When you spec a component, often training is part of the package. Training helps established suppliers set themselves apart from those selling cheap parts without any customer support, and generally there's no out-of-pocket expense to the fleet or dealer.

But if you're going to pull technicians off the shop floor to meet with one of your supplier's instructors, take steps to ensure that hands-on time is productive from the beginning. ArvinMeritor's Rick Martin offers these four ground rules for efficient on-site instruction:

1. Request a lesson plan to address a specific installation, diagnostics, or repair issue. If the instructor has given his talk a thousand times, it's probably general material that your technicians are better off learning online.

2. Ask how much time will be spent in the training room versus on the shop floor. "Technicians learn by doing, and effective instructor-led training is focused and hands-on," Martin says. "The instructor should leave the long PowerPoint presentation at home."

3. Remind your supplier that he's in town to deliver a training session to your technicians, not a sales pitch to you or the parts buyer.

4. Finally, ask whether the information would be delivered more effectively online. "In some cases, online training may be all you need. In others, it can give your technicians a good base of knowledge-a prerequisite-so they're prepared when the instructor arrives," Martin says.

This last point is becoming more relevant as supplier training programs evolve to include not only a hands-on element but also web-based training programs with streaming video, audio, live chat, web-based seminars.

Martin says a technician who's competent and productive may need just a refresher-perfect for a course that's delivered online. A technician who's switching from PMs to brake work may learn better by participating in a webinar, a live, interactive demonstration delivered over the Internet with audio, video, and the ability to ask questions. If he misses a session or wants to see it again, he can replay it later.

In many cases online instruction is self-paced and can be taken any time, anywhere there's a computer with an Internet connection. Technicians can take their training at home, if that works best.

There's no substitute for a good trainer, someone who knows your people and your equipment and can convey expertise that makes both work better. But online training-with its expanding range of course material, easy access, and ability to monitor a participant's progress-has set a new standard for customer and product support. And it's delivering the added value of using components and replacement parts from a reputable supplier.

From a February 2010 ArvinMeritor White Paper.