It’s early in the morning, the shop is still full from the previous day and I’m just getting around to my first cup of coffee when the phone rings. An anxious, exasperated lady was on the phone.
“Oh, I’m so glad I caught you,” she excitedly said. “Your name kept coming up when I was asking around town for the best mechanic to fix my car.”
“Well, what can I help you with?” I asked while juggling the phone and the coffee pot.
The story goes that her car was at the dealership and it had been there for over a week. From the sound of things, there was more than one issue that needed solved. She told me they had replaced the timing belt, water pump and an ignition switch, but her original complaint was still unresolved. They wanted to do some more testing to solve the problem, and I could tell she was getting a bit frustrated with them. What she really wanted was not necessarily to bring the car to my shop, but to get some assurance from somebody else that the dealership was able to tackle the problem.
After a few sips of my coffee and a bit more conversation, I assured her the dealership was more than capable of handling the problem. I told her if she still wasn’t comfortable with the amount of time they were taking to solve her problems, she could certainly bring it to me. You could tell by the tone of her voice she was feeling much better about having the dealership handle the repair. She thanked me for easing her mind and said she would certainly take me up on my offer if she wasn’t satisfied with the dealership’s results in a day or two.
I sipped down the rest of my coffee and finished up the morning paperwork, then it occurred to me that the whole time I was on the phone, I wasn’t just a mechanic answering a customer’s concerns; I had taken on the role of the corner tavern bartender. You know, the guy or gal behind the bar who listens to all the patrons’ problems. It was just like at the local watering hole where you find a bartender listening to stories from across the bar. They’ll often play the part of a concerned friend who listens to the customer’s plight — even though they probably can’t do a thing about it. (Especially after a few shots have been tossed back.)
That got me thinking, maybe true customer service is not so much about what you do out in the shop, but more of what you do to help someone when they’re not actually your customer. Maybe, what some folks need aren’t your skills as a mechanic, but more of your knowledge and assurance that their car troubles will all be fine in the end.
I finished my coffee and headed out to the shop to start my day when I found myself confronted with another issue. One of the cars in the shop had more wrong with it than originally thought. Now I had to make the phone call and break the news to the owner. That got me thinking even more about the last phone call. Is the owner of this car going to call someone else and ask their opinion of what I was about to describe to them? I’d say there’s a good chance of that. That is, unless I could break down the repair procedures and explain them in a way that made perfect sense. Even then, there’s still a possibility they would ask their “bartender” for their input on the whole thing anyway.
Being a mechanic, like with many other trades dealing with the general public, you’ve got to wear more than one hat during the day. Sometimes you’re the guy who diagnoses the problem, sometimes you’re the guy who makes the repair, sometimes you’re the guy who has to explain the whole thing to the customer and sometimes you’re just the bartender.
On the other hand, some mechanics are so wrapped up in the technical side of the automobile that they have a hard time relating to the average consumer. They tend to forget that customers bring their cars in not only for expert repairs, but also for some expert advice. They’re the ones paying you for your time and knowledge. At times the car can be a challenge to repair, but there’s an even bigger challenge in making the customer feel at ease with all of your efforts. No doubt, it’s a skill that can’t be taught in a repair manual, but it’s something every mechanic has to develop with time. Just like being a good bartender, you’ve got to be able to “mix the cocktails” and serve them with a smile, but you really have to learn to listen, too.
Not every phone call to the repair shop is going to turn into a paying job, but at least you can listen and do your best to be an expert consultant. The dividends may not be immediate, but one thing is for sure, that person on the other end of the phone won’t forget your words. This might be all they need to remember the next time they have car problems. As a mechanic, knowing the ins and outs of the technical issues with today’s cars is extremely important to the customer. The problem is that sometimes all that knowledge and expertise doesn’t help when the customer is unsure of what’s going on. You might be an ace mechanic, but sometimes all you really have to be is someone with an open ear.