Attention all tire dealers! Owning the business doesn't automatically qualify you to work the service desk or front counter. Undoubtedly, this statement will astound or confound some dealers. Some readers may label it heresy of the highest order, but someone has to stand up and say it: The boss may be too gruff, too insensitive or too lenient to work at the store's front counter.
The more owner-managers I meet, the more convinced I am that some of them desperately need this wakeup call from an impartial observer.
Leave the front counter to level-headed employees who can handle people. If you really aren't a ``people person,'' then stay out the way of workers who are.
On the other hand, if you're the proverbial ``soft touch'' who can't say no to an undeserving customer, give the reins to employees possessing a fair but firm manner.
Repeat those traits to yourself again: ``People person who is fair but firm.''
This type of employee is the backbone of your entire operation. When you undermine his or her efforts by second-guessing, interrupting or overruling a capable employee, you're actually limiting service sales.
Experience has taught me that a boss who's unsuited for the service counter usually is very self-absorbed but not self-aware. What's more, a little factor called job security prevents most employees from criticizing how the boss handles people.
Sometimes the boss has enough sense to seek help when service sales aren't growing the way he expects. Imagine his surprise when the shop management consultant he hired cites him as an obstacle to increased service sales.
The saddest part, employees and consultants agree, is the boss's blindness to his shortcomings. ``It's a sorry, but common, situation, where everyone in the store recognizes he's incapable but him,'' one consultant said.
Smart owner-managers learn to accept and profit from constructive criticism. They empower workers to give them hell whenever they deserve it, and will admit their business is better for it.
Predictably, a combination of ego and stubbornness usually rule out constructive criticism where it's needed the most. Pity. Think of the consulting fees a dealer could save if he'd just listen to his own staff!
As a public service to thick-headed, unaware bosses, here are clues that tell you it's time to yield to the help at the front counter.
First: Have you noticed customers avoiding you? Do they make a beeline for other service personnel manning the same counter? Or do they approach you, only to ask for a certain service writer who's not at the counter at that moment?
These reactions are understandable if you're an absentee owner. But if you're a regular at your own store, this suggests customers would rather deal with someone other than you. That's a powerful clue the service writers interact with people better than you do.
This ``avoidance pattern'' should cue you to do some serious self-evaluation. If you're not a good listener and lack the patience to interrogate customers correctly, put someone on the front desk who has these skills. Devote your time to other aspects of the business.
Second: Would you rather give the store away than stand up to dishonest, undeserving customers? In previous columns, I've discussed times when you need to ``fire'' some customers. If the crew's ready to mutiny because you won't cut loose certain customers, it's another hint to vacate the front counter.
Third: If you're working alongside the store's other counter people, compare your average service ticket total to theirs.
If your totals are consistently lower, you're probably cutting too many prices. Often, it's too easy for the boss to chop prices when customers frown at job quotes. After all, the boss has the last word because he's the boss.
Instead of taking the path of least resistance, the boss—like any good counter person—should justify the cost of the work to customers in an intelligent, professional manner.
Rank-and-file service writers have no choice when it comes to justifying job quotes, because they don't have the authority to reduce prices to overcome objections.
And, ultimately, the price-cutting only creates confusion and ill will among both staff and consumers.
Fourth: Remember the old sales axiom that says, ``You only get one chance to make a first impression.'' Unless front-desk personnel effectively sell themselves first, they won't sell any tires or service.
Like it or not, a boss who works the front desk has to be part of this successful first impression—no exceptions!