AKRON (Jan. 16, 2006) — Superior sales persons in any field of endeavor are always superior communicators. Therefore, automotive service personnel—especially those dealing most directly with the public—benefit from good basic language skills.
I can simply put this into a little formula: Successful selling equals solid communication skills. Meanwhile, good communication skills equal capable language skills. Good language skills, in turn, equal the time-honored abilities called reading and writing.
In my last column I explained the importance of simple arithmetic skills in the service bays. This time I'm emphasizing the importance of simple communication skills throughout each and every automotive service facility. This goes from the front desk clear back to the last service bay. The ability to express yourself clearly and simply to employees, co-workers, vendors—not to mention motorists—is priceless.
Too many shop owners and managers have tolerated the semi-incoherent mumblings, stumblings and gibberish of employees and co-workers. Inattention and laziness are common reasons that poor communication is tolerated.
They're thinking, “Dan, this is the industry of greaseballs, knuckle-draggers and know-nothings. The inability to express one's self is just part of that image. If these people could express themselves better, would the guidance counselors have routed them into the automotive curriculum? What's more, we need every warm body we can muster, so we can't be too picky—especially about the way the new hire talks.”
On the one hand, that's a convenient cop out. On the other hand, it's a dead-on description. The problem is that this is exactly the opposite of the image we crave. For years, I've heard auto repair people compare and contrast their image to a doctor's. They constantly carp about the fact that doctors always seem to get paid and paid well. Duh! Doctors get paid because they look and act the part. Simply put, they look and act like they're worth it.
I continue with the doctor analogy because it's so appropriate to this discussion. Listen to any of your friends, relatives, neighbors or customers describe a favorite doctor. Invariably, they talk of a person who is more than just medically expert. People always cite the favorite doc's “bedside manner.”
The essence of good bedside manner is clear, simple communication of the sickness and the potential cures.
Some people argue that successful bedside manner is simply sympathy. I say that effective bedside—or carside—manner is more empathy than sympathy. Whether they're dealing with a sick body or a sick automobile, people fear the unknown. Unpopular doctors are often unlikable or untrustworthy due to a general unresponsiveness to patients' questions. Or they frighten patients and their families with intimidating medical mumbo-jumbo because, to them, it's easier to spout textbook talk than it is to be more personable and translate it into simpler language.
However, the simple, clear communication that characterizes great bedside manner dispels or minimizes patients' fears. The likable doctor expresses instead of impresses or intimidates. Likewise, competent auto service personnel at all levels can dispel a motorist's abundant fears by explaining the car's condition as simply and clearly as possible. The task of explaining the job usually falls to the service manager and/or service writers, but sometimes technicians must handle this task.
Effective communication is many notches above familiar, dreaded responses such as, “Your car's broken, lady. It'll be $1,291.98 to fix it. Are we gonna do the job or not?”
Unpopular, unlikable service personnel are often highly competent technically. Many are former technicians and others have worked diligently to learn the technical basics of automobiles.
Their problem is that they're hopeless at explaining what they or their technicians do, so they often come off as being aloof, arrogant or indifferent to a motorist's concerns. In their minds, the problem is not poor-communicating service people—it's ignorant motorists!
Improving your communication skills may not be as difficult as you think. Tune in to my next column for some tips on self-improvement.