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The ATM - a fantasy story about robots taking over for mechanics... or is it real?


Gonzo

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The ATM

A bunch of the higher ups at a corporate owned big city dealership were looking at their end of the year numbers and were trying to figure out where they could save a few bucks. It wasn’t hard to find the largest expense in their operation. It was the mechanics salary. Now all they had to do was figure out a way to keep more of the gross profits in their pockets instead of spending it on those grease covered employees down in the service bays.

 

It was up to the R&D department to come up with a concept and get back to the higher ups. They talked to a guy fixing his own car out in the parking lot. They asked around at the nearby discount auto parts center. They even discussed how they could provide repair services at all hours of the day and night without having to hire a single mechanic. As for the diagnostic side of things, the general consensus from the DIY’rs they talked to was that if they knew what was wrong, they could fix it themselves. Their plan was sounding pretty good on paper. Funny thing though, the only people they didn’t talk to was… the actual customers and the mechanics.

They compiled their analysis, ran it through a computer simulation and came up with this conclusion. The mechanic/technician field is a highly skilled trade that requires a great deal of mechanical aptitude as well as advanced knowledge in electronics and hydraulics. As well as knowing how to use sophisticated tools and computer systems. It also requires continual training in new equipment, procedures, and even newer systems. The investment into maintaining a top notch technician is quite expensive. (All of which the higher ups wanted to avoid.)

 

The R&D report was sent to the higher ups. The higher ups came to the conclusion that as long as you could diagnose a problem the rest of it is just changing a part. “This car repair stuff is easy to do. Why don’t we get a computer to do all of this? It could work 24-7, what a concept!”

 

So the plan came down to this. Devise a way to not only diagnose a car, but be able to repair it at any time of the day or night without having to pay for any high priced mechanics. How? Simple, they invented the ATM. The “Automated Technician Machine”. A 24 hour, credit card operated, self-serve, automotive diagnostic and repair center for the DIY’r. This machine had a diagnostic hook up for the car, with complete diagrams and all the needed tools at their disposal. These service bays would be capable of dispensing the needed fluids, parts, and the tools too. It didn’t take long before the higher ups threw even more money at this project and converted all the service bays into these ‘coin-operated’ contraptions and all the ‘human’ mechanics were given ‘the’ pink slip.

For the first month or so, the higher ups were smiling from ear to ear with their pet project. Gone were all those high paid technicians in the service bays. The DIY repair mode was in full swing. But, it wasn’t long before problems started coming up. First it was a stuck ball joint that the computer couldn’t help with. Next it was an electrical problem where it advised replacing everything even though it was just a broken wire in clear view. Then, it was a broken stud that the computer couldn’t figure out, and more than once, some character got upset and didn’t understand the information provided, and took their frustration out by damaging the machine. Even though the info was as accurate as possible, there was still something missing.

 

The answers were the ‘by the book’ type answers and it would only work properly if the car was as it was from the factory. Any deviation from the original … any at all… and the ATM would go berserk, causing even more chaos. The problems just kept adding up.

Soon, it wasn’t only their customers that were having issues with these ATM’s, it was the city who was on their backs now. Seems, they didn’t consider the fact that they needed a license to operate vending machines in the city limits, and there were additional taxes owed to the city too. The cost of operating these ATM’s kept climbing. The higher ups started to think this wasn’t such a good idea. “We didn’t have these kinds of problems when we had mechanics!” they told each other. So, what do you think these white shirts did now? Well, they spent even more money. They hired in a bunch of other white shirts to examine the problem.

 

Soon, there was more money going out the door than there was coming in. After several months of research, more broken machines, more upset customers, and tons of none returned tools that had to be replaced, and cars abandoned in service bays after the owners had given up on the repairs, the evaluation team had their answers. A meeting was set up for the next afternoon in a large suite on the top floor of a huge skyscraper, miles from the chaotic scene at the dealership. The number crunchers were there, as well as the vice-presidents, the vice-vice presidents, and the executives to the vice presidents. All the white shirts were leaning back in their overstuffed office chairs waiting for the answer that would lead them to an even higher skyscraper and more dividends. The higher ups asked the team of evaluators, “We expect something worthy of your six figure fee for evaluating all of this. So, what’s your grand solution to this mess?”

 

They answered,

“Hire the mechanics back!”

 

The moral of this story;

When it comes to repairing your car, it still takes the human touch. The kind you’ll find with an experienced mechanic. Things like a stuck ball joint, a broken bolt and other problems that are associated with automotive repair are all part of the daily routine. With practice and a bit of mechanical know how, mechanics find ways of getting around the so called ‘by the book’ repairs and solve a lot of issues that can’t be solved any other way. Those higher ups are smart guys and gals, but their training in what they know isn’t acquired in the same manner as the way a mechanic’s skills are. There’s a lot more to repairing something than reading a book or hooking a computer up to it. Seriously, if it was easy… anybody could do it…but it’s not as easy as it looks.

 

Consider this; it takes a lot of OJT to be an ATM. Oh, and I don’t mean one of those ‘Automated Technician Machines’, that acronym has a completely different meaning down here in the service bay. There are a lot of people out there who admire the skills of a good technician, who understand the complexities of this job, and are more than thankful such guys and gals are out there. As a customer or a fellow technician, you may know of one of them… one of those ATM’s that is, an “Appreciated Technician-Mechanic”.


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Joe, thanks. I really don't have any idea of the source of some of these stories... they just sort of come about.

Ken, the next generation of robots is probably something I don't even want to think about. They'll probably be able to write stories as well as fix cars. They'd put me out of business for sure. LOL

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         3 comments
      Got your attention? Good. The truth is, there is no such thing as the perfect technician pay plan. There are countless ways to create any pay plan. I’ve heard all the claims and opinions, and to be honest, it’s getting a little frustrating. Claims that an hourly paid pay plan cannot motivate. That flat rate is the only way to truly get the most production from your technicians. And then there’s the hybrid performance-based pay plan that many claim is the best.
      At a recent industry event, a shop owner from the Midwest boasted about his flat-rate techs and insisted that this pay plan should be adopted by all shops across the country. When I informed him that in states like New York, you cannot pay flat-rate, he was shocked. “Then how do you motivate your techs” he asked me.
      I remember the day in 1986 when I hired the best technician who ever worked for me in my 41 years as an automotive shop owner. We’ll call him Hal. When Hal reviewed my pay plan for him, and the incentive bonus document, he stared at it for a minute, looked up, and said, “Joe, this looks good, but here’s what I want.” He then wrote on top of the document the weekly salary he wanted. It was a BIG number. He went on to say, “Joe, I need to take home a certain amount of money. I have a home, a wife, two kids, and my Harly Davidson. I will work hard and produce for you. I don’t need an incentive bonus to do my work.” And he did, for the next 30 years, until the day he retired.
      Everyone is entitled to their opinion. So, here’s mine. Money is a motivator, but not the only motivator, and not the best motivator either. We have all heard this scenario, “She quit ABC Auto Center, to get a job at XYZ Auto Repair, and she’s making less money now at XYZ!” We all know that people don’t leave companies, they leave the people they work for or work with.
      With all this said, I do believe that an incentive-based pay plan can work. However, I also believe that a technician must be paid a very good base wage that is commensurate with their ability, experience, and certifications. I also believe that in addition to money, there needs to be a great benefits package. But the icing on the cake in any pay plan is the culture, mission, and vision of the company, which takes strong leadership. And let’s not forget that motivation also comes from praise, recognition, respect, and when technicians know that their work matters.
      Rather than looking for that elusive perfect pay plan, sit down with your technician. Find out what motivates them. What their goals are. Why do they get out of bed in the morning? When you tie their goals with your goals, you will have one powerful pay plan.
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