By Jeff Sanford
North Richland Hills, Texas — June 27, 2016 — The Automotive Management Institute (AMi) recently announced the launch of the “next generation” of the organization. The new President of the non-profit organization, Jeff Peevy, unveiled a series of courses that have been created to address the challenges of a changing industry, including courses designed to upgrade the skills of front office personnel.
Customer service is extremely important in today’s marketplace. The revamped AMi program aims to provide training in the service-oriented skills needed by those working in the front office
The new program includes six new front office and management certificates and professional designations. The organization also offers access to more than 100 relevant online courses that have been created by outside parties but have been vetted and cleared for AMi certification. There is also a new website and a world-class online Learning Management System that brings the organization’s offering into the modern era.
“The new AMi represents more than a year of soliciting, organizing and prioritizing industry feedback to ensure we offer the most relevant professional designations, career paths and overall management educational support possible,” said Peevy.
The non-profit was established in 1989 and to date AMi programs have attracted more than 250,000 enrollments throughout North America. But the company began to drift a bit over the last decade.
“It’s kind of a classic example of an organization that didn’t change on the inside to keep up with the change that was happening on the outside,” said Peevy in an interview with Collision Repair magazine. “The board of trustees had a decision to make; shut down or make the organization into something.”
The board made the decision to overhaul the course program. Recognizing Peevy’s deep experience in the industry—Peevy worked for I-CAR for 16 years in a senior capacity—the board of trustees offered him the chance to help come in and rebuild the organization.
“They were still an organization. They had 8,400 students registered a year. But that wasn’t near what it should be. The company didn’t continue to invest in infrastructure. They didn’t have any online courses, no advertising, no trade shows,” said Peevy. Thirteen months ago he was brought on board and began the long process of overhauling the program and spent six months travelling and engaging with the industry.
Peevy was pleasantly surprised to find the organization had good reserves, so there was capacity in the organization to do a revamp. “The lessons I learned in the past, about prioritizing feedback, strategic plans, it all came together,” he says. Last week the revamped course program was launched after more than a year of preparation—Peevy looks forward to re-engaging the industry with the new product.
“It’s exciting. For the last two months I have been doing non-stop presentations, to try and get some engagement with the industry,” said Peevy. “I find there are two types of people out there. One is the generation of people who knew AMi, but now they don’t. They haven’t heard from us in years. They don’t know who we are now. And then there are people who haven’t heard of us.” The new organization will reach out to both audiences.
The revamped organization has a learning foundation that will take in tax deductible donations (and will trade donations for advertising in some cases). There is also the new set of courses that will combine the latest digital technology with updated course content to provide a modern, effective training regime. “We believe we can help a shop improve their KPI scores,” said Peevy.
An interesting aspect of the new program is the focus on the front office staff. Typically the client-facing employees in a shop are overlooked when it comes to training. The new AMi courses will address this gap in training.
“Whether it be NACE or SEMA, a lot of the front office people don’t attend those things. But that’s where a lot of the training happens,” says Peevy. “There was a need for online courses that could help these people.”
The new courses aim to make training more consistent. “Often you can have three or four people who present the same designation, but have no consistency. They are all marketing, or finance, or operations,” he says. AMi has created a course program that has seven different knowledge areas, among them marketing, operations, IT management, risk management, sales and leadership. But those taking the courses will have some grounding in all these areas.
“For IT management, we’re not making an IT guy, but as an operator you need to know the basics about cybersecurity and email. You have to have that foundation,” said Peevy.
The courses are also designed to create organizations that are what Peevy calls “constant learning organizations.”
“What I found was that where the weakness lay was in the communication in the shop. There wasn’t lots of feedback in the back, front office staff and service staff. Often that there wasn’t what I would call a ‘learning culture’ within the shop,” said Peevy.
Looking back, he remembers some shops that came in for training and were performing well, “I didn’t think I could help them. But what we found that the higher performing shops got much better. The average shop would come in and get a bit better. The shops performing at the lowest level, the shops that I thought we could really help got a little better for a year and then they lost it again,” said Peevy.
What he found was that the culture within the shop dictated how the shop performed.
“We identified the culture, and understood it. Shops that had a leaning culture and had a tendency to share what people knew in the shop did better. Having a learning culture within a collision repair shop means that there is culture there that encourages understanding and sharing. They know that learning is the only source of a sustainable competitive advantage. That means that from the owner to the manger and down to people doing the detailing there is a constant effort to improve. When the manager or owner sends someone to a class they set an expectation to learn. Typically they have a conversation about what they learn when they get back. They share what they learn. There is an openness to share. They’ll say ‘I read this article, or I went to this course, check this out.’ There is an intentional application of the learning. Some shops go so far and have that person lead a seminar in the shop when they get back from training,” said Peevy.
This approach to learning is very different from that found in shops that use Peevy calls “an industrial-age management mindset.” In those shops employees are essentially labourers.
“They are only expected to work. The pay is set up so that they compete against one another. If someone knows something new and unique they use that as an advantage over their competitor, another employee. They don’t share,” said Peevy. “But the fact of the matter is, this will only take you so far. Ten years ago that worked, but not today. Cars are becoming much more complex. You have to share learning throughout the shop.”
The new AMi courses are designed to help facilitate the learning process, according to Peevy. The company has created courses in conjunction with well-known names in the industry like Mike Anderson, who has designed some online courses around financial management. “He’s got a course, ‘understanding financial statements,’ that I really enjoyed. Business is my background and the course is a good refresher on how to read a balance statement,” said Peevy.
Some of the other new course offerings include content from highly-respected industry professionals, such as Michael Graham, Frank LaViola, Jeremy O’Neal, Frank Terlep and others. “Mark Claypool does an IT course on email basics and cybersecurity as well as social marketing that’s really good,” said Peevy.
The new online interface also makes it easy to access the content. There is a short video showing students how to set up their profile. The 30-hour customer service certification will touch on a range of subjects and skills including selling skills, relationship skills (both internal and external), phone skills, listening skills, dealing with a difficult customers, maintaining customer relations, gaining commitments from clients and feedback delivery.
“There is a new generation coming. If they have a good work ethic, but maybe they have come straight out of high school, if you feel it’s worth investing, start them working toward the customer service for collision repair,” said Peevy. “If you’re an independent shop and you’re looking for a good way to retain good employee you can put them on career path. We’ve built these courses so that they are 20 to 30 minutes long. So someone can do them while they are at work.”
Also new is an emphasis on digital technology. The courses can be done online, which is an absolutely essential format these days. Since many of the courses are online they are accessible in Canada, but some courses are also available in a classroom format.
“We have instructors in Canada who have their course materials and content approved for AMi credit. Bob Greenwood and the paint companies come to mind,” said Peevy.
The AMi is also working on another impressive technology. Within the next year, the program will have a function that will determine how much the student knows based on the way the questions are completed. The program will determine if the person doing the course knows a lot about the subject or whether the person is a novice and needs extra help.
“People seem to think that a good instructor in front of the room is the best way to go. But I think this will be better than a live course. I’ve managed 400 instructors for 10 years. Classes are tricky because of the variation of experience of knowledge about what you’re talking about. In a class room you have to balance between the guy with 25 years of experience and the person with six months of experience,” said Peevy. “This way we get around that.”
Peevy also notes that in the Learning Foundation for every $200,000 raised, “we’ll reduce the fees of online by ten percent.” This is a way of giving back to the industry he says. “It’s a different a business model for sure,” said Peevy. But it seems to be working. “It’s been an amazing week since we launched. We tried to have a soft launch, but when we put out the press release, we’ve had an amazing response since the middle of the week. We’ve had way more people signing up and taking courses than we thought,” said Peevy.
It looks like the new AMi is off to a great start. For more information, please visit amionline.org.