Professionalism and friendliness are not mutually exclusive concepts in an automotive service facility.
Experience shows that with practice and patience, capable service personnel can make these traits coexist peacefully.
This issue came up during a conversation with Jimmy, an independent tire dealer in a small Louisiana town. Jimmy explained that building a new facility on the town's busiest street became a mixed blessing.
On the one hand, folks couldn't miss his dealership in its new, high-visibility location. On the other hand, its service bays facing the street became an unintentional magnet for both motorists and neighbors.
The opening of a well-known, drive-in hamburger operation directly across the street became an additional mixed blessing. Patrons eating burgers in their cars couldn't help but observe Jimmy's new outlet across the street. Before he knew it, people were wandering over to his service bays just to satisfy their curiosity.
To make matters worse, the appeal of his bays has been attracting real customers who ought to be going to the service desk first. The net result is too many interruptions for everyone in the service department. Whether they're true customers with car concerns or common curiosity-seekers, they're hampering productivity and possibly getting in harm's way.
I identified with Jimmy's dilemma immediately. During the heyday of the full-service service station, I remember the hangers-on who used to congregate at two different places I worked. When I started at these stations, I quickly learned that if these fellows weren't hanging out at the local diner, they were holding court in our waiting area or pestering the technicians with questions.
The boss probably tolerated these geezers-mostly retirees or guys on disability-as much as he did because they loved running for parts in emergency situations.
No, these geezers aren't exactly the same as the curiosity-seekers invading Jimmy's place. But they gave me firsthand experience with having unwanted people underfoot.
Another reason I sympathized with Jimmy's situation is that the service stations of my day usually had bays opening toward the street as well as small waiting rooms. For whatever reason, open bays seemed to invite inquiries. Motorists seemed to migrate toward the repair activity instead of going to the guy at the front desk. I hated the interruptions, but I got used to smiling at these people and humoring them to the best of my ability.
What's more, if there's one thing many Americans love to do, it's congregate and gab. Some folks don't need much of an excuse to stop by and see what's new. This tendency is simultaneously endearing and frustrating.
However, common sense and professionalism must prevail here. First of all, bosses should train all service personnel to be unfailingly polite but equally firm. Whenever someone strolls into the service bays, take a moment to say good morning and then steer the person toward the service writer's or service manager's counter as quickly as possible.
It takes tact and persistence to accomplish this, especially when the motorist feels the need to pour out his or her automotive troubles to a guy holding wrenches. I can remember physically escorting some people up to the front because I realized that if they wanted to continue their tale of woe, they had to follow me. Other motorists would respond if I did nothing more than point the way and offer a few words of encouragement.
Undoubtedly, it's a challenge getting a persistent talker to take his tale to the service writer without appearing rude or uncaring. It's doubly challenging when it's someone in the community you already know-someone who's trying to exploit the ``recognition factor.''
The fact remains that service shops run most efficiently when competent service writers do a good job of getting valid vehicle histories and accurate symptom descriptions for the techs. As I have emphasized before, requiring motorists to fill out inquiry forms can save untold time and aggravation for all service personnel.
With minor exceptions, techs work best, make the fewest mistakes and earn the most when they are left alone to ``wrench'' contently out in the bays. Doctors don't allow patients to bypass their receptionists. Follow their example and you'll be much better off.