Aftermarket galaxy's future workers from Venus

Jan. 1, 2020
Our guest columnist discusses how to tap into the female employee's strengths.

Women are popping up in all kinds of different automotive fields. Is it because they are smarter? No, but it has been proven that they take their time when explaining a service to the customer. In a survey of 425 executives, women came out on top in 42 of 52 skills reviewed by Hagberg Consulting Group in Foster City, Calif.

They say women are natural conversationalists and great at developing rapport with their customers. This could be because our brains are just built that way. Men tend to be left-brained, which makes them better at mechanical activities, mathematical skills and reading road maps and blueprints. Women tend to be more right-brained, giving them good verbal abilities. They are more detail-oriented, have advanced language skills and are better at communicating in general.

In the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” it explains these differences in more detail. You may want to read it. Now, don’t get me wrong, all this doesn’t mean women are better than men, we just have different strengths to tap into. Each gender can complement the other in the workplace with their different skills.

In the automotive service business, all customers really want is for someone to be honest and knowledgeable when educating them on a particular service. A study conducted by National Oil and Lube News says that 62 percent of all customers in the lube business are females, making it essential for shops to cater to this growing marketplace.

And how exactly is this accomplished? Ask your female employees for pointers. As a female business owner myself, it was easier for me to pinpoint some of the things women want when visiting an automotive service center. Do you have a play table and toys for children? Our shops have found that if a child is happy when their mother is receiving automotive service, she would likely agree to additional services if and when they are needed.

Some lube shops also go out of their way to have clean facilities, including spotless bathrooms, magazines for both men and women, gourmet coffee and free soda. If you have a clean facility and well-dressed, courteous associates, you are more likely to attract female motorists and employees. For shops and retailers that don’t offer these things, they are the first step toward enticing the female population as prospective employees or customers.

The automotive service industry is not just a marketplace for men, and though most people are aware of this, in general, we are still behind in what we can do to attract the female employee.

Female customers enjoy frequenting an establishment run, managed or owned by a female for many reasons. In addition to convenience and timeliness, I have found that the female customer believes women are more honest and their establishments seem to be cleaner; they appreciate that “female touch.” Fresh flowers and pictures on the walls make a waiting room more pleasant. Women also feel at ease when they can better relate to the owner.

I also believe women are inclined to handle customer complaints better than their male counterparts. They can still be firm, but studies show women are perceived as better listeners, possibly because they use more nonverbal cues to show they are paying attention.

Many times, the customer just wants to express their concern or dislike. They will continue to return as a valued customer depending on how a problem is handled. Our facility had a situation recently where a man came in for an oil change. We advised him that his radiator needed antifreeze. He decided to go to a retailer to make the product purchase. About 30 minutes later he returned, with frustration, and told us it was our fault he had broken his hood release cable. He had pulled and pulled on the cable until it broke, but since it was a result of our advice, he wanted us to replace it.

Upon hearing of the situation, I immediately called his house. Since he was not home, I spoke to his wife and explained that with a vehicle logging more than 100,000 miles, the cable breaking was part of normal wear and tear, finally telling her we could not pay to replace it. Before I could finish, she clearly got excited and upset. I let her finish explaining and then took a few minutes to calm her down and said, “I think I can satisfy both of us. If your husband will pick up the cable, we will install the new one and everyone will be satisfied.”

She was ecstatic and said, “You really give great customer service.” A man may have handled this situation differently, maybe not speaking to the wife to begin with or not taking the time to explain what he would do.

Women are born nurturers — it’s in our blood. This is one of our key strengths that store and shop owners should tap into whenever they can. If you have a female employee, maybe it makes sense for her to handle customer service calls and questions. Maybe a stock girl will be useful on the floor of a retail store offering to help customers find what they are looking for.

In my shops, I like to have females employed, if possible, but it is not often that we find women who submit applications. Currently I have three females working for Xpress Lube in St. Louis.

Most automotive trade associations are finding that women have always been interested in this field, but felt it was only for men. Years ago, it was not uncommon to hear a man (or even a woman) say, “That’s a man’s job,” or “That’s woman’s work.” Our entire country is starting to look at roles differently. We see female pilots and first officers in our military, we see women working on road crews, serving as police officers and fire fighters.

So, as more and more women become owners and managers, they understand how much of an asset females are to their businesses and seek to hire qualified women.

One of the most knowledgeable and best female managers in the country, in my opinion, is Bev Cavinder in Indianapolis. I hold her in the highest regard. She runs several quick lubes and car washes, and it is not surprising to find on any given day when you frequent her business that all the workers are very competent females. It’s unfortunate that in this business most male customers and employees will first question her abilities. In a sense, she almost has to prove herself.

Bev’s team of women is given no special treatment because they are female. They do the same jobs and chores as any male employee. Many of them have been given scholarships to attend college by the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA).

Bev has been successful at bringing women onto her team. Have you? Look into local vocational programs to see if females are participating. If they aren’t, see what you can do to help promote more diversity. Offer female scholarships or free training programs.

There is a shortage of employees in this industry and all of these are excellent ways to find future counterstaff, technicians and managers. You could even suggest to female customers that you are looking for competent employees, male or female.

The Women’s Car Care Board is an organization made up of women in different aspects of the industry, from companies like Bridgestone/Firestone, Federal-Mogul Corp., the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), ACDelco, the Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS), Advanstar Automotive, Jiffy Lube International and more.

These females are at the top of the professional ladder for a reason and may offer you some advice or their thoughts on how to get more women in this business. These women, including myself, all felt confident enough to seek employment in a field that was once male dominated. So ask them what they think.

Knowledge is power, and we have to take the time to become knowledgeable or we will never succeed in understanding the benefits of being from Mars or Venus.