Give 'Em What They Want: Operational Training for 2015

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A few months ago I had a conversation with an operator from the state of Arkansas. He told me his career started at the same place a lot of people from the state of Arkansas start their careers. I would rather not name the place, but most of us have heard of them — let’s just say they put the big box stores on the map.

He and I were having a conversation about how successful operations did business and what made them unique to the market. That reminded him of his earlier career. This particular business was not in a niche market, and they didn’t offer any other products you couldn’t find anywhere else, but what they did do was not normal for their industry. For this retailer, the early days offered a no-questions-asked return policy. In a time when their competition was requiring time limits, receipts, original packaging and a long questionnaire of why you were returning the product, this retailer had a simple and very effective return policy. The policy was “give ’em their money back.” Period. No questions, no fuss, no hassle. If you are not happy with your product, return it. Can you imagine a policy like that?

Before you start to recite all the reasons why this is a dumb policy, let me skip forward 30 years and tell you this retailer went on to become the largest retailer in the world. How did they do it? It’s simple — they give the customer what they want. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Give a customer what they want. What started as a rural Northwest Arkansas five-and-dime went on to become the world’s largest retailer. Many of us know them for having the lowest price, but that’s not how they started. They started with a simple policy of giving a customer what they want. They evolved into being the giant of retail by listening to their customers. What were their customers asking for? Always have the lowest price. 

Have you considered your operational training lately? For many operators who have been in the industry for years, it is time to consider a change. One of the lessons learned from the great recession of 2008 is, the old way of operating is not going to make it in the post-recession era. No longer is the excuse, “We’ve always done it like this,” going to work in today’s environment of higher expectations. Every aspect of our industry, from customers to employees, has new expectations for this new era and failure to adjust could be detrimental to your shop.

As a part of my job, I am afforded the opportunity to attend several trade shows. An interesting trend being observed during the last few shows of 2014 is coming from the vendors of our industry. This new trend is an aggressive plan that includes their sales in the next five years. The last five years have been mostly about surviving the recession, but the next five years is about growth.

In conversations, as well as during breakout sessions, these vendors are talking about how they plan to double sales in the next five years. In a nutshell, it all comes down to one simple philosophy — give the customer what they want. Give more value to their products. Give more service to their process. Anticipate the needs of the customer, and than fill that need. Be a problem solver. The customer is king — give them what they want!

Another function of my job is to train and advise shop owners and managers in operational training. Some of these are shops that have been in business for years and realize it is time for a renewed focus in operational training. In other cases, I have the opportunity to work with new shops and new shop owners and managers. In both instances, successful shops are focusing on how they do business. There are several aspects of operational training like policy, procedure and culture, but it can all be wrapped up in one simple line, “Give the customer what they want.” When an operator asks me questions about how to deal with specific operational issues, my response is, “Who benefits the most from the results of your decision — the customer or the shop?”

As an example, the owner of a 23 year-old shop said to me, “During lunch, we close one bay so we can cycle the crew through lunch. If I don’t, it takes forever to get everybody fed.” I asked who benefitted from this decision. In other words, think of the operational decisions as a funnel, and the funnel is who benefits from the decisions you make. In the “new normal,” if the customer is the one who benefits, then it is the right decision.

If all the operational decisions are funneled through the customer- or shop-benefit funnel, then the filter, to catch all of the contaminants, could be the filter of honesty and integrity.

Consumer studies ask the question of the leading negative experience a customer can incur, it is when they are told one thing and another thing happens. For an example, suppose you call the local plumber out to fix a leaky pipe. Now you don’t care when they say they will be there to fix the pipe, but once the plumber tells you a time, and you rearrange your schedule to accommodate the plumber, what happens when the plumber shows up an hour late?  Do you tell your neighbors the plumber fixed the pipe? No, of course not. You expected him to fix the pipe, but you do tell the neighbors the plumber was an hour late.

Honesty and integrity are foundational to operational training. In a world of instant social communication, if you or your staff misleads a customer, then they will tell everyone who will listen before they ever leave the shop. Our customers depend on us for an honest and complete service on their vehicles. The customers of today understand their vehicles are complicated and require expertly, trained technicians to work on them. If you or the staff misleads the customer, you can be sure they will find out and they will find another shop.

Another interesting consumer science study is that consumers understand, even appreciate it, if you say, “Sorry, I don’t know,” or “Sorry, but we cannot perform the service you need.” Your shop does not have to be everything to everybody. It is OK to say no. What is not OK is to agree to do something then either not do it or do the job incorrectly.

The same operator referred to in the beginning of this article once told me he uses the times he has to say no as a barometer to gauge what his customers’ expectations and needs are. When he or his staff says no to a particular service repeatedly over a period of time, then he starts the process of determining what training is needed for his staff so they can say yes. But they don’t say yes until they have been trained to perform the job correctly.

Honesty, integrity and customers-first are the new normal. Although this could be more accurately described as a return to a time when these traits were expected and not unusual. This proves the most important element of testing ideas is time. This new normal is not new at all. In fact, it is time-proven that these ideas work. To expand on a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Give a customer what they want, and they will beat a path to your door.” If your shop is interested in operational training, feel free to get in touch with me at the contact information listed below.

RAGAN HOLT is the quick lube advisor for National Oil & Lube News. He is available for consulting and training in the quick oil and lube industry. He can be contacted at:

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