A customer walks up to the service desk, "Can you put my car on one of those machines that tells you what's wrong with my car?"
This is nothing new. So many customers have this idea that there is some magical machine of the auto world that can give them the answer to their car's problem without much effort from the technician. As far as I know, and I've been around the toolbox a few times, there isn't any such machine out there known to man. Maybe it's a slip of the tongue kind of like how the use of a manufacturer's term for a product such as "Freon" when they actually mean R12. Maybe they meant to say, "Please check my car out and see what's wrong with it," rather than expecting some space age nuclear powered, all knowing, all seeing gadget from the planet Zeptar that sends out waves of diagnostic energy and makes any problem disappear.
Not all novice drivers think it's a machine, but there are enough out there that really want some gadget from outer space to check their car. The car has become a space age invention, a device that most generally novices don't understand which leads to the idea that it must be only understood by beings of a higher intelligence.
So, I thought I would ask some customers just what they are after when they ask for that space age "machine" that I seem not to know about. Then try to figure out what they really are expecting once their car is in the repair shop, and what they really think goes on back there when the hood is up. I was quite surprised at their answers.
For the most part, a majority of them do believe there is a machine from the planet Zeptar. They really believe that most techs just wave this machine over the engine, and everything there is to know about the car comes out on a little print out. Some believe it's like the old TV show robots from years past that had the answers before there was a problem even came close. Kind of like when the robot on the TV show "Lost in Space" would start waving its arms around and yell out, "Danger, Danger Will Robinson". Seriously folks, it's a TV show. I think a lot of it starts off from our childhood. TV, radio, and movies tend to make the unbelievable… believable.
Now, I'm not aware of any of these intergalactic solutions that the customer seems to know about, or any of these pieces of hardware they think I have at my disposal. I'm not a robot I'm a technician. I read up on as much of the latest information I can gather, and I spend my free time (what little I have) on researching new techniques or on different methods of solving vehicle problems that I haven't tried before.
I've come to the conclusion what these customers are really wanting is a robotic equivalent to those TV robots and Hollywood movie special effects departments' idea of the all-knowing computer that moves, talks, and interacts with the other players in the drama. That equivalent robot is a highly trained, self-motivated individual who dedicates their working hours to a craft that requires a high caliber of intelligence an even more in-depth ability to comprehend, while being capable of deciphering the intricate details of the modern vehicle with the proper tools available. A robot, no… they need a technician.
What the consumer is really trying to say is; "Put my car in the hands of a qualified tech who can find out what's wrong." They want him/her to be a robotic equivalent of what was capable on those old TV shows. They want something that will foresee their problems and establish a repair without delay.
I often thought it would be hilarious if the next time I'm confronted with someone who asks for one of those "machines" I would immediately go into a trance move like a dime store toy robot, and answer in a monotone voice, "Yes, I will proceed with your request without delay." Then grab their keys and glide through the shop door towards their car. Just to see what their reaction would be.
You never know they might actually stand there and look at you as if you have just burnt out a logic circuits or something. For all I know, they might want to ship me back to the planet Zeptar before I pull out my anti-gravitational-interrupter.
Cars and customers have been, and will always be, a tough part of the business. As the cars become more and more complex, the customer will always be the one common denominator in the equation. As we move further and further into the future the average novice driver will have even less and less knowledge of how their vehicle operates while the technician will steadily advance with the changing technology. I don't think there will be a robotic version of a technician any time in the near future, but you can bet the customer will be expecting an even quicker response and more detailed information about their vehicles condition.
With the cost of repairs increasing, and the sophistication of the vehicles continually rising, there is no doubt the technicians of tomorrow will be in even greater demand than today. Maybe the next time a customer asks me about that "machine" I might just say, "Me Robot??"… maybe then they'll make the connection that scanners, computers, and wrenches all have a place in the tool box… because they're all only tools of the trade, but it's still the technician that makes it work. Even Star Trek had an on-board mechanic and I'm pretty sure "Scotty" wasn't a robot and I don't think he was from the planet Zeptar… he was a technician.
As always, leave a comment if you'd like. Can always use a few good ideas for stories too. If you have an idea let me know...
Thanx for reading my column, and thanx again for your comments. Gonzo