Coming Back in Style

By Mark Sheffield

A couple of months back I was on the phone with the owner of a dealership, and we were discussing his goals and budget for 2021. Johnny is a forward-thinker; for example, he set up his service department before he even had a new motorcycle franchise. One of the items he mentioned to me is that all his employees had committed to learning how to type. Not just hunting and pecking, but being able to hit a 30 words-per-minute benchmark by the end of the year. Old school!

Johnny had done the math, looking at all the customer fields in his DMS, the jobs on each repair order, and all the other ways that his team collects data each day. By his calculations, getting the entire team up to 30 WPM meant that this year he would need to hire one less employee. I started thinking about this, and the list of trickle-down benefits is huge.

  • Speeding up the process of getting customers in and out of the dealership
  • Fewer mistakes on customer forms and contracts (fewer customers boomeranging to re-sign finance documents)
  • Improved descriptions of customer requests on repair orders
  • Better notes from the techs on what they fixed and suggested repairs
  • Dramatically improved responses to digital leads; responses where all the customer questions are answered
  • The list is extensive

Up until 2003, I did not know how to type. I had never taken a typing class, but I recognized that hunting and pecking was extremely inefficient. My New Year’s resolution for 2003 was to learn how to touch-type. I did not buy a program, nor did I take any classes; I just held my fingers on the home keys and figured it out. Within two weeks I had reprogrammed my hands, and I was off to the races. If I had not taken the time to learn to type, I doubt that you would be reading this article.

I am sure that some people will argue that speech-to-text is what we should be using, but that technology still has a long way to go. Think about all the horrendous typos you have seen when using that technology to compose text messages. It is OK to make the random mistakes with our friends, but it can hurt our effectiveness as professionals to send garbled messages to our customers.

My discussion with Johnny got me thinking about other “old school” things I would like to see make a return.

  • Saying please and thank you
  • Referring to customers as Sir and Ma’am (regardless of whether they are younger than you)
  • Opening the door for customers who are entering or leaving the dealership
  • Asking if customers need help taking a purchase out to their vehicle
  • Signing off with a salutation (like Thank You) at the end of an email

Many of the items I mentioned above were once commonplace, but most are rare today. As owners and GMs, we are the ones who set the tone in the dealership. We define the dealership’s values and culture, and it is our responsibility to make sure that employees adhere to those standards. We cannot assume our younger employees (and sometimes our older ones) have learned the basics of how customers (and other employees) should be treated. It is our responsibility to ensure that each of our employees has been trained to a minimum standard, and that they adhere to it.

I understand the times are changing, and there will be a point where I am a relic of a bygone era. However, what harm comes from treating customers and co-workers with respect? It does not require much additional time or effort. And in today’s technology-driven environment, some basic keyboarding skills (including 10-key numbers) can raise the level of professionalism for many of us.