Recognize your customers' best friend

   
By; Joe De Marco
Rapair, Inc./CDI Electronics

   0nce a sale is made, most boat owners spend more time with the service technician than anyone else at the dealership. In many cases, the relationship forged between the boat owner and the technician strongly influences whether the customer remains a happy boater, or leaves the industry altogether.

Finally realizing the importance of the service department, the marine industry is rightly rethinking its approach to this side of the business. However, the industry as a whole must bring additional education and training to technicians to maintain customer satisfaction.

More often than not, it's the technician who, over the years, teaches customers to care for their boats. Owners learn by experience to trust the technician's advice. And as long as the technician can maintain a trusting relationship with the boat owner, chances are the boater will consider buying another vessel or engine from the dealership.

On the other hand, customers who are not satisfied with the treatment and service they receive may consider shopping elsewhere for their next purchase. If that happens, we, as an industry, can only hope those next purchases are boats, not motor homes. Talented technicians are vital to the success of the marine industry. Any time someone puts a wrench on a marine engine, it reflects the entire industry. Until we fully embrace this reality, we will continue to struggle with lackluster industry growth.

Make professional training a priority

Once a relationship is developed between a boat owner and a technician, the boater will typically go out of his or her way to have the vessel serviced by this particular person. Yet, for a number of reasons, there are instances when a technician, through no fault of his own, won't know enough about a product to Provide a high-level of service.

Keeping technicians up-to-date about new technology is critical if we expect to maintain our customer base. This is why education must be an industry priority. A good technician who wants to improve should be sent to school at the dealership's expense. I have personally talked to technicians who went to technical training programs far from home at their own expense. Why should they be dedicated to their employer if they are not appreciated? If you have a dedicated technician in the shop who is interested in improving his skills, make the investment.

You can't operate a successful dealership with a Poor service department.

Several manufacturers are realizing that many of their engines and vessels are being serviced by non-authorized technicians. The performance of one technician reflects directly on the manufacturer, and if the technician is not Privy to service bulletins on a particular engine, the results can be devastating. If the engine does not operate, the customer probably won't blame the trusted marine technician, but will blame the engine manufacturer for producing a poor product.

Other kinds of professional training may be in order, as well. Many successful dealerships have long given up trying to isolate their technicians from customers in the name of increased productivity. Certainly there is a balance to maintain, but allowing the technician to quickly brief the customer may yield big benefits. If you have a sharp tech who lacks communication skills, provide him with some professional training and mentoring. If it appears he still does not work well with the customer, then by all means, insulate him. In most cases, however, many technicians do an excellent job with the customer if given the opportunity.

It never surprises me to hear dealers say, "I can't get any good technicians to stay with my dealership." If you think about it, why should they? In many cases the technician is overworked during the season, laid off during the off-season, given minimal benefits, asked to be available as soon as the season starts, asked to be loyal to the dealership but the dealership doesn't want to pay very well.

We should reward dedicated technicians who are making a difference in our industry. Shouldn't they be given salaries and benefits that reflect their contribution? Without an industry-wide change of attitude, we will continue to see turnover in our service departments, and our customers won't be far behind.

Technical workshops are not hard to find. Training is available at the National Marine Service Expo (NMSE) in Orlando every January, presented by the Association of Marine Technicians (AMTECH), a non-profit organization. The association's Web site, www.am-tech.org, features a chat room where questions can be posted and answered by colleagues. The association has assembled a trouble-shooting committee made up of industry professionals who can assist with problems or answer questions on anything from hydraulics to hi-performance, and everything in-between. AMTECH membership is open to all marine service technicians, companies, schools, organizations, and individuals involved with the industry.

 For more information on the association and the National Marine Service Expo, contact AMTECH toll-free at: 800/ 467-0982, or e-mail: jdemarco@am-tech.org.


Joe De Marco is vice president and co-owner of Rapair, Inc. /CDI Electronics. He is the current president of AMTECH. He founded the marine industry's first Technical Seminar Program in 1988, which has evolved into the current National Marine Service Expo.