Mind Over Matter

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For this month’s column, let’s dig into a subject that’s more subtle and esoteric than most topics: The troublesome male ego — the root cause of most disagreements in the world today.

Now, whether you agree or disagree with that provocative statement, it will still benefit you to grasp and understand how this subject is one that can either be your friend or your foe when it comes to maintaining a happy, productive shop filled with positive employees and eager-to-return customers.

Don’t Trick Yourself

The male ego (ME), by its very nature is a competitive mind-set. There is typically one overriding priority in the ME, and that priority is winning. The concepts of competition, winning and losing are all interrelated. For what would be the point of any competition if there was no ultimate opportunity to declare a winner?

In the world of customer service, and in sales and marketing specifically, fully understanding the ME and how it controls your customers as well as your employees can and will help you achieve a much more productive fast lube.

First of all, let’s examine how a typical customer interaction experience unfolds with regard to the influence of the ME in a common customer/technician situation:

The basis of the entire service begins with a subtle interaction that could possibly start the customer/technician relationship down the wrong path; one that does not lead to a happy customer and an acceptable transaction for your shop.

When your average customer drives up to your shop, they are now on your property, in your parking lot, surrounded by your employees and know they will soon be inundated by all the coercions, suggestions, influences and directions your employees direct at them. This is usually more subconscious than conscious, but the customer definitely becomes a little wary and mentally strikes a defensive posture. This is quite obvious when, after a friendly greeting by one of your techs, they immediately say something like, “Just the regular oil change today. Don’t bother to check anything else.”

Hopefully, you don’t hear that from your customers too often, but I know we have all heard that type of statement from time to time.

Why do they say that? It’s very simple. They are defensive, because they feel there is a possibility they may be taken advantage of. This defensive wall is an attempt to forestall any scenario that can lead to them not being able to stop it.

As they drive onto your property, your customer typically has the deep-seated assumption that your team’s priority and only real goal is to get them to spend as much money in your shop as they can be convinced, coerced or conned into. Now, I’m not talking about anything dishonest or illegal — just any and all services or parts a typical customer needs on their vehicle at the time of their visit with you.

Imagine, for a moment, if every customer of yours purchased only the services and parts they truly needed on their vehicles — all determined by manufacturer’s recommendations: You would probably run $150 tickets, all day every day. Of course, we all know customers do not do that — far from it. They have many ways to say no to legitimate recommendations from lube technicians. Some of these objections are polite and courteous, while others are outrageous and filled with lies and insults, along with everything in between.

Take Control Immediately

So, the first order of business would seem to be to effectively convince the customer — immediately upon arrival at your location — that we are not here just to fleece their wallet but are, indeed, friendly and interested only in their satisfaction with their visit with us today, regardless of how much money they spend.

The best way to start off the initial greeting is to not talk about the oil change or any business-related statements. Don’t begin with, “Hi there! Oil change for you today?” No matter how friendly of a tone you may have with that opening, the first thing you talked about was the “oil change,” which clearly demonstrates to the customer your priority is the oil change. An oil change to a customer is fraught with troubling contradictions. They know they need to get an oil change on their vehicle at some point, and most do not disagree with the logic of taking care of their vehicle in that respect. Conversely, many customers also view the oil change process in a quick lube as an opportunity for a technician to root around under their hood looking for reasons to try to sell them a bunch of unneeded, extra services and items. It doesn’t matter if the tech is only making moral and proper recommendations, or if he makes specious and unnecessary suggestions. The emotion from the customer is the same, and it controls them.

A better opening would be something simple like, “Hi, there. How are you today?”

No questions about oil changes or any other kind of business question. A simple, friendly greeting that inquires about the customer as a person and someone whose comfort is respected and made a priority in your shop will do.

It is very important when you ask a question — even the questions that are just throw-away questions that have become part of lazy greetings — that you then give the customer the chance to respond.

An opening that goes, “Hi, how are you today? Oil change for ya?” may be friendly enough, but is socially rude and disrespectful, in reality.

By asking the question, “How are you?” and then following it immediately with, “Oil change for ya?” without giving the customer the fair chance to answer the first, personal question demonstrates to the customer you really don’t care at all how they are doing, because you never even gave them a chance to answer the question.

The customer interprets this as, “How much money can I get from this customer today?” This may seem totally overwhelming and complicated when broken down in detail like this, but it all typically takes place in the first five seconds of the initial greeting with a normal customer. The key is to let the customer know you are most concerned with their comfort and satisfaction. We can do that by talking “to” the customer and not “at” them.

Ask them questions, but always wait for a response before continuing on. Be patient with them. If they are fumbling around with their light switch or hood release, don’t get annoyed and just reach in and do it for them without permission. By all means, do not talk over them. Let the customer say what they want to say, even if you think you know what they are going to say.

As Judge Judy says so often on her TV show, “You are not wearing your listening ears”.

What does that mean? It simply means if you listen twice as much as you talk, you will be far ahead of most people. That is good advice for life in general.

Let the Customer Win the Proper Battles

The set-up of the situation between a customer and the technician in a service recommendation scenario can also provoke the competitive ME in your customer. Without realizing it, many technicians take the subconscious attitude that they are the superior in the situation, simply because they are the professionals with all the skill and knowledge on how to diagnose, recommend and perform any extra services the customer’s car may need.

The ME of the customer does not want to be subordinate to anyone, or anything, in any situation (the very nature of winning in competition), so a defensive and competitive mechanism is put into play right away. It is easy to see if your technicians understand if they are using the existence of the ME to their advantage or if they are being unknowingly manipulated by it to their disadvantage. If, after a typical customer recommendation does not result in a sale that the tech feels very strongly should have been achieved, you may have a situation for improvement there.

If your tech says things like, “That guy was a jerk; he clearly knows that service needed to be done and he just doesn’t care. I can’t believe how stupid they can be sometimes,” then your tech is being slapped around by the ME and doesn’t even know it. Worse yet, he is probably the very person who created the situation in the first place! His anger, disappointment and his blaming of the customer for not recognizing his quality recommendation shows the competitive component of his ME — winning is the ultimate goal — which was the overriding factor in your tech’s interactions with your customer.

If his goals were truly the best concerns of the customer and the customer’s satisfaction, then your tech would have been mostly disappointed in his own lack of ability to help the customer come to the proper decision to do what is best for his vehicle, and by definition, what is best for the customer.

The psychology of the ME and the workings of the subconscious mind is a fascinating subject, and with a little understanding, everyone can develop habits that will increase their effectiveness in all customer interaction situations. I encourage each of you to learn as much as you can about it.

And as always, just make it happen.

See ya’ next month!  


KIT SULLIVAN is a partner in a multi-unit, Florida-based quick lube company. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Sullivan has more than 28 years experience in sales and management training. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. He can be reached via email: quicklubekit@aol.com





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