How to handle complicated jobs

Man working on engine

Fixing an ailing car was once a relatively straightforward, almost simplistic job, compared to what the average workshop faces today. The role of today’s technicians is very high-tech and extremely complex.

In the space of about 30 years, job descriptions have changed dramatically, both for those just starting out on the tools, and people like me who have been forced to adapt or disappear.

From my position as a trainer, I still see workshops wrestling with complicated jobs. Some know how to cope with this new and complex world, but many are still struggling. In the tips that follow, don’t expect to find any practical technical solutions, but you will note that state of mind plays a big role in the management of complicated jobs. In a way, workshops have had to undergo a big culture change.

Workshop staff need to adopt a different mindset about the work that they are being asked to do. They must accept that more complicated jobs will be on their doorstep on a more regular basis. Once that fact of life is accepted, they can move to the next step – identifying complicated jobs early, adapting work procedures in order to protect the business and its reputation, and establishing a communication path with vehicle owners to ensure that both parties are on the same page and understand the diagnostic and repair process.

This in itself is not as easy as it sounds. It has taken me many years to gain the confidence to look a customer in the eye and inform them that their vehicle’s problems are most likely not going to be an easy or cheap fix.

Another thing workshop owners and their technicians need to accept is that nobody can know everything. It is not possible for any technician to have experienced every potential problem on every make and model of vehicle. It is most likely that there will be a technician somewhere who will know more about the issues affecting your customer’s vehicle than anyone in your workshop.

Three people in workhop

Once this reality is accepted, you can understand why I regularly describe general aftermarket workshops as general practitioners – GPs. So following the medical analogy, this means that workshop GPs will sometimes need to consult a specialist for guidance with a particular problem. And like the medico GP, some of your customers may need to be referred directly to a specialist. In auto parlance, that’s called subletting a job, and that’s something all workshops should be doing more often.

Aftermarket workshops exist because they solve problems, but not every job has a simple fix. It is not necessary (nor is it good for business) for workshops faced with a complicated job to accept defeat on any complex repair issue. Do that often enough, and it won’t be long before your customers take their problems elsewhere.

What follows are 10 tips on how to handle complicated jobs in a way that will protect your reputation and enhance your standing in the eyes of your customers.

  1. Make connections, not enemies

Don’t allow a complicated job to stifle strategic thinking and professional job management. Find a way to connect with fellow technicians and build camaraderie. There are many networks and groups to join and share, TaT being one of them. If you are part of a bigger team, the chances of a challenging job getting the better of you are far fewer than if you try to cope on your own.

  1. Try something new

Don’t get stuck in a rut. Just because a job has always been done your way, doesn’t mean it will always be the right way. These are different vehicles, remember. Don’t stubbornly reject that there might be a new way of approaching your complex job. Charting a new way of doing something will stimulate your brain, causing a surge and release of endorphins, leading to a feeling of satisfaction.

  1. Leave work at work

When you knock off at the end of a harrowing day with a complex job, leave the job in the workshop. Don’t take it home with you. This is hard to do if you take your job seriously, but leaving problems at the workshop is more important than you think. Even the biggest of thinkers benefit from a good night’s sleep, and you won’t sleep unless you go home with a clear mind.

Man working on car

  1. Check your attitude

A positive mental attitude plays a bigger part in the workshop dynamic than most would believe. Your frame of mind can lead to frustration if you let it. Thinking outside the square is often where the answers are found. A positive mindset delivers positive results while a negative mindset delivers – you guessed it – negative results.

  1. Keep showing up

Don’t play truant on a difficult job. Shirking your responsibilities and withdrawing will only make the situation worse. Start a complicated job by finding out what works, note that down and keep going. Each time you rule out what the problem isn’t, you are one step closer to finding out what the cause is.

  1. Shift your perspective

When you feel poorly and frustrated about a job and you can’t see a way out, change your perspective. Until you change your perspective, the misery will only expand. Put yourself in another person’s shoes and look at the situation from a different point of view. Perhaps you are interpreting things in one way, whereas there could be many more interpretations. Give yourself time to think of what they might be.

  1. Don’t suffer in silence

Be open and honest with yourself and your team, or network, about the difficulty you’re having. Share your challenges with other technicians and you might be surprised at the response. Sharing is a two-way street, remember, so you must make yourself available to help others. Everyone has information they can share.

Two men at car

  1. Seek opportunities

Try thinking about what the job can do for you, rather than what you can do for the job. There may well be opportunities for your team to learn about something new or to learn a new skill. There could be members of your own staff or people in your wider network who you can connect with for mentorship. Industry networks can expose you to a bigger picture, and seeing a bigger picture is often a pathway to opportunities.

  1. Take control

Complicated jobs can be stressful, but you can maintain control by the way you respond to it. Complicated jobs will nearly always demand a difficult conversation with the owner of the vehicle. But remind yourself that the problem is not yours – it is the vehicle owner’s problem.

You are the technician trying to resolve the issue, so don’t take ownership of the problem.

  1. Review and assess

It’s important to take a step back and review everything leading up to the current situation in an objective manner. It helps to write down everything from the start. This will enable you to revisit any part of the job later, with accuracy. These notes can also be very handy when dealing with your network – much more useful than a verbal report on the steps you have taken and the results you have uncovered. These notes can also form part of the final invoice, justifying the labour costs and presenting a professional picture to your customer, detailing the great effort your workshop has expended to fix the problem.

This article was published 27/08/2021 and the content is current as at the date of publication.