AKRON (July 17, 2006) — In ancient times, a petulant ruler might kill a messenger bearing bad news from afar.
Today, smart service personnel should recognize the bearer of bad news for what he or she really is—a thorough, thoughtful professional. Here's why.
One of the most common gripes I hear from rank-and-file motorists is that automotive repair personnel don't keep them adequately posted on the progress of repair work. At the same time, service managers and service writers often gripe to me about motorists who get angry when they learn that a vehicle won't be ready after all at the promised time.
OK, the vehicle's been at the tire dealership or service shop since 8 a.m. that morning, and it's supposed to be ready for pick up any time after 5 p.m. Wary that no news might be bad news, the vehicle owner phones the service manager at 4 p.m. for an update. Or, it's not until 4 p.m. that the service writer or manager realizes the job has gone badly for some reason—right now, the root cause isn't important.
What is important is that the day's basically shot, and the customer's just learning that his or her vehicle won't be ready. At this juncture, it's worth noting that the overwhelming majority of automotive service purchasers are women.
Not only do many women work full time, many of them have those things called children. Jobs and/or children equal obligations. The later a woman learns that she has to make alternative plans, the angrier she is likely to be—especially if she must, at day's end, make arrangements for alternate transportation on a moment's notice.
However, let's not appear to be sexist or discriminatory here. Male or female, human nature prevails: The later anyone learns of this inconvenience, the more likely the person is to be angry, uncooperative, etc. I learned that firsthand behind a service desk back in 1970. If anything, motorists are more time-harried and pressured today than they were 36 years ago.
Let me state and then re-emphasize something that's already obvious to some readers: Bad news—the vehicle isn't ready—never gets any better when you delay it. As angry as the customer may appear now, he or she will surely be much less happy at or near quitting time. Indeed, a few people will blow their stacks no matter when you alert them to a delay.
Instead of just grousing about these situations, let's recognize and plan for them. After all, the only thing you can count on is that things will go wrong back in the bays. Techs can and do injure themselves or contract stomach flu, prompting a hospital visit and an unfinished repair job. Vendors can and do send the wrong parts, putting repair jobs in limbo. Bolts and studs break when one least expects them to do so, or additional problems are identified on the vehicle.
The key difference between a stellar repair facility and an average one is that smart service personnel anticipate these glitches and misfortunes and deal with them promptly. The point that many service writers and managers seem to miss is that they can't address any delay until they themselves are aware of it. However, they'll never become aware if they foster a climate of intolerance and cut-throat competition back in the bays.
Let's say that your techs are basically competent, reasonable people. Everyone in the organization wants to maximize work output and therefore, profits and earnings. But bosses need to create and enforce sensible shop policies that state it's a tech's obligation or job requirement to alert a manager as soon as a problem is discovered. For example, instead of risking a late completion trying to improvise with incorrect parts, tell the boss that the proper parts are needed.
Instead of risking lateness and an unhappy customer, notify the manager of the broken fastener now. Enable that manager to seek the necessary additional time because rushing a bolt extraction, for instance, often causes even bigger delays than anyone expected.
Stop working on the premise of wishing and hoping for a quick, sure, simple solution to delayed repair or diagnostic jobs. Replace wishin' and hopin' with prompt effective communication from tech to manager and from manager to the customer. Ultimately, this procedure reduces stress for all concerned. Ultimately, the majority of customers will perceive this approach as a means of exceeding expectations.
If the worst thing you do is ex-ceed expectations, you're ahead of the game.