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By Joe Marconi
As shop owners, we sometimes feel that we need to answer every question and handle every situation. While you need to be proficient as a business owner, you also need your employees to think for themselves.
Empower your people to solve problem. Ask them for their opinions and don’t be too quick to jump in on every situation. The more you jump in and solve their problems, the more they will rely on you. This is not to say you don’t have their back; but a team functions best when everyone takes ownership of their position and takes responsibility to take care of problems.
Will employees make mistakes? Yes. But there isn’t a shop owner on this planet that has a perfect record at making decisions. We all make mistakes.
As a shop owner; teach, mentor and coach. Include your employees in on decisions that relate to their job position. When employees feel you trust them, they will begin to solve their own problems. This will set you free to work on the things that will bring you greater success.
So, What’s Wrong With Your Car?
It’s the typical question asked at the service desk of automotive repair shops across the country. You’d think the answer would be simple, you know, just tell the service writer what ails the car, but no… that’s not the typical answer from the do it yourselfer.
When asked, some people have a hard time keeping things simple. Their answer isn’t really an answer, it’s more of a statement of the things they’ve done to their car. Now why is that? How come when the service writer asks, “So, what’s wrong with the car?” the answer is, “I changed the battery, the alternator, and I rewired everything under the hood.” Which sounds more like what they did to the car, rather than what is wrong with the car.
It troubles me to hear things like this over and over. All I want to know (as the mechanic about to service the issue) is what is wrong, not what you’ve done. Believe me, any mechanic worth his salt will figure out what you’ve done to the car. What he lacks is the reason you’re here in the first place.
I’ve even tried to rephrase the question, “So, what brings you here today?” That doesn’t seem to work any better. It’s like some unwritten law of responses; the DIY’r type customer has to begin their dissertation with what they’ve done and not the actual problem that brought them to the repair shop in the first place.
Now, if the service writer starts the deliberation with, “In as few words as possible, tell me what is wrong.” It doesn’t seem to help at all, and if the question asked is, “So, what did ya do to it?” that only puts them in a defensive mode which doesn’t improve the answer or any further forthcoming information. Ya just gotta stand there and listen intently and with unbiased interest in their tale of tales.
I often wonder if the whole thing is a pride issue with some of these guys. Maybe what they are really telling the service writer is more in line with how they tried to fix it but failed, rather than actually trying to explain the problem they can’t solve. Somehow the mere explanation of all the individual parts that were changed is supposed to inform the mechanic of things they shouldn’t assume are the problem.
There are those who finish their story with, “and, everything checks out good.” How’s that ever happen? If everything is “good” you wouldn’t be having a problem.
From the mechanics point of view, “everything” has to be rechecked under the guise of the proper identification of any components replaced, the quality of those components that were replaced, as well as checking the wiring. Once all that is confirmed then the mechanic can check the signals and voltages. It’s one of the many things that separate the DIY’r from the professional. A pro will diagnose things rather than simply change parts. A systematic list of diagnostic procedures isn’t that hard to follow, but understanding the results can be.
Apparently that’s where I find it hard to follow some of these DIY’r logics. They’ll come up with some goofy name for a part or symptom based on their background or something they’ve overheard. None of which have anything to do about automotive repair or cars in general. But, you’ve gotta listen to their story, no matter what they say.
I’ve found over years of being behind the service counter, you should never ever interrupt or correct their explanation. Just let them get it all out, and then hopefully work back to “So what’s wrong”. I’ve been tempted more than once to stop them in the middle of their story, hold my hand up and say, “I didn’t ask you what you did. I asked you what’s wrong.” I’m not sure that would go over that well.
While they are well on their way of their next novel and spilling their tool box of parts they’ve changed in verbal form, I’m trying to keep up with it all by writing as much of it down. Usually, I’m crossing off things as their explanation goes further into the story about how they don’t want you to check that part (because it’s new) or that particular part they just mentioned was changed years ago and hasn’t been a problem since, but for some reason (which they’re not sure of), it suddenly has become extremely important to inform me about it. By the end of the story I’ve gone through a blank invoice on both sides, a scratch pad, and ran out of ink in the pen.
To top things off, a lot of these home garage repairmen insist on waiting, or in a lot of instances want to watch. This for the most part, can be just as frustrating for the mechanic as listening to their saga. Most shop insurance policies frown on having a customer in the shop area due to the numerous pieces of unusual and dangerous types of equipment, let alone getting in the way of the process of diagnosing the problem. If you want to watch, go find a You Tube video on the problem, the repair shop is not an educational outlet for the uniformed.
Sometimes, the DIY’r is pretty sharp and might actually have a working knowledge of their car. It’s rare, but there are a few who really could tackle their problem without consecutively changing the alternator five times in a row. Let’s face it, car repair isn’t rocket science, but as the technology proceeds into even more data lines and computer systems it might as well be. Which to me, means an even wider gap between the DIY’r and the professional mechanic, and probably a whole lot more unbelievable stories at the service counter.
Will the question at the service counter change? Will the answers from the DIY’r get to the point before the service writer has to break out a second scratch pad or a new pen? Probably not. There’s something about fixing your own car that brings out the mechanic in all of us. Whether it’s a pride issue or to save the cost of a professional mechanic, DIY’rs will still give it a try with little to no information. Just wing it and see what happens.
Don’t worry, they’ll still sell parts, and they’ll still sell tools, as well as the good ol’ free code read at the part stores. Oh, and there are manuals at these parts stores too, but you don’t need those. They are for someone who doesn’t know about cars, not somebody like yourself? (I’m being sarcastic, of course) So there’s plenty of opportunity for a new “So what’s wrong with your car?” moment at the local repair shop.
When stumped, they’ll find a pro to check their car out. And, I’m sure they’ll still tell the service writer their entire story about all the parts they’ve changed, all the books they’ve read, and how many You Tube videos they’ve watched, without ever getting to the “what’s wrong” until the very end. It’s just the way it is.
But I already know what the service writer is thinking after they ask, “So, what’s wrong with the car?” and the answer turns into a long winded story. Yea, he’s got a pretty good idea what’s wrong with the car...you worked on it first.
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Article: Questions, Answers, and Questions - - Some people answer their own questions...only to leave with no answers.By Gonzo
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.
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.
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