The good and the great

In the first in a series of articles, Ian Gillgrass shows how following the diagnostic process can turn a good technician into a great technician

Published:  17 February, 2018

Being part of Top Technician for the last few years, I have seen many technicians succeed and develop new skills. Typically all are good rounded technicians and have great knowledge, but what makes the difference and makes the good into the great?
    
It’s not just that they are lucky. The difference is that a great diagnostic technician will have a well-defined diagnostic process (or procedure) that they stick to every time.

Process
Some technicians start their diagnostic procedure with a well laid-out and defined process that they have normally learnt, often from training courses. As with any new process, it starts slowly as theory is put into practice until it becomes natural.
    
Many technicians typically revert ‘back to type’ during the early stages, as their older method seems to make the diagnostic process shorter. As a result they believe it could make them more money. Yes, in the short term they may be right. However, normally in the longer term a well-defined diagnostic process proves to be infallible especially when the fault is difficult to diagnose or a vehicle that has been to several garages and the fault is still apparent.
    
Many technicians also try to shortcut the process, taking out some of the steps that don’t seem to help in finding the answer. Sometimes a simple fault is made more complex by the technician overlooking the obvious in the second or third step, jumping from step one to step four because that’s where they feel comfortable. In this series of articles I’ll be covering the 10 steps that make up a well-planned, well organised, tried and tested diagnostic process. Use the process and refine it within your business, it works.
    
Many businesses use a similar structured process and base their estimating/costing model on it
as well.

Meaning
Let’s start at the beginning, with the meaning of diagnosis. Most technicians will look at the word and think it only relates to a computer controlled system and they have to use a fault code/scan tool to be able to diagnose a fault. This is not the case. Diagnosis can relate to any fault, whether that is electrical or mechanical. Therefore, the diagnosis can relate to an electronic fault by the malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) indicating a fault exists or a mechanical fault that exists within a clutch operating system.
    
The meaning of diagnosis is: ‘The identification of a fault by the examination of symptoms and signs and by other investigations to enable a conclusion to be reached.’
    
Or alternatively: ‘Through the analysis of facts of the fault, to gain an understanding which leads to
a conclusion.’
    
Both can relate to various professions.
    
With this in mind, what have celebrity chef Paul Hollywood, your doctor, the green keeper at the local golf course and a automotive technician all  got in common?
    
They all use a diagnostic process within their profession. Paul Hollywood is often seen as a judge within baking competitions. He uses his experience and process to perform a diagnosis on why a bread is not cooked correctly.
    
Meanwhile, a doctor uses a diagnostic process to find an illness. A green keeper uses a diagnostic process to determine why the grass does not grow as green as it should, while a automotive technician performs a diagnostic process to find the fault on a vehicle.

Let’s begin to go through the steps of the diagnostic process.

Step 1: Customer questioning

Being able to question the driver of the vehicle of the fault is always a very important part of the diagnostic process. Using a well-structured and documented series of questions can determine how the fault should be approached. Many experienced technicians do this part very well, but when a business becomes bigger, the customer’s information on a fault can get lost  when passed between the receptionist and the workshop.
    
A document can be developed to perform this task, and is often the solution here.
    
A customer has often seen a ‘warning lamp’ on the dash. They can only remember that it was an amber colour and it looked like a steering wheel. The document shown has a variety of warning light symbols that they can simply highlight to let the technician know of the MIL symbol and in the circumstances that the fault occurs (driving uphill around a right-hand bend etc).
    
Much of the diagnostic process is about building a picture before the vehicle is worked on. Trying to fix the fault by jumping to step 4 or step 5 can often neglect what the customer has to say. One of the last steps in the diagnostic process is to confirm that the fault has been correctly repaired and will not occur again (‘first time fix’). How can the fix be successfully tested if the circumstances where  the fault occurred are not replicated during the final stages of the process?
    
The MIL illuminating again (recurring fault) when the vehicle is driven by the customer is not always as easy to fix a second time, as you need to fix the vehicle fault as well as fix the customer, who has been forced to return.

Step 2: Confirm the fault
Some technicians just seem to take the fault highlighted as by the job card (or similar document) and diagnose the fault without first confirming, which can take some time to complete. This step might involve a road test to confirm that the fault exists. The apparent fault may be just a characteristic of the vehicle or the receptionist/customer may have explained the fault to be on the other side of the vehicle.
    
Therefore, it is imperative that the technician confirms that the fault exists and the situation that the
fault exists within, all providing additional information on building
the picture before actually working
on the vehicle.

Step 3: Know the system and its function
In order to fix a vehicle fault(s) a technician will first need to understand how the system works. If a technician doesn’t know how the system works how can they fix it?
    
Don’t be shy or foolish and indicate that a technician knows everything (even on a specific manufacturer brand). Every technician sometimes needs to either carry out new system training or just have a reminder on how a system works.  
    
With all the systems now fitted to a vehicle, it’s not surprising that a technician cannot remember every system and its function especially to a specific vehicle manufacturer or the model within the range. A technician may just need to remind themselves on the system operation or fully research the vehicle system.
    
Most vehicle manufacturers will provide information on how a particular system works and how that system integrates (if applicable) with other systems of the vehicle. Spending some time researching the system can pay dividends in terms of time spent diagnosing the system and it is also educational. System functionality can often be learnt from attending training courses but if these are not available the information can be sourced from various other sources such as websites.
    
External training courses can provide additional benefits especially discovering how a system operates and understanding its functionality and how the various components work. They will also allow the technician to focus on the specific system without the distraction of customers or colleagues.
    
Once the system is thoroughly understood, the technician may be able to make some judgements as which components are ok and those which may be faulty and affect the system operation.

Refine
Just to recap on the three diagnosis steps covered in this article, these were:
Step 1: Customer questioning
Step 2: Confirm the fault
Step 3: Know the system and its function

Remember to follow the process and don’t try to short circuit it. Some steps my take longer to accomplish than others and some may be outside of your control (it may be necessary to educate others). Practice, practice, practice. Refine the process to fit in with your business and its practices, align your estimating/cost model to the process to be able to charge effectively.

Next steps
In the next article I will be looking at the next four steps which are seen to be:
Step 4: Gather evidence    
Step 5: Analyse the evidence
Step 6: Plan the test routine
Step 7: System testing

The last article in this series will indicate the final three steps and how to fit them all together in order to become a great technician and perhaps win Top Technician or Top Garage in 2018. Go to www.toptechnicianonline.co.uk to enter this year’s competition. The first round is open until the end of February 2018.
    
Every entry is anonymous so have a go!

Related Articles

  • Future-proofed: Training technicians for the long-term  

    While experience in the day-to-day activities of a workshop is vital in building a technician’s knowledge and skills, it is only one piece of the puzzle. For example, a technician who has been servicing solely petrol and diesel vehicles for the past 15 years will unlikely be able to help a customer with a hybrid or electric vehicle. What’s more, given the safety concerns involved, it would be dangerous for them to try. What about servicing the latest safety-critical systems, like ADAS? Certainly not a worthwhile risk without the appropriate knowledge or equipment.

    Systematic training in new technologies is, therefore, the best way to ensure a workshop will continue to successfully serve aftermarket customers, even in times of rapid change.

    “The Auto Education Academy portal from Euro Car Parts brings IMI-approved online and practical courses together with a database of over 500,000 resolved technical queries, with an average of 600 new repairs added daily,” observed Adam White, Workshop Solutions Director at Euro Car Parts. “It provides technicians with one of the largest technical training and knowledge resources in the independent aftermarket.”

    “Training is an integral part of ongoing success in this industry,” continued Adam. “It allows technicians to further their career and workshop owners to develop a highly-skilled team of professionals.”

    While many would agree to education’s importance in principle, it can be difficult to carry out a training plan and accept lost revenue in the short-term. Online learning can provide the flexibility to bridge that gap.

    “Repairers can login to their own skills portal to view the content of more than 75 different courses, registering and booking their place on training workshops all over the country at the click of a button,” said Adam. “They can also assess their strengths and identify weaknesses in nine key areas: Petrol engines, diesel engines, engine management and emissions, vehicle electronics, hybrid and electric cars, brakes, powertrain, tyres, steering and suspension, as well as air-conditioning.

    “Results are automatically added to an interactive skills diagram, illustrating a repairer’s current skillset and enabling them to set their own training and development targets. Where gaps exist, the learner management system intuitively recommends Auto Education courses that can help increase knowledge in those areas.”

    Invaluable
    “The platform has been designed so that anybody can complete a skills overview,” pointed out Adam. “This makes the tool invaluable to workshop managers looking to monitor staff skillsets or test potential hires. Our new learning portal represents a significant investment by Euro Car Parts in helping to nurture the knowledge and skills of technicians across the country.
    “As with any profession, it is important for technicians to continue professional development throughout their career. It is also the role of managers to identify gaps in their team and commit staff to training that will address shortcomings in the workshop’s capabilities. For more immediate solutions, the programme features a technical helpline that provides fast responses to troubleshooting, repair, diagnostics and technical information queries on any vehicle, from any manufacturer.”
    Adam concluded: “For those with an eagerness to learn and evolve, it is an exciting era for the independent aftermarket. “We consider the success of technicians and independent workshops as the foundation of our industry and believe nothing plays a greater role, or makes more of an impact, than education.”

  • Top Technician/Top Garage 2018 launches 

    Top Technician is coming back for 2018, and is bringing a new competition with it; Top Garage. This all-new related contest will enable whole businesses to compete to find out who is the ‘Top.’

  • Diagnostic Thermal Imager Elite From Snap-on 

    The new Diagnostic Thermal Imager Elite from Snap-on uses infrared technology to reveal heat caused by friction, electrical resistance, pressure changes and more. It delivers detailed images composed of 4,800 distinct temperature zones, making extreme temperatures up to 448ºC visible anywhere under the bonnet or around the car. It also comes with a database of automotive applications, guided tests and reference images to help technicians interpret results, putting a more accurate diagnosis and productivity in clear view, on every job. When connected to Wi-Fi, every image captured with the Diagnostic Thermal Imager Elite is automatically uploaded to the new Snap-on Cloud service. Technicians can then access the images from their phone or computer whenever they need them, helping to make the next diagnosis and repair faster and more accurate.
    diagnostics.snapon.co.uk/DTI-Elite

  • DVSA publishes new ‘Manage your MOT centre’ guide 

    The DVSA has published new, clearer guidance on how they want to see MOT stations run that puts all relevant information in one place.

  • Diamonds in the database  

    One of the biggest mistakes I regularly see within the aftersales garage sector is the constant advertising specifically in local press with ‘come and get me offers’ in order to attract new business. Most of these are by already established business.  
        
    Whether they are large or small, they will rarely measure the actual effectiveness of such campaigns, or analyse the type of customers they are attracting. Indeed very few of these businesses actually understand the ‘diamonds’ that already exist within their database.   
        
    Too little thought is given to how an existing customer may feel if he or she saw a deal that had never been offered to them, despite the fact that they have been loyal customers over a number of years. This could be a real kick in the teeth.

    The perils of transactional marketing
    We’ve all seen the larger corporates like Sky, Vodaphone and, of course the insurance industry to name a few, offering far better terms for new customers than any existing customer can get. In my opinion this form of ‘transactional marketing’ does not work in the independent garage sector as it does not lead to long term loyalty and leads to these potential new customers hopping from one garage deal to the next one.
      
    There is no point trying to attract vast numbers of new customers and provide them with a sub–standard service based on a cheap price which can cause severe damage to the reputation of your business. Another factor is that established customers tend to buy more and are less price sensitive and may be less likely to defect due to price alone.

    Focus on relationship marketing
    You have to focus on ‘relationship marketing’ and yes there are many guises however your own database and the ‘diamonds’ within must always be your starting point. It also builds a platform where the business and its customers are more likely to be able to adapt to each other’s needs and reach agreement quickly and easily. So, by getting emotionally connected and regularly engage with your existing customers will only enhance the trust and loyalty you build with them.
        
    It can be concluded that relationships with customers help a lot growing the revenues/profits for the business. Relationship marketing is all about creating, building and maintaining the relationships with the existing as well as new customers for the long-term profits. Relationship-focused marketing is not something that will happen overnight. It requires a change in thinking and some discipline along the way. Top level management support is needed for introducing such a change.
       
    It's quite obvious that the relationship approach is really successful, because 80% of an organisation's revenues are generated by 20% of the customers. Thus, it is concluded that building strong relationships with customers is very important for any business to grow and relationship marketing is a mantra to long-term success by retaining and delighting the customers.
        
    Simply by reminding customers of their vehicles next MOT due date, or service for that matter is the minimum that any independent garage should be undertaking. Reminding them of specific campaigns such as winter checks or health checks if they are planning long journeys will reinforce that you care about them and keep them safe. By expanding this two-way communication with news of any success stories within the business, such as: charitable fund raising by the business or any employee, training and development that’s undertaken, new services/products introduced will reinforce to your customers that you want to build long term relationships with them.
        
    This strategy will help you constantly create a small influx of new customers through recommendations as opposed to constantly advertising for a field for new ones. You will also greatly improve the chances of providing and exceeding the high level of service they expect, because you will not be swamped with a mass of new customers rushing to take you up on those ‘come and get me offers’. Therefore, this promotes another selection of new clientele that hopefully continue the cycle and improves the long -term implications for continued growth. Your existing customers will become your advocates; your marketing angels.  

    Assets and more diamonds
    Quite simply, customers are the organisation’s most important asset (along with staff too). Without them, it cannot exist. To survive, prosper and possibly expand the business, the independent garage owner must continue to acquire new customers but more importantly must never neglect existing customers or take them for granted.
        
    Constant database management will build-up and trust and personal knowledge with your customers, which create a far more effective customer retention tool, which in turn will find you more diamonds.


    Please visit www.thegarageinspector.com for business training courses and for more business tips.


Search

Sign Up

For the latest news and updates from Aftermarket Magazine.


Poll

Where should the next Automechanika show be held?



Calendar

Click here to submit an event

Facebook


©DFA Media 1999-2019