to upsell profit-generating sales items.

He said: “If the sales process is carried out effectively by explaining the benefits and risks, customers are generally receptive.
“Soft skills training will also enable staff to identify how to tailor their sales approach to each individual customer by focusing on the factors most important to them.”

Learning and development

John Grose Group has 370 employees and believes training is essential throughout the motor retail sector.

Ian Twinley, chairman at John Grose Group, said: “Generally, people who have joined the sector tend to have limited business knowledge and skills at a young age so we have to provide a long-term and robust learning and development programme. This is required across all disciplines, not just in the non-management roles.

“This ethos in turn then needs to be promoted internally in the sector which comes with management and leadership skills.”

Areas requiring the most focus at John Grose are IT skills and time management.
A characteristic of motor retailing is the promotion of staff into management, rather than importing it from outside the business.

Twinley said: “We reward the best sales person, technician or administrator with promotion to a supervisory role, but often they only have 20-30% of the skills they need to manage.

“There is a considerable list of skills new middle managers need to be taught: communication, organisation, motivation, writing to customers, financial accounting, diagnoses of progress improvement and housekeeping.

“Twenty years ago there used to be spare labour in a dealership across which the responsibilities could be shared. We probably employed twice as many people as now. The change has made us need to be much better time managers to cope with a diverse portfolio of work. Decisiveness is a key attribute.”

Results are measured through a series of KPIs and employee surveys. And for six years John Grose has held the Investors in People accreditation.

Much of the training is carried out in-house. A culture of managers as trainers is encouraged to ensure skills and the company culture is passed down to new managers.
Twinley said: “Gone are the days when managers were remote and dictatorial. They have a responsibility for the wellbeing of their staff. Assessment is made through 360-degree appraisals, employee feedback and the Investors in People accreditation.”

For customer-facing staff, Twinley said, much could be learned from the hotel industry: “Service reception staff would typically get by with a degree of technical expertise. Now the best qualification would be a diploma in reception or front office operations. Hotel receptionists know how to create empathy, relationships and trust.

“If a service receptionist can do that in the first 15 minutes they meet a customer, it is much easier to call them while their car is being serviced to highlight additional work that needs doing. Walking a customer to their courtesy car can make the difference too.”

Return on investment

For dealers that are now looking to renew their accreditations from the IMI, a lot are now asking for a way of measuring the return they will get.

Boscarelli said: “When it comes to development of staff, measuring and monitoring is key to looking at performance and how it’s improving, whether that’s a rise in CSI or higher profits.

“It’s never going to be an exact science, but what we’re trying to do now is get information fed back to us through the employees that have been accredited so the performance can be measured.
“It’s much easier to justify investing
in an accreditation if you can put a figure against that saying ‘it increases CSI by 70%’.


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