A scene from a training session on a test course. Here technicians are learning about the latest car technology through hands-on training with different vehicle models.
Service staff must learn not only about the new developments in car electronics and mechanics, but also how to communicate this clearly with customers.
When people shop for a car, how often do you go to a dealer? Four times a month? Ten times over three months?
Typically, purchasing a car is something that is over fairly soon. But this is just the start of your relationship with an automobile company, which then continues for the ten or even twenty years that you drive your vehicle. In the same way that a marriage is longer than the period of "courtship," so too is this overall relationship between owner and manufacturer more important than the initial purchase of the car.
Part of this relationship involves getting your car serviced at a dealership. Nissan wants to make this "marriage" a happy one and so it works hard to improve its maintenance services. The philosophy of always providing car service quality is universal to Nissan branches everywhere. But every region's requirements are different, so there need to be service managers who understand local situations. To start, let's look at Japan.
Training that evolves for modern mechanics
In Japan there are two types of job for the people who handle automobile servicing - Technicians and Advisors. While the first one is what we might think of regularly as a mechanic, the other position is more unusual. It means the person in charge of customer communication.
Cars are now complex, and the people who drive and use them are not all experts on electronics or mechanics. It is essential to explain things in terms that anyone can understand fully. As cars get more complicated, the importance of Service Advisors grows and grows. They need to know not only a lot about mechanics and technology, but also have the linguistic prowess to communicate well. Nissan certifies its Service Advisors depending on their skills, and there are also so-called Master Advisors in many countries with even more advanced knowledge and abilities.
Of course, there's a certification system for Technicians too. In Japan, this is ranked from first to fourth class, as per the technical level of the mechanic. And in response to the rise in vehicle complexity, Nissan revised its mechanics' training system two years ago.
Overall training time was increased, but the biggest changes were to the training courses for customer care. Trainer Okazaki, who runs the courses, says that Japanese owners were happier when they could hear directly from Nissan staff about the causes of defects and how to fix them. Customer satisfaction is another aspect of "maintenance" that needs to be addressed.
Brushing up language skills
But it's not just in Japan that Nissan's service staff work to improve their skills. For example, customer communication is also very important in America. In particular, car-owners in America want to know if the repairs or service can be done in just one session. Nissan's Service Advisors listen to and consult with the customers, and then communicate with the mechanics. "Service Advisors need to have the ability to relay information correctly to the Technicians," says Robert McCann, who plans Nissan training courses in America. "Good communication between customers and Technicians leads to vehicle service that is completed in one session."
Technician training in America also uses the independent Automotive Service Excellence certification. Technicians are required to pass the ASE tests after taking the Nissan North American training courses.
The trainers also have to work hard, finding ways to seed motivation as well as a strong sense of vocation in the students. In Japan they had the best results with interactive classes, where students actually ride in cars and drive on test courses.
But it's not just America and Japan. Training is happening in every region and differs depending on the needs of local car-owners, though the final aim is always the same: Providing service that is high quality. "Nissan's service staff love to study," says Okazaki. "They are proactive about learning, always trying to better their qualifications."
This is then the fruits of the trainers' efforts and the students' passion for self-improvement: Service staff who are experts on cars and skilled in communicating this to satisfied customers. In other words, the ingredients for a very happy marriage.