AKRON (May 26, 2003)—When in doubt, tire dealers and service shop operators should discuss business, employee and customer issues privately—public pronouncements can hurt you in ways you never imagined.
Regular Tire Business readers know I have and continue to travel extensively. My roles as a reporter, equipment salesman, teacher and technician have enabled me to observe countless service personnel firsthand. If this cumulative experience has taught me nothing else, it's this: Never underestimate what some people will utter in public.
Too many bosses, managers and/or service personnel I encounter are discussing things within earshot of the wrong people. Call it ignorance, self-absorption or lack of awareness, but these conversations are totally inappropriate for the setting. Therefore, they hurt instead of help employee morale and/or customer relations.
These examples, I believe, support my case. The first is the boss who persists in talking about one employee's problems within earshot of other workers. Suppose the boss and a manager need to assess a technician's progress with an anger problem, substance abuse, chronic lateness, etc. If they talk about these issues where another tech can hear them, they forfeit all confidentiality on these sensitive issues.
Gossip is wrong. That said, it's only human nature for some workers to engage in it—especially when they've overheard some particularly juicy piece of personal information. Earning workers' trust and respect are hallmarks of good leadership. How the devil can you build trust and respect when the entire crew knows what you've said about a co-worker's problems?
Even if everyone's aware of the employee's drinking problem, for instance, how does it serve you to discuss potential solutions in front of the man's co-workers—some of whom are his friends?
The other trust-eroding result is the seed of doubt you inadvertently plant with some workers: “Wow, if that's what the boss really thinks of my co-worker Joe, what's he saying about me behind my back?”
The second example is the loose-lipped boss or manager who quips, “It's OK, Dan, we have no secrets here!” My immediate reaction is, “Why don't you?”
Many discussions at your dealership or shop should be secret because they don't engender trust, respect or worker morale. A perceptive boss appreciates that some topics are no one else's business—period!
Third, why do some bosses and/or managers openly discuss business with salespersons within earshot of customers in the waiting area or customer lounge? OK, the sales rep has your attention with a “big profit opportunity” selling this product or marketing that service. The potential problem is that you're discussing it near the very people from whom you'd be making that profit.
Watch the facial expressions or overall body language of motorists who are privy to these discussions. Simply put, it ain't good because it can sound sleazy and cheesy.
To me, it's entirely too easy to give even the slightest impression to motorists that you're going to hustle something to them (automotive chemicals, extended warranties—pick a product or service). Not everyone's going to warm up to your overt plans to sell them something they hadn't planned on buying when they came into your dealership.
Fourth, why do bosses discuss employee issues within earshot of customers or prospective customers? Worse yet, why do they tell motorists point-blank that they're having certain problems with certain employees?
Unfortunately we're in a retail service business that has, to say the least, a spotted reputation. Trust and credibility are major issues industry-wide.
How does discussing workers' problems help overcome these issues? Many times I've heard a boss make a remark along the lines of: “If we could get Joe in here and on time, your car would be finished already.” Such a comment would make some motorists wonder about the reliability of Joe's work. Worse yet, it could cast doubt on your ability to run a business properly by tolerating tardiness or carelessness.
Last but not least, consumers are probably used to hearing the tired, shop-worn complaint that “good help is hard to find.” That's a cheap excuse that shouldn't be uttered in front of customers and prospective customers. Instead of saying it, why not exceed expectations by running a tighter ship and not using that tired complaint?