Work On Machines, But Don't Be a Machine

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Anyone who knows me personally and who has had the pleasure of working around me over the years knows I am forever preaching the benefits of meticulous planning, well-thought-out and specific presentations and training your team members to such a degree of skill that they have a machine-like ability to give any presentation about any product or service you offer to any customer at any time.

It takes a tremendous amount of effort on your part. However, the results are well worth it: Steady and consistent higher-than-typical ticket averages, a higher percentage of happy customers and increasing car counts.

If your technicians are fumbling around verbally and mentally while conducting a presentation to your customers, then your customers are not going to have the confidence level you want — a level that will encourage them to take the advice your techs are presenting to them.

You and your techs need to be prepared to answer any typical — or random — question that may arise during the work day from your customers. You need to be able to answer them correctly and with confidence.

Of course, no one knows everything. Unfortunately, some technicians think they must appear to be the “authority” on anything a customer asks them and will tend to bluff their way through a tough question with quasi-technical babble and other tricks to try to make them appear all-knowing to customers. If this happens, most customers may not know exactly what is incorrect, but they will have the intuition that what they are being told is wrong. Then, they will lose confidence in this person as someone they might want to help them make a decision on what their car needs.

Technicians should be continually coached to never make up “facts” about products or services, and you should be vigilant in listening to what they are actually telling your customers about the products and services you offer.

Teach them that it is OK to not know the answer to every question. If they get a question like this during the day, seek out someone in the shop who has the correct answer. If no one in your shop can answer the question, make a note to find the answer and contact the customer before the next business day.

Customers ask a variety of simple questions that we take for granted every day. Here are a few that I am surprised still stump some veterans of the quick lube profession:

• What is the difference between 5W-20 and 10W-30 oil?

• What does the W mean?

• What does direct injection mean?

•Why don’t you change the filter in my transmission when you flush it out?

• Do I have to use dexos-labeled oil in my car?

• I drive 10,000 miles between oil changes as my owner’s manual says to. Why am I burning so much oil?

There are many, many more of these all-too-common questions customers ask during any typical day in a lube shop, yet many times they get such convoluted, makes-no-sense answers that they leave knowing less about the subject than before they came to your shop.

When these questions come up and as soon as there is a break in the action, gather your team-members together to conduct a quick and impromptu training session. Explain the exact answer to the particular question — and how you want them to answer it in the future with other customers. You will repeat this scenario many times nearly every day. If you are doing it right, you will find a day never goes by where you can’t tune-up someone on your crew.

This doesn’t just apply to dealing with customers, but it also applies to oil change procedures and the proper use of tools.

I have witnessed many experienced techs (and sometimes even managers/owners) who struggle daily to do a particular task on a vehicle with a tool that was not intended for that purpose. The proper tool is often ready at hand, yet the technician is unfamiliar with it and has never used it before.

My personal pet-peeve in this area is techs calling up saying a differential is N/A — plug is stripped. I will go down, and they will show me everything they have tried. Typically, they will have tried a ratchet or a ratchet with an extension on it and attempted to remove a rusty, slightly worn differential plug. When the ratchet — which does not have a head designed for this — rounds the plug even more, they call up, “N/A” and give up. All the while, there may have been a differential-plug extractor tool right there on their tool tray. No one has ever shown them what it is or what it is for. Therefore, many cars get in and out without this vital fluid check being done, even though you advertise it as part of your service. To compound matters, the customer will sometimes be told the differential plug is so stripped out and rusted in place, a mechanic will have to get it out, using more advanced methods not available here. If the customer takes it to a tech who knows what he is doing, he can often get the plug out lickity-split using only hand tools and a differential plug extractor. Two minutes with that tech, and your entire crew looks amateurish by comparison. That customer probably wouldn’t come back after an experience like that.

I know I have gained many customers over the years by being the shop that can easily and routinely do what other shops have told the customer was impossible. We try hard to be well-rounded and know what we are doing, while some of my competition would rather take their 10th smoke break and drink their 14th cup of coffee for the day.

OK, so what exactly am I saying here? Take the time to learn your craft as much as you can, and then teach it to your team-members. Watch them, and ensure they do the things you teach them. Pay attention.

Don’t Forget the “Poetry”

Machine-like precision keeps things consistent, reduces mistakes and turns a higher-quality oil change, car after car. That machine-like precision is all well and good, but don’t forget one very important fact: We work on the cars all day, but people are the customers. The cars do not drive themselves to your shop; the people do. The cars we work on are only the method we use to provide customer service.

Machines are mindless and unemotional; people are exactly the opposite. They are constantly thinking and analyzing what is going on around them, emotionally reacting to a million and one inputs and making constant decisions — huge and miniscule, consciously and sub-consciously, every second of every day. A machine cannot appreciate a fabulous, deep orange and red burning sunset or a crystal-clear day overlooking an amazing sparkling, blue ocean. Those are obvious examples of what I call the “poetry of life.” Beauty and appreciation are found in random and natural things happening around us every day.

Be sure you encourage and cultivate the “poetry” that should exist within your shop — the things your customers will appreciate on a different, more emotional level than simply knowing you put the plug in tight.

When your crew has a relaxed yet efficient call-and-response system that flows effortlessly, your customer appreciates the “poetry” of the rhythm that exists within your shop.

When your team-members introduce themselves to your customers by name and then ask them for their name, they are flattered by the personal attention. When a team-member then uses the customer’s name in a friendly manner whenever he is conversing with them, the customer is emotionally put at-ease by the friendly tone of the conversation.

When you and every team-member your customer comes into contact with is friendly, outgoing and helpful — verbally thankful to them for visiting your shop today — they relax and enjoy it just like that awesome sunset.

  The cleanliness of your crew and your shop equates to that sparkling, sun-drenched day at the beach.

  A dirty disorganized location staffed with rude and indifferent crewmembers is the emotional equivalent to dark and foreboding storm clouds and a torrential rain ruing an otherwise awesome day. 

  Be the machine that co-exists with poetry. I know you can do it!

See ya’ next month.  

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