AKRON (Jan. 30, 2006) — Ultimately, excellent communication skills generate more legitimate service sales more often and improve the overall efficiency of any service department.
As I stated in my last column, improving your communication skills may not be as difficult as you think.
Last time I also emphasized that the more clearly and smoothly you can explain to a customer a vehicle's ailments and your proposed solutions, the more often the motorist will believe you. The more often you establish a credible rapport, the more often you close the service sale. When you win more than you lose, the business prospers.
Experience shows that superior communication helps the motorist make up his or her mind more quickly than you realize. The sooner you know what the car owner wants to do (fix it vs. don't fix it), the quicker you can adjust the schedule for that service bay's activity.
Quicker decisions and reactions improve overall efficiency in your service department. What's more, generating quicker, more accurate decisions doesn't demand a major investment in equipment or personnel, either.
Many tire dealers and service shop operators I have met lament that great communicators are born, not made. I only partially agree with that belief because I have seen so many people in so many walks of life improve their writing and speaking skills. They achieved this because they wanted to and they worked at improving themselves. Whether it's your golf swing or your fluency in a language, you don't improve a skill without practice.
OK, let's review some simple but effective steps that will improve your communication skills. First and foremost is to minimize the amount of technical jargon you use. In most cases, the motorist standing before you already has been inundated with technical mumbo-jumbo from his/her doctor, lawyer, computer repair technician, cable repairman—not to mention other automotive service personnel. The fastest way to begin exceeding this motorist's expectations of you is to minimize jargon.
For example, diagnosis reveals that the engine's IAC (idle air control motor, which adjusts idle speed) is failing. I hear too many service personnel nonchalantly cite the “EYE-ACK” as if rank-and-file motorists understand what the ex-pression means.
Instead of jargonizing, interpret the jargon like a real pro: “Our technician found that a little motorized valve under the hood is sticking. This valve, which we commonly call an “eye-ack,” is extremely im-portant because it adjusts and maintains the idle speed for you. This sticking condition, which often occurs on higher-mileage engines, can cause the roughness and stalling symptoms you described.”
Many of the best service personnel I know keep a reasonable selection of old failed parts hidden below the service counter in a box. Whenever they sense uncertainty or disbelief in the customer's reaction, they reach for the appropriate show-and-tell piece.
Second, practice your “de-jargonizing” with as many non-automotive examples and analogies as possible. The only way to know which examples most often work well is to practice. If your favorite example appears to confuse a customer, quickly switch to a different one. My experience is that the better read you are, the easier it is to find the appropriate examples and vocabulary for the given situation.
For example, diagnosis reveals that dirty injectors are causing driveability problems. “Sir, injector operation is similar to a shower head in your bathroom. When water deposits and scale contaminate the showerhead, it does not give you that fine, even and pleasant spray of water that feels nice and vaporizes into steam in your shower stall. Likewise, dirty injectors cannot spray the gasoline in the fine, steam-like mist that the engine prefers. The fine mist burns best and delivers the best power and fuel economy.”
Third, listener and reader comprehension studies consistently have shown that shorter words and shorter sentences always improve understandability. Your goal in this very tough work environment is express—not impress.
No one will ever accuse you of speaking down to them when you keep things shorter and simpler. To the contrary, they'll love you for it! Practice and let me know how it goes for you.