Human Resources Columnists

Cropper: No Body Shop Experience? No Problem

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It’s not uncommon for folks to consider themselves collision repair industry “lifers.”

You know the types—maybe you are one—shop owners who learned the business watching over their father’s shoulder as a kid, technicians whose first job was sweeping the floor, folks who couldn’t stop thinking about cars so they made it their career.

There’s good reason that so many of us have devoted our lives to this. It’s needed, fulfilling, and an ongoing challenge as vehicles become more complex and the procedures to repair them follow with increasing complexity. You can really build something, build a business, grow as a person and leader.

Sometimes, it can feel like you’re either on the inside, or on the outside, though this past year, with all its extraordinary happenings has begun to tilt my perspective, especially when it comes to who to hire.

Better Customer Service

Tourism is a huge part of the Alaskan economy, so with the shutdowns and slowdowns and lockdowns of the last year, that sector has struggled mightily. And, unfortunately, like so many other places, the local restaurant scene here in Anchorage has suffered too.

What that’s meant for my shops is that I’ve hired more restaurant people—hosts, servers, bartenders and so on—in the past 12 months than I have the rest of my life. 

It’s been stunning how many people from other industries outside collision repair have been approaching us for jobs—in a time full of changes it’s been one of the biggest I’ve seen.  Lots of these people thought they’d be lifers in their industry—sound familiar?—but due to these tough times they’ve been forced to move on.

It might seem strange to say there’s a sliver of opportunity in this for other business owners, but it’s true. These out-of-work tourism folks, these former waiters and bartenders, I think they know customer service better than others.

Skills Translate

I recently hired two young women who’d worked in tourism their entire careers, and they say they’ll never go back.   

It’s been a good reminder of something us collision repair lifers can sometimes lose sight of: You don’t have to hire people with experience in the body shop world.

Take these two young women as an example. They used to spend all day on the phone booking reservations and solving problems. Sound familiar? It made for a much smoother transition to the body shop world than I’d expected, but if you know how to work the phone, you can work it anywhere. 

It really solidified the fact we can hire great people with a skill set that is customer related.

Good Under Pressure

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to seek out employees with customer service-oriented backgrounds. A couple decades experience repairing cars is great for the shop floor, but it’s not a sure thing it does much in the front office when dealing with customers who need comfort and help.

Take a bank teller, for instance—that person’s job, day in and day out, is (or was, for now) face-to-face helping people, solving customers’ problems.  
Or what about someone who worked at Disney World? They’re working under intense pressure—this might be a vacation that someone’s been saving for for years—and they’re expected to do their job without breaking a sweat, all the while with a smile on their face.

With a little training, these folks can handle the phone in your body shop. After all, most folks aren’t looking for in-depth details about their repair. They want to know when their car will be ready, they want trust and empathy.

It’s not hard to find people who can give that experience.   

Turning the Page

There’s something else to consider, too. At some point, the number of people vaccinated will be enough to put this pandemic to bed, and it’s hard not to think that business will be back to normal—or booming—once society gets moving again.

So if you’ve laid-off or reduced your staff, now could be the time to start looking around at gaps you’ll eventually need to fill. 

There are folks out there who’ve worked in other industries who have valuable experience. It’s always good to remember you don’t have to pass them over just because they’re not collision repair lifers, too. 

In fact, they could be just who you’re looking for.
 

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