Tired of one-way information seekers taking advantage of your technicians' knowledge? Some savvy service personnel cope by tactfully taking the work away from competitors who lack the skill and/or true interest in working on modern vehicles.
Simply put, some service shop owners and managers aren't just getting mad, they're getting even with fellow tradesmen who refuse to take their business seriously. It's an easy way to earn new customers the old-fashioned way—with knowledge and skill.
In my last column, I discussed how some technicians and managers spend considerable company time helping friends in the trade who frankly don't deserve their help. On the one hand, cooperation and trading information is the lifeblood of the automotive repair industry.
On the other hand, there are techs and service managers who are committing one of the most serious crimes I can imagine: They refuse to learn! They haven't invested in ongoing training or a modern information system (personal computer, CD-ROM, and/or shop manuals). As long as one of their lifelong friends is only a telephone call away—and the friend agrees to take the call—these characters will tackle any repair.
To make matters worse, these sad-sack mechanics (I dare not call them technicians) don't reciprocate with information of their own because they have no knowledge to share with competent technicians.
Mr. D, a successful service shop owner and former tech who often wears a service manager's hat, maintains that ego and friendship fuel this situation.
First, it's only human nature for techs to feel proud and valuable by telling someone else how to solve a problem. It's a form of validation or positive reinforcement. Sadly, the only "attaboy!" this good tech receives all week might come from Sad Sack down the street when he successfully diagnoses a car over the phone.
What's more, it's very awkward for a tech to tell someone he's known a long time that he can't or won't help him out of a jam. Old friendships can easily blind someone to the fact the alleged friend is taking advantage, Mr. D explained.
Therefore, he's undertaken an aggressive but tactful approach to capitalize on local Sad Sacks who persist in trying to sponge information. Simply put, Mr. D asks for the order by insisting that Sad Sack send the job to him for a competent diagnosis and repair. This serves the motorist well because he or she gets a proper repair performed correctly the first time. This translates into a satisfied customer and one less black eye for the auto repair industry.
Second, this approach usually sidesteps a potentially ugly confrontation with Sad Sack, someone he's known a long time in the community. Mr. D has politely tendered a quick solution to Sad Sack's dilemma by taking this vehicle, perceived as a problem car, off his hands. Without being confrontational, he's demonstrating the consequences of ignorance to this fellow by taking business away from him. You may think this is a cruel lesson for ol' Sack, but I think it's the slap in the face he really needs.
Third, of course, is that Mr. D is making money and broadening his customer base. It's the American way: The guy with the know-how gets the job done.
How does Mr. D coax a car away from the sad-sack type?
Suppose Sad Sack is struggling to diagnose a no-start condition or an illuminated Check Engine light. Mr. D does what any competent tech or service manager could also do. He calmly but persistently interrogates the guy until he gives up.
"I ask him how the vitals tested. Naturally, he'll respond that this or that is good. I ask him, `How good?' and demand to know the actual voltage, amperage, vacuum and rpm readings he took," Mr. D said.
Usually, this clueless soul relents, admitting he hasn't tested these points and may also admit he lacks the proper equipment to do the fundamentals.
That's when Mr. D consoles him by saying, "You've got a tough one there. Better send the job to us!"
Mr. D claims that so far this approach either discourages Sad Sack from pestering him for information or nets him an easy referral that turns into a new customer. Not bad, sir!