Operating a service department like a law firm could put many tire dealers and service shop operators solidly in the black. That's why they should emulate rather than scoff at a lawyer's style.
I've been reporting on the automotive repair industry since 1976. During that time, two of the most pervasive problems I've encountered are bosses who really don't take control of a transaction and then fail to collect for the time their technicians actually spend on a repair job. For instance, they fail to establish reasonable boundaries for the given task or diagnostic challenge. They don't give the car owner reasonable best-case up to worst-case scenarios for time and cost. And you guessed itthe job doesn't go nearly as well as planned.
Later, the customer is understandably peeved when the job costs more and takes longer than expected. Now, in essence, the customer's emotions rule the transaction because he or she feels taken advantage of. No matter how fair and accurate the invoice really is, the customer still feels blindsided by the amount.
He or she berates the boss for the perceived extravagance of the bill. Now the boss backpedals like a boxer taking a beating in the ringhe's embarrassed because he realizes that no one gave the customer a reasonable range of costs nor provided a regular update on the progress of the job.
Fortunately, I've seldom needed the services of an attorney. But I have met and become acquainted with enough lawyers and legal secretaries to know how the good ones operate. First of all, they don't give curbstone advice. They resist or outright refuse to discuss matters outside the structure of a formal, in-office meeting. So you make an appointment at which they get to know you and gather vital information about your problem.
Once the lawyer has reached this stage, he still may not offer any solutions or reasonable time and cost estimates until he completes additional homework on your problem.
If this approach sounds remotely familiar, it's the same tack taken by the savviest service managers. For example, service personnel generally try not to provide free, verbal diagnoses that may turn out to be wrong or may be utilized by the local shade-tree mechanic. Furthermore, they don't make anything more than the most cursory checks on a vehicle in the parking lot or service lane. Instead, they're focused on fact-gathering and on getting a commitment for the cost of diagnosis and possibly a range of potential costs for fixing the vehicle.
These are the first steps toward taking and keeping control of the transaction. The next step toward that goal is to continue filling out the repair order and gathering information only after this vehicle is settled inside a service bay. It's physically and mentally much more difficult to take charge of the transaction when the vehicle is still outdoors. This equates to the lawyer getting the prospect into his office for the initial consultation.
After that first consultation, good lawyers do two things. They update their clients regularly on the progress of the job. And they also don't hesitate to charge the client.
For instance, a lawyer may be logging time units at 15-minute (one-quarter hour) intervals while the client is gabbing away on the telephone. To say the least, this keeps useless chatter to a minimum and improves the attorney's productivity. It either will keep the client very focused on goals or else chase him or her away.
To me, skilled, talented people who get results are worth what they charge. That's why I can't really throw stones at attorneys who earn their keep. Too many people in the auto repair trade need to upgrade their image and salesmanshipand put themselves in a position to charge what they're really worth. This is the key to both survival and the long-term health of your tire dealership or service shop.
Respect a well-heeled attorney for knowing what he or she is worth. Then apply this attitude to your service department.
It's considerably healthier than apologizing for your knowledge, skill and what you charge for your services.