The response to a straightforward question may gauge an employee's attentiveness and ability to follow directions.
Years ago, one of my mentors used to ask the simplest of questions to assess certain employees.
More recently, I discovered that some Honda managers also asked a basic question to help them judge job applicants' attentiveness.
Savvy service shop operators and tire dealers recognize that some workers need more supervision and coaching than others do.
The question method is a potentially fast, helpful spot check for "needy" employees.
First, however, let's revisit this often-overlooked trait of attentiveness.
Attentiveness, a crucial life skill, involves focusing on and comprehending another person's speech. Accurately hearing and comprehending someone else's words does more than facilitate routine daily communication.
These skills support successful customer relations for any business that provides personal service — especially dealerships and service shops.
Many businesses' reputations have suffered due to workers' inattentiveness. One of the worst impressions staffers may project is the sense that they are not hearing — let alone addressing — customers' cares and worries.
Some customer concerns are perceived rather than real issues. Nonetheless, those concerns are valid in the minds of the motorists paying the bills.
One of the fastest ways to demonstrate personal service is to listen patiently to concerns. Repeat these issues back to the customer to verify that you have heard the complaint(s) accurately.
Then — and only then — politely address the customer's complaint(s).
Typically, this makes motorists feel valuable and respected — two great emotions to stimulate in any customer.
Techs — no matter how talented — are involved because attentiveness goes hand-in-hand with turning wrenches. At one point or another, techs may have to interact directly with customers.
For example, a tech may have to cull additional vehicle history from a car owner in order to diagnose a car efficiently. Sometimes a service manager or service salesperson fails to collect all the pertinent information.
Occasionally, a loyal but cantankerous customer may want to speak directly to a tech about a car problem.
Sometimes, car owners just need to vent their frustrations. They think the tech, rather than the service writer, is the preferred listener for their concerns.
In these imperfect but realistic situations, a tech's attentiveness and listening skills are invaluable.
I met my pal Robert in the late 1970s at a technical conference in Detroit. By that time, he had been operating an automatic transmission shop in Miami for many years.
Talking shop with Robert was a valuable experience. Our discussions always included one of his mini-tutorials on various technical and business aspects of professional auto repair.
Robert's knowledge reflected the fact he was a working owner and a savvy businessperson. For example, high-quality work was always in demand in the local market so he charged accordingly for it.
Among other insights he shared, Robert stressed that good technical training was only one step in grooming reliable, efficient techs. Another step was the boss overseeing that techs faithfully practiced procedures they were taught.
Predictably, Robert had to coach and oversee some workers more intensely than others. Over the years, this process taught him to question employees during the oversight process.
Here's what Robert suggested:
First, ask highly focused questions. Then listen very closely to the tone and length of the tech's response.
Suppose, for example, that Robert wants a capable but forgetful tech to follow certain procedures to the letter.
He would ask a highly specific question such as, "Dave, did you thoroughly flush out that transmission cooler exactly the way we practiced?"
According to Robert, the more concise and confident the reply, the more likely the tech had been following instructions. For instance, positive responses tended to be yep, yes, you bet, sure thing, etc.
However, suspicious answers tended to be halting replies that sounded too long and/or complicated. One example was, "Yes, why did you ask?"
All work situations are not the same — nor are all techs the same — but I have noticed the overall tone and crispness of a reply may be a warning flag.
In particular, I tend to become suspicious when a reply sounds more like an explanation or qualification than a simple, straight answer.
A hiring technique provides my second example of a potentially useful question method.
Honda began building a motorcycle factory near Columbus, Ohio, in the late 1970s. At first, the facility only built motorcycles.
But Honda quickly performed an expansion, and the factory began producing cars, too. The first American-made Accord rolled off its assembly line in 1982.
Honda's managers were fussy about their initial hires for this bold new endeavor. Because Honda built its reputation on finely turned out cars and bikes, its managers sought conscientious, career-minded personnel.
Attention to details — large and small — created the company's legendary fit, finish and performance.
Honda had very strict manufacturing and assembly procedures that workers had to follow faithfully.
Reportedly, one of the simplest instructions was among those used to screen out job applicants who might not follow Honda procedures to the letter: An interviewer would ask an applicant to write their name on a label.
Then job seekers were asked to place the label on their left shoulder. Not surprisingly, perhaps, some slapped the label on their right shoulder or else failed to wear the label at all.
Focused, straightforward questions are not the sole gauge of employees' grasp of techniques, procedures, obligations, etc. But periodically surprising a worker with a laser-focused question may reveal more — and more-insightful — information than owners and managers might have expected.