It’s not what they say, it’s what they said.
“Take your time, I’m in no hurry, I’ll be back tomorrow, I just want it to last until graduation, or, Let me get your number and I’ll call you back” are just a few of the common phrases you’ll hear at the repair shop. At first, you might be inclined to believe they’re expecting no less than what they actually said, but I’ve learned over the decades of being behind the service counter a lot of times the real meaning is far from what actually comes out of their mouths.
One of the most popular phrases I seem to run across is, “Take your time, I’m in no hurry at all.” Pretty straight forward request right? I distinctly heard them tell me that I don’t need to be in a hurry… at all, and that I can take my time getting it done. But, after the third or fourth phone call since they dropped off the car, or the second trip back to the shop to wander around their car while it’s in the service bay, you soon realize they didn’t mean for me to take my time … at all. I used to think it was me, and that I wasn’t hearing them clearly, but after a few years I figured it out. It’s all in the “phrase” and not the actual words. What they really meant to say is, “I don’t need it back right away, but I don’t want you to do some sort of sloppy repair either. So, I’ll be checking on ya with random spot checks just to keep you on your toes and to observe the progress.”
Then, there are the callers who ask numerous questions about their problem, and by the time we get down to the cost of the repair (based on the information provided) they can’t commit to an appointment. Instead, they give me this phrase, “It’s going to be a couple of weeks before I can get it to you.” Even though in the beginning of this whole conversation, they made it very clear they were in dire need of getting the car back on the road as fast as possible. I know, they were just trying to be polite and courteous, and they said it would be a couple of weeks before they could bring it in. But, in real time terms they rarely show up a few weeks later. What they really meant to say was, “I got all the info I needed from ya, so I can tell my “mechanic” what needs done, (or I can now fix it myself) … thanks.”
On the other hand you’ve got the guy who comes in and asks for a specific test, such as a pressure check on his radiator. “I just need a couple of things done first. Shouldn’t take you long, so I’m sure it won’t cost much.” The clincher was the phrase he used. “Just a few things done first.” By now the warning lights are flashing in my head, the sound of the “whoop-whoop” sirens are in full on mode, because more than likely there’s something he’s not telling me. Sure enough, there was.
Seems he’s been overheating for the past week or so, and he already had it checked at another shop. They diagnosed it as a bad headgasket that had also caused the radiator to rupture. A pressure check wasn’t going to do much good in this case, but… that “phrase”, that little bit of information made me suspicious something worse was lurking under the hood. So, what was he really looking for? He was looking for a second opinion to either confirm or denounce the first opinion. Now, why in the world didn’t he just tell me all that in the first place instead of asking for a specific test?
Maybe what I should do is have a psychologist on staff. You know, one who can evaluate the responses, maybe even offer a little sidebar counseling. I already have a hard time keeping up this trade, learning the new technologies, the tools, and the techniques, now I’ve got to decipher phrases too?! The hard part is dealing with the unknown factor of the repair process, and these catch phrases that have some sort of double meaning make it even more of a challenge. Believe me, I’ve looked long and hard through every repair manual and it never once found an answer for these double meaning phrases. Ya just have to learn how to decipher them as you go.
Another thing to consider is the completely naive type of car owner who knows nothing except where the key goes and where “D” is. They’re usually the same type who assumes all mechanics are just alike. Some of them believe the guy who put air in their tire last week can also figure out a complex multitasking electrical system, too.
Say for instance, this type of person went back to the guy who put the air in the tires and asked him why their transmission seems to be acting up, and the guy starts talking about space aliens and sun spots as the cause. He might even insists you leave it with him so he can hook up his particle beam separator and realign the trunion springs to the galvanic isolator. Even though you might not know anything about today’s cars, you’re pretty sure the time vortex has nothing to do with your transmission. You might be inclined to use one of these phrases. “Can I get back to you on that? I can’t leave it with you right now.” Or, “Are you open tomorrow? I’ll bring it back tomorrow.” I know, you’re just being polite, but what you really were thinking is, “This guy sounds like a complete idiot. I need to find somebody else to work on my car.”
Sometimes, these phrases are used from the other direction too. Like the mechanic trying to be somewhat courteous and diplomatic. Such as when the mechanic says, “Why, yes I’ve seen this before.” If not handled correctly, this can open up a whole new set of phrases and problems, such as, “It sounds similar, but I’ll still need to check it out properly before giving any kind of estimate.” Or “I’ve seen lots of cars with this same kind of problem, but I’d rather check it out than take a wild guess at it.” What is the mechanic really saying? Probably something like this, “I know exactly what is wrong, or at least I have a pretty good idea, but if I say anything more about it you’ll then ask me the next proverbial question, “How much?”. Then, I’ve got to dig up the prices, find the cost of the parts, and tell you all the above… but, if I’m wrong and it’s something completely different than what you’ve described, you’re going to keep bringing up what I originally thought it was or find another mechanic. I’d rather be sure than to guess at it.
So, my hearing isn’t the problem; it was my understanding of these “phrases” that have double meanings. I’m sure, somewhere there is this highfalutin psychologist who probably has an answer for all these quirky phrases, and there’s probably some scientific name for the condition or situation. I’m no psychologist, in fact I’m more likely to be a patient of an Ivy League graduate with one of those fancy lettered pieces of sheep skin hanging on the wall. I’m just a mechanic, nothing more. All I’m trying to do is comprehend what my customers are telling me without having to go through years of psychoanalysis. Because the one thing I’ve learned, it’s not what they say, it’s what they said.
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By Joe Marconi
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