Paul Williamsen started his professional career as a high school student doing repairs in a bicycle shop, went on to become a premium brand automotive technician, then a technician trainer, and is now the product education manager at Lexus College, a center learning managed by Toyota.

In a Wards Q&A, he talks about the inner workings of dealership service departments. This is a topic that many people, including some major dealers, are not fully aware of.

Williamsen (photo below, left) was born in Pittsburgh, attended high school in Evanston, IL, attended college in Minneapolis, worked in BMW and Porsche stores in Kansas City and now resides near Plano, TX, the US headquarters of Toyota and its brand luxury Lexus.

Here is a modified version of the interview.

WardsAuto: What are some of the best practices that a service manager should follow to run an efficient workshop and also to allocate tasks to technicians fairly?

Williamsen: America is one of the few countries which pays technicians on a flat-rate basis.

As you can imagine, the package offers its own interesting challenge. The flat rate is the way it is in the United States and that is the way it will be, so we have to work with it.

We try to help our dealers to set up a management system for the allocation of service work. The smart department manager can find ways to fine-tune their dealership management software for different priorities.

An obvious example: any car that is a return to service goes straight to the top of the service priority list. This is a case where a service manager wants to match the skills of a technician or diagnostic specialist to the particular needs of that car.

Others (best practice issues) have a lot to do with the human relations aspect of running a workshop full of technicians. You can’t keep all of your people happy all the time, but you can keep most of them happy most of the time.

In a flat-rate environment, it is a question of thinking about which trades have a better potential margin for which technician.

If there is one who is qualified and certified in a particular type of repair then it makes sense to assign him the job as he is likely to do the job correctly the first time around and he is more likely to get better. financial reward for doing so. It means better pay at the end of the week.

WardsAuto: What is a bundle compared to how the service is billed in countries without a bundle?

Williamsen: In some countries, there is a conventional salary base. It’s not common. What is most common is a rate of pay per hour worked.

In the United States, the manufacturer performed calculations and tests and developed an expected repair time for each specific job. A technician is paid regardless of his dealer’s hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours scheduled, regardless of how long it actually takes the technician to complete the job.

The very first time a technician repairs a system – even if they are trained to do so – it will usually take them longer than the all-time allowed. He will only be paid the hourly rate multiplied by the time allocated on a flat-rate basis.

But if the technician is a good apprentice, a savvy operator, by the time he’s done this repair two or three times on other cars, he gets to a point where he can do it faster than the fixed time. Thus, he earns more per hour than an hourly rate.

WardsAuto: Obviously, this is the situation a technician wants to be in.

Williamsen: Law. When I was a technician, if I didn’t get 110-120% of my hourly rate per day, it wasn’t a good week. It meant I was buried by something that was really hard, hard to diagnose, or hard to fix.

Also, if you have a problem with a brand new car that you have never worked on before, you need to buckle down and understand that you will not earn as much on this day as you had hoped.

If your service manager is thoughtful and understanding, he may be able to direct this technician for a job later in the week that will help him progress. This can be a typical repair or something the technician is very experienced in and can do in less than the standard time.

WardsAuto: The service manager must display it, intuitively and realistically.

Williamsen: Exactly. If the service manager is using service operating software, they should be able to see these values ​​on a daily basis.

About 25 years ago, Lexus asked every dealership to add a new diagnostic specialist job code for as many technicians. A large service operation might have multiple diagnostic specialists. They are usually very experienced master technicians with good diagnostic skills. They receive a salary rather than a lump sum. When needed, they help the technicians with an extra pair of eyes and difficult practical tasks so that the technicians don’t get too assaulted by it.

WardsAuto: The duty manager looks like the quarterback.

Williamsen: This is a difficult work. You have a lot of different things to juggle. You have to make the dealership profitable. A good service manager understands that technicians are the most important asset in which the dealership has invested the most. You have to keep them productive and happy.

WardsAuto: When were you a technician?

Williamsen: I was a BMW technician at the start of the 80’s, then a Porsche technician at the end of the 80’s. Then, I went directly to technical training for Toyota and Lexus when I joined the company 32 years ago .

WardsAuto: For years, dealers have suffered from a chronic shortage of qualified technicians in the dealership? It’s less of a problem for Toyota and Lexus. Why?

Williamsen: We generally find our Toyota and Lexus technicians to have some of the lowest turnover. We take many steps to encourage our dealers to provide a good, safe, healthy, productive and interesting working environment for technicians.

Another factor is the commercial success of the Toyota and Lexus brands. If you are a Lexus technician, once you learn how to do a specific repair on a certain Lexus, you will see that same model with a different owner in a few days or weeks. It helps you become more proficient, faster, more accurate, and earn more money under the flat rate system.

If you look at the opposite, being a Porsche technician was rather difficult. We had three Porsche models. The flagship product was the 928. At my dealership, we only sold a few a year. So you’ve never been able to do anything on a 928. Every repair I’ve done on one was the first one I’ve done on that model.

When you saw a 928 roll into the service reader, you knew it wouldn’t be a good paycheck day.

Steve Finlay is a retired editor of WardsAuto. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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