Visit your regular service centre today and chances are 1 in 5 that your customer contact staff who used to serve you, is no longer working at your preferred garage. Investigate deeper and the newly assigned Service Advisor (SA) will reveal that the ex-SA is currently working with a competitor or another brand. On further probing, the current SA may volunteer information that the previous Service Manager who worked at the dealership had convinced him to join along with a few more rumoured to leave after the coming bonus.
As an independent Automotive Consultant, the first thing I am often asked when I visit any motor company today is “Can you help us find Service Advisors, Technicians or Aftersales Managers” in that order of priority.

I feel the problem is going to escalate as companies today are not getting to the root cause of this human resource leapfrogging. They rather “play on the back foot” and allow market forces to decide their fate. Unfortunately the hidden cost of employee turnover can amount to 3 to 5 times the basic salaries taking into consideration the entire recruitment, training and retention process. New thinking is required to resolve this current day problem. Most managers today resort to “fighting fire” than crafting long term HR strategies and growing the business.

Whilst HR leapfrogging can be attributed to higher number of dealerships sprouting up across urbanised Malaysia, the present demand from across the entire motor industry value chain and related industries for skilled automotive graduates is further accelerating this already acute situation.

Ken Foo, senior technical manager from Despark Academy shared, “We even have demand from Singapore manufacturing companies eager to attract our final year Advance Diploma students. This is happening, despite an increase in student enrolment, year after year, for both our Certificate and Diploma automotive qualifications”.
Such facts buck the perception what many feel that this is an unattractive dead-end industry. It is generally perceived that parents loathe their children to consider employment and career in automotive technical skills.

This led me to interview several employees to get a deeper understanding of the current situation.  “In 2001, a fresh technician (with Diploma) was paid RM1300 in my company. Today we are still relying on retaining them at RM1500 which is a challenge. I have tried to seek an increase in salaries from my top-management but they send me back to the drawing board to justify the increase time after time” laments a mid-management Aftersales head at a franchise workshop in the Klang Valley.

frederick herzbergManagement will regurgitate and defend Herzberg’s published “Two Factor Theory” that salary is not a primary motivator and is not a main reason why employees leave an organization. Perhaps this is why basic salaries in the Malaysian Automotive industry have not changed significantly in the last 10 years.

Eventhough Malaysia has been experiencing a motoring boom in the last decade, confoundingly “real” salaries have stagnated and not been adjusted in tandem with the boom. So like a game of musical chairs in which every “player” has a chair to sit on when the music stops, however many times the cycle is continued; every technician will have a better salary offer from his current employer’s competitor.

Once we’ve got the salaries in perspective, the employee’s primary need has less to do with money and more to do with the way he is treated and valued in the organization. “People leave managers not companies” writes Marcus Buckingham who co-authored with Curt Coffman First, Break All The Rules (Simon and Schuster, 1999) as a result of surveys which measured a broad range of factors that contribute to employee engagement.

I have concluded that the biggest single factor to retaining a productive staff force is the quality of leadership. Many do not realize that the fundamental value to motivating staff is stoking the fire of each employee’s innate characteristic. Management is only too happy to spend huge amounts of money in the sales and marketing front, nice buildings and quality management certification rather than on the cost effective things that produce a happy and excellent work environment.

Last week when I took my wife’s car in to Hap Seng Star, I was attended to by Sanjay, a customer liaison officer who is his usual welcoming self. After we got talking a while, I probed on the leadership style at his workplace and without a doubt, he was proud to share that the senior management team was always there to support the customer contact staff in time of need. “There is a lot of interaction with our bosses here and they lead by example which create the right conditions and work environment. They are also not averse to meeting with customers when the situation requires and walk the premises on a regular basis in a day”, he proudly claimed. Reading an in-house magazine while waiting, there was no reason to doubt HSS’s bagging the top 2 spots of the prestigious and competitive MBM’s Service Excellence Awards 2011.

Interestingly, couple of months back, I was invited as a guest by BFM Radio on a 15 part series entitled “What makes a good workplace”. There were 15 benchmarks that were identified in a study conducted by Sydney University. Interestingly the top 2 drivers of excellence were the quality of intra-personal working relationship and Leadership at the workplace.

In this age of services, organizations must pay more attention to their human resources than on their P&L. When you consider the fundamental aim of any business is to make money out of satisfying customer, either way, you will have to pay!
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Our Principal Consultant

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Devindran draws upon his vast 24 years Motor industry experience and exposure to different brands. As Managing Director and Principal Consultant of his company, Devindran has the passion and knack for turning Dealerships fixed operations into profitable, performance oriented and a sustainable business pillar through his own style and approach to life.

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