It’s been a tough year for just about everyone, unless, of course, you’re the chairman of Fanny Mae or Freddy Mac, or one of the high rollers working for AIG or Goldman-Sachs. But, then again, if you were the chairman of Fanny Mae or Freddy Mac, or one of the high rollers working for AIG or Goldman-Sachs, I’d have to wonder what you were doing reading this column, unless, of course, you were reading this magazine while waiting to get your limo serviced.
Then, I’d have to wonder why your “driver” wasn’t reading this while taking care of the service for you.
For most of us, it has been a tough year. And, even if you are one of the “lucky” shop owners who have seen a rise in their year-end numbers — “lucky” as in where “opportunity” meets “preparation,” and all the skill, hard work, insight, discipline and determination that goes along with that kind of luck — it hasn’t been an easy year for the majority of your clients regardless of where you are.
Even if you’ve been spared the economic hardship associated with this “Great Recession” of ours, the pain that just about all of your customers and most of your suppliers are feeling is a continual distraction, if not dangerously contagious.
If I had my doctorate in “Meteorological Psychology” (don’t look for this discipline on the web, I just made it up!), I’d have to say something like: “The economic storm that has been developing over the past 14 to 18 months has resulted in an extreme high-pressure front moving across most of the U.S. This high-pressure condition, coupled with a series of severe lows scattered throughout the country, has produced a number of significant behavioral anomalies, not the least of which are: emotional outbursts, rude and discourteous behavior, insecurity, analytical paralysis and depression that under the right conditions seems to manifest themselves in squalls and outbursts on the telephone or at the service counter.”
Although, each of us has experienced all too many of these emotional weather fronts over the past few months, like the weather, they are virtually impossible to predict. Consequently, we find ourselves trying to take care of our customers and clients regardless of where the emotional and financial fallout of the current crisis has left them, while desperately working to keep things sunny and bright in our own little corner of the universe.
It’s hard to remain upbeat and optimistic when everything you read in the papers and hear on the news suggests the “Reality Bites!” bumper sticker on the rear bumper of the Ford truck in front of you is optimistic and just a bit too bright and cheerful for the realities we face today! And, trying to navigate your way through the holiday season doesn’t seem to make things any easier.
It would be easy for me to spend the next few hundred words talking about the unreasonable outbursts and emotional breakdowns we’ve experienced both on the phone and at the front counter since the economy began to unravel almost a year-and-a-half ago. And, each is all too familiar to anyone who does what we do for a living.
It would be easy for me to talk about the vehicle owner who ignored our recommendation for a more aggressive maintenance schedule on his or her vehicle. The guy or the gal who came in and told you that they read something on the Internet, or heard somewhere on the radio that having your oil changed “that frequently” was completely unnecessary; a scam, designed solely for the purpose of selling more oil.
You know, the same guy who came in yesterday with that low, resonant knocking noise coming from somewhere deep inside his oil pan, or the “Soccer Mom” with that strange “ticking noise” that goes up and down with engine rpm, resulting from the “gel” (the current and politically correct terminology for the goop that we used to call engine sludge!) that formed as a direct result of an inadequate service schedule — the same folks who lost it at the service counter because they couldn’t afford the consequences of their own lack of foresight or bad judgment.
There is the first-time customer who brought his 2003 Honda Accord in for a lube and oil change a few months ago and angrily accused you of trying to rip him off when you innocently suggested he replace his timing belt because he had already gone 18,000 miles beyond Honda’s service recommendation. The same guy making arrangements to have his Honda towed in after it quit…in traffic…on the freeway…and without warning!
Well, not entirely without warning!
It would be easy to dedicate this column to the guy who keeps telling you what a great and long-time customer he is and has always been. You know, the one trying to negotiate a better “deal” on the $1,400 worth of service he needs by threatening to take his Mercedes to a guy in the next Valley willing to do the same work for $250 less. The same guy who spent a grand total of just over $200 on three vehicles in two years!
Is it really the “same work” using the same quality parts? Or, knowing what you know about the cost of quality work and quality parts, could it possibly be something less?
It would be easy to talk about them and the emotional toll they take every time they lose their patience or their tempers at the counter. It would be easy to categorize their behavior as unacceptable and charge them with “Emotional Battery,” although I’m not sure the charges would hold up in open court.
It wouldn’t be all that difficult to make the content of this column fit that kind of behavior, but that’s not what I want to write about. It’s not what I need to write about either. Today, I need to write about another kind of “Emotional Battery,” the kind of emotional battery that gives you the energy to keep going while individuals like the ones addressed above try so desperately to drain every bit of energy and optimism right out of you.
These are the people who really have been bringing their vehicles to you forever, the same folks who say “Yes!” to virtually everything you suggest even when they have to spread out that work, or delay anything but the most urgent service or repair because they just can’t afford to get it all done at once. They are the folks who know that what you are suggesting is work that will benefit them in the long run; the folks who recognize that you put their best interest before your own because you know that by serving them well, they will, in turn, provide for you.
They are the ones who send you thank you notes and cards; the same folks who bring you bags of avocados, homegrown vegetables, oranges, grapefruits and lemons. The same people who bring you gift baskets at the holidays filled with everything and anything you can imagine, but most of all: filled with love and appreciation!
These are the people who keep us going, who give us strength when we’ve just about run out of energy. They are the “emotional batteries,” the magical power source that allows you to pick up the phone again after a particularly difficult call or come in tomorrow after someone tried to thwart your success today.
You don’t have to think about who they are. You know who they are without having to think about it!
At my shop, they are the Vickie Ropers, the Marilyn Mays, the Bobby and Rich Bronsons, the Alex and Dawn Kaganovichs. They are Craig Chally, Dr. Ed Rosen, the Holmberg family, Frank and Euna Sinsheimer, Jon and Marcy Popiel, Stu and Diane Thomson, Ken Ahlberg, Brian Swopes, all the Millers, Mike and Cindy Lee, the Simpsons (not Bart and his family!), the Krampaches, the Chandlers, the Weisses, the Bebens, David Rhodes, Marc and Judy Menashe, Marv Friedman and his family, Janet Kobayashi, Lou Demmerle, Mary Nicholson and an army of customers, clients and friends too many in number to name, who know exactly when to come in, exactly when it’s appropriate for them to act as your emotional battery.
It isn’t the gifts they bring or the money they spend. It is the joy they bring to your shop and mine every time they pull down the driveway or walk through the front door! It’s their smiles and the energy they bring…it’s the genuine interest in your life and how you are doing, it’s their interest in your people! It’s the caring, the consideration, the concern, the recognition for the important role you play in their lives and the genuine sense of appreciation they are so willing to share with you and everyone in your organization.
I don’t have to tell you who they are. You’re probably halfway down your list of great customers, your list of “Emotional Batteries,” by now!
My job is to remind you that they are there. They are there when the pressure is so great and things have gotten so stressful you can’t figure out why you’re still there! My job is to remind you about the inexhaustible power source you have at your disposal; the one connected to you and your business. A power source so incredible it is capable of returning more energy than is invested in it, one you can draw from any time your energy level drops to dangerously low levels.
So, the next time someone tries to crush your spirit or sap your strength, the next time someone is guilty of committing emotional battery against you or one of your people in the bay or across the service counter, don’t call a cop! Instead, smile and wave them off. Tell them it won’t work, tell them it can’t. Tell them you just discovered a “parasitic draw” that is preventing your company from reaching its fullest potential, tell them they’re it and you have no time for them.
You have another kind of emotional battery, a better kind. Tell them you have the kind of emotional battery that enriches your life, the kind that keeps your energy level at or above capacity, the kind that is drawn from the best customers and clients in the world — your customers and clients.
Tell them it comes from a perpetual energy machine, the ultimate power source, the customers and clients who continually add to your day, and not from those who are constantly trying to take something away! s