In ancient times, people tortured or killed messengers carrying bad news. But in modern times, tire dealers who handle the messenger's role gracefully build consumer trust and improve relationships with other service shops. In my last column, I argued that service personnel who consider themselves professionals should emulate professionals. Specifically, sell the virtues of your business without verbally assaulting competitors and their policies.
Likewise, a true pro notifies a competitor when one of his mistakes rolls into his shop. If more service personnel did this more often, both the quality of automotive service and the level of consumer trust would improve dramatically.
When I was in the shop, I saw my share of improperly or misdiagnosed vehicles from competitors. It taught me an important customer trait early on: Some people would rather switch than fight.
When a repair didn't fix the car, they'd rather move their patronage to a different repair shop than fight for satisfaction from the people who did the work.
Clearly, some of these people were meek, noncombative types who preferred avoiding confrontations. But others admitted they had so many bad experiences with auto repair shops that they adopted a one-shot philosophy. If a shop couldn't fix the car correctly the first time, these motorists believed moving to another shop was the best use of their time and money.
I was proud as a peacock whenever our shop straightened out a competitor's mistakes, earning ourselves another loyal convert. Calling a competitor to alert him that we had an unhappy customer of his never occurred to me back then. Winners, keepers; losers, weepers!
By the same token, I also got hot under the collar whenever the shoe was on the other foot. For example, on one job I apparently forgot to tighten a hose clamp completely and a customer's car began seeping-just seeping-coolant. When the owner finally noticed it, he panicked and had the service station two blocks from his house check his car.
Because a fellow I know worked there, I later heard a firsthand report on how his coworkers trashed our shop's reputation. I was sore that I never got a chance to make amends by apologizing, tightening the hose clamp and making an appropriate fuss by offering a free oil change or some other free service.
At the time, both my boss and his main competitor had more work than they could handle, so losing a few was no big deal to them. (Ultimately, this attitude would cost both of them their businesses!) So I was told to forget about it.
In my travels around the industry, I've found most service personnel are proud of their work and really appreciate the opportunity to do right by their customers.
But like me, they never think, or flat-out refuse, to make that awful call: ``Joe, a lady's here with a work order and receipt for a valve job done last month at your place. Coolant's spraying out from the vicinity of the head gasket. Will you please talk to this lady?''
Many service personnel refuse to get in the middle of any potential dispute between a consumer and another shop. But if anyone's actually ``in the middle,'' it's the hapless consumer. Meanwhile, the industry's image is bleeding while we deliberate getting involved in any way.
Consumers always appreciate when we tell them about components covered under the automaker's warranty. Likewise, those service personnel who either make the call or urge motorists to call the shop that did the work report favorable feedback from the vehicle owner, his friends and family.
Granted, the gesture doesn't generate service sales right away-and you may not make a hit with the competitor-but your effort amounts to another solid brick in the long-term foundation of a trustworthy reputation.
W. Edwards Deming, the ``quality meister'' who taught the Japanese the art and science of customer satisfaction, said the multiplier effect of the unhappy customer was one of the most important but elusive measurements business leaders face today. Surely, making good on jobs gone bad is the heart of customer satisfaction.
When more service personnel realize how valuable the ``bad news'' telephone call is, they'll make the call-even if a competitor doesn't reciprocate. His customer will remember the gesture. Eventually, this will become a reciprocal courtesy among better service shops who practice it.
The bottom line: more happy people more often and a more trusting relationship with consumers and competitors.
That's a scenario we'll all surely appreciate.