In an industry where women have typically held less than two percent of jobs in the world of automotive repair, Lori Macdonald is proof that things are changing. She is no different than her five male colleagues, and is helping customers better understand the way their cars work, rocking her job as service writer and manager of Downtown Automotive in Seattle!
What is a service writer?
A service writer is someone who handles all the customer interaction from the moment someone visits a repair shop, to the moment they leave. He or she reviews customer concerns, then gives that information to the technicians. Then, they take the notes the technicians have given them about what needs to be done, and talk with customers about what the repair needs are, and what the costs might be.
“A good service writer is a check to the technician,” says Lori. “If you don’t know enough about cars, it can be trouble. A good service writer should be out at the car. How could you tell someone what they need if you didn’t see it? I think about what’s best for the customer, which builds relationships.”
Lori has her degree in Business Administration with a focus on Human Resources, which prepared her well for her role as a manager in a customer relations job. But there’s more than business in her background.
You might say she was born with cars in her blood. Her grandpa owned an auto parts store, and when she was little, she used to take parts back and forth from the store to different auto shops with her dad. Her aunt and uncle worked at a different location of her grandpa’s store, too! In addition to that, her dad worked for General Motors, and talked about cars a lot.
When her car quest officially started
Lori’s first job was at Crown Hill Automotive. She was hired as a receptionist, but the owners noticed how knowledgeable she was about cars, and asked her to start doing more.
“They kept giving me more responsibility,” she remembers. “I started going out to the cars, and the guys started teaching me more. They couldn’t believe how much I already knew, and how much I retained. They told me that many men came in to do the same thing I did, and wouldn’t get it the way I did!”
That’s where she met her husband, who was the British automotive specialist, and their best technician.
“He taught me a lot, as well as everyone else,” she says. “I worked there six years. Random parts people would come in and tell me how good I was, and it made me think.”
Lori learned how to be a service writer by attending a training class in Baltimore. She later worked for a commercial painter, where she got managerial training.
“That’s what made me want to get a business degree,” Lori says. “There’s a difference between dabbling in something, and really investing yourself. The guys I’ve worked with have reinforced things for me. They cheered me on, and told me I was good. That really gave me the confidence I needed to keep pursuing it.
“There are a few more things I want to learn. My next step is to own my own shop!”
One of the biggest things she says she has learned in this still-male-dominated industry has been how to honor the strengths as well as the differences between the ways in which men and women communicate.
Before cars, there was Girl Scouts
Lori was a Girl Scout in upstate New York until she was in fifth grade. She went to Girl Scout camp four summers in a row, and it was there she learned cooking and fire skills, First Aid and safety on a trail.
“I never get lost,” she recalls. “People always comment on that while I’m hiking. I’m a big outdoors person. My biggest dream was to be able to hike with my child, and now I have a daughter. I learned the importance of being active as a Girl Scout, and learned early on that girls can do anything. I liked that what I was doing wasn’t common for women. Early on, that concept was enticing for me.”
Lori’s advice to girls interested in the automotive field:
“In any industry you’re in, try different positions. If you’re curious about the mechanical side of things, try that. Or if you like accounting and sales, try that. The more aspects of an industry you understand, the better you will be at the end job that you choose. If you sold cars, you can help suggest how to repair them better. If you have done accounting, you’ll be better in the warranty department.
Dealerships are a great place to start. In small shops, you have to know a lot.
Go to school to be a service writer or to be a mechanic. A business degree is good if you’re considering the other side of things, like I am now.
Working in the auto industry is a physically demanding job. It’s important to be physically fit, and have good strength and flexibility. Having a brain that is scientific is helpful. Physics and calculus help you understand mechanics, and math helps you in the office.
You should also be good with people and love change. The automotive field is constantly innovating and changing.”
Lori’s colleagues at Downtown Automotive suggested a few schools to check out locally if you’re interested in becoming a mechanic or service writer:
Renton Technical College offers a two-year Automotive Technology program which ends with an Associate’s degree and offers a WA State Emissions Certification as well as an Automotive Service Excellence Refrigerant Recovery and Recycling Certificate.
Shoreline’s program offers a two-year Professional Auto Training program which partners four local dealerships with on the job training for eleven weeks. Students can graduate with a two-year Applied Associate in Arts and Sciences degree as well as numerous manufacturer-specific training certificates.