Questions, Answers, and Questions
A question and answer discussion starts the minute this fella walks up to the service counter and asks, “You guys do electrical repair, right?”
Katie, my service manager answers, “Yes, it's our specialty.”
“Well, I've got a problem you've never seen.”
“Really, that would be different. What's the problem?” Katie questions him.
“I don't know, I saw smoke coming from the starter, then the alternator, then the fuse box, so I disconnected a bunch of wires. It used to start, before I pulled the wires. Must be something else wrong with it now,” the guy tells Katie in detail.
Katie asks, “What kind of car?”
“It's a 1978 Subaru.”
“Not a very complicated car to have such an unknown problem. We can call a tow truck for you, and get it checked out.”
“Yea, but I doubt he'll know what's wrong with it, if it doesn't start.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. He's pretty good at it, and I've seen him take some really bad looking situations and turn them into gems before.”
“Yea, but this is something he's never seen, so I doubt he'll know how to fix it.”
No matter what Katie said, or how she explained it, or how she pleaded, he wasn't buying it. Later, when she told me about the conversation I gave her my list of the common reasons why people like him ask these types of questions… make it sound impossible to fix… answers their own questions…then convinces themselves they already know how to repair it and wasted their time coming here. (All within the time they walked in the door)
#1 It's going to cost a lot... because, I don't know how to fix it.
#2 Electrical systems, they’re impossible to figure out. That’s why I can’t do it.
#3 Obviously, this shop doesn’t know, or they would have told me how to fix it by now.
#4 I could do the work myself, just wish I knew how.
#5 It's an electrical problem. I can't find it, and I know they won't be able to either. It’s too involved, so the best thing is to replace “everything”. Now I just need to know how much, that way I can tell if this shop is on the level or not.
I've seen this so many times. I'm surprised Katie lasted as long as she did with this guy. Well, it could be when you put a pretty girl at the front counter you might find some guys spending a lot more time there than if my ugly, old mug greeted them. Besides, she's a sweetheart, and I'm more of a growling bear.... (She gets a lot more of them in the shop than I do).
From time to time one of these guys will ultimately leave their car for me to work on. Chances are, as in past encounters, if their explanation is short and quick... the problem is involved and lengthy, but if they have to explain things in detail, with lengthy descriptions... chances are the problem is quick and simple. (Happens all the time). When they get the invoice and find out it didn't cost an arm and a leg, they're in shock. Once in a while I have to explain things back to them in detail... in extraordinary detail... because they can't believe it was that simple. Other times, they make a run for the door, as If I had made a mistake on the final bill and want to get out of there before I change my mind.
Although, I'd love to lean on the counter, hand on my chin, and smile as they explain things, it would probably look rude, and they'll probably get upset. My standing there with that quirky smirk, anticipating the next chapter in the life of their car might not look all that comical to them. They’ll likely think they either have just met the goofiest mechanic in town, or some certifiable wacko with a box of wrenches. I'll admit, it would be hilarious from my side of the counter. I already know where they're going with their saga. But, they don't know where I'm going...Oh, they will. Probably about the time I'm standing at the door with that big smile on my face, holding the door open and saying, “You have a wonderful day, and I hope you manage to find out what's wrong with your car at the next shop you end up at.”
Here's the deal. I don't know where or how in the vast history of the auto business any and all repairs can be answered in just a few minutes of discussion at the front counter. Or, just because you don't know what is wrong, doesn’t mean that “I” don't know what's wrong. But, that doesn't mean I’m going to tell you what's wrong... well, I will... only after I get the car in the shop. If I did tell you what I think it is, I may only gain the admiration of a prospective customer... who, in theory... will only show up the next time he/she has a problem that needs my expertise, and is going to do the same thing they did the last time… ask then leave.
I read a lot about how certain repairs should be a “no charge” from these so called “Experts on customer relationships”, or that mechanics shouldn’t charge for every little thing they do. At times I think these fellas who come in asking questions, and then answering their own questions are more worried about cost than they are of what is actually wrong with the car. I certainly understand that cost is a factor, but professional care of any sorts isn’t going to happen at the corner “discount auto center”. On the other hand, for those folks who don’t know the solution to their problems and their mechanic can't tell them, they tend to think nobody knows. It just might be that the mechanic isn't going to tell you... it's his/her job to know, to repair, and get paid for it.
It may seem like we’re concealing answers, it might seem like I'm being careful with my responses... and you're probably right. The automotive repair field takes constant renewal and dedication to the trade to keep up with the training and changes. It's not cheap either, and the thought that any mechanic, (dealership or independent), is told by their boss, or a customer, or for any other reason to do what he/she is trained for without any monetary, or satisfactory compensation to me is an insult to the profession.
I've been behind the service counter a lot longer than some of these “in and out the door” customers have been thinking of their questions and their anticipated answers, (even though I haven't answered a single question). So don't be surprised if I’m at the service counter with this quirky smile and my hand on my chin... because I've seen it all before, and I already know the routine. My advice; try not answering your own questions with your own answers, it just leaves more questions without answers.