For auto mechanics, having the Automotive Service Professional (ASE) certification demonstrates that their skills and competence have been verified by a third-party authority. Service departments take pride in their ASE-certified technicians, and customers look for the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence when choosing the repair shop to take their cars to. The Rental Car Professional (RCP) online certification program, developed by the Center for International Retail Automotive Standards (CIRAS), aims to benefit auto rental professionals in the same way.
“Ten years ago, several of us in ACTIF (Association for Car and Truck Rental Independents and Franchisees) saw the need for a standard of competency within the auto industry,” says Jim Schalberg, principal of Jim Schalberg Auto Rental Training in Rock Hill, S.C., and one of the founders of the RCP certification. “Every other operation of the retail auto industry has a set of standards, from the technician on a car to the sales manager at a dealership. Why not apply those to car rental?”
Schalberg, along with ACTIF, began putting together an auto rental accreditation program in the late 1990s, but when ACTIF dissolved, the project was put on the back burner. A few years ago, Schalberg partnered with the Automotive Dealership Institute (ADI), an accredited automotive training institute that provides training courses for finance managers and service advisors. Through their efforts, CIRAS was formed, and the RCP certification program was born. It is scheduled to officially launch on March 30, 2009, at the Car Rental Show in Las Vegas.
The implementation of a baseline qualification for providing auto rental service will improve the industry on multiple levels, maintains Schalberg and Alan Algan, CEO and executive director of the ADI.
- Improve Customer Service
Certification is a tool to measure and improve employee qualification and customer service, which will ultimately bring an auto rental operation more business. “From a customer service standpoint, we can earn the respect of the people that deal with us by bringing up the level of service,” Schalberg explains. Customers will gravitate toward operators that are accredited, says Schalberg. And having a standard level of competency will give the industry as a whole a much-needed image boost.
- Grasp the Basics
For rental car operators, RCP will help them understand the basics of the business and what it takes to succeed. Too many operators think they can easily get into the business because they know how to buy a car cheaply, Schalberg explains. But without a grasp of how the auto rental industry works, these operators are bound to fail. “We have an industry with a huge failure rate, around 80 to 95 percent in the first year,” Schalberg says. “We see franchises open and close in a heartbeat.”
Having a solid understanding of how auto rental works is even more critical in today’s economy. “We’re in really tough times right now,” Schalberg says. “To survive, you are going to need a certain skill set.”
- Secure Financing, Insurance
Accreditation will also put rental operators in a better position to secure financing. A bank that is deciding on a loan to a new car rental operation may see accreditation as a sign that the business has a good, secure foundation and will be worth financing. Similarly, after the accreditation is established across the industry, rental operators may have an easier time securing competitive insurance rates.
- Identify Training Gaps
Although the RCP certification program is not a substitute for training, it measures how well an employee has been trained in the auto rental basics. Putting employees through the certification process can help managers identify gaps in their employees’ knowledge and additional training opportunities.
The RCP certification is available to anyone working in the auto rental business, from operators to managers to frontline employees.
The certification exam includes, but is not limited to, the following aspects of the auto rental business:
- A better business understanding
- Rate structure
- Understanding incremental sales
- Marketing and public relations
- Risk management
- Making a good rental
- Customer satisfaction
The certification costs $300 and is valid for two years. After two years, rental car professionals can opt to get recertified for a minimal fee of approximately $50. The exam will be updated regularly to account for industry changes.
The RCP certification program at the Car Rental Show will be an in-person RCP workshop, which will take place from 8 a.m. until noon. Participants will attend a three-hour multimedia seminar with Jim Schalberg and Dr. Robert Serum, Ph.D., CIRAS president and CEO, then take the 35-question written final exam.
“It is the unrelenting aim of CIRAS to work with the best content experts we can find anywhere,” says Dr. Serum. “With Jim Schalberg, we have again struck gold. He is just superb.”
After March 30, the RCP certification program will be accessible online. CIRAS utilizes a newly developed platform for secure testing and scoring. The proprietary system generates unique questions every time the test is administered so that no two tests are alike and so that students cannot memorize the answers to retake the test.
For the online certification, students are required to listen to a two-hour video seminar divided into sections. At the end of each section, students must take and pass a quiz to move on to the next section.
Each student can go at his or her desired pace. For example, if test takers do not pass a section, they can log out of the program and ask the manager for additional training on that subject. Then they can retake that section to pass it and move on. After students complete all of the sections, they will take the final 35-question, multiple-choice exam, again at their own pace.
If students do not pass the final exam, they can get more training and then take the final exam again. “The object is for students to learn the program thoroughly before they pass,” Algan explains. The exam can be taken as many times as is necessary in order to pass. A minimum score of 70 percent is required to pass and receive certification.
A Network for Networking
Certified rental car professionals will receive a certificate and a two-year membership to CIRAS. They will be included in the member roster on the CIRAS Web site. They can also take advantage of the resume-posting feature on the site.
“If they are looking for a job, they can update and activate their resume, and their resume will be available to all the other rental car professionals and operators,” says Algan. “If somebody is looking for a certified individual to hire immediately, they can go to our list and search by zip code or state, review the resumes of professionals in their area and contact someone directly for an interview.”
CIRAS plans to develop partnerships with rental car companies, auto dealers and other segments to become industry members of CIRAS. Algan says the goal is to develop a community where auto rental industry professionals can network at no cost.
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