I think I’ve spent half the time I spend at the service counter wondering why I spend so much time at the service counter.
I know it’s an integral part of the job. And, I know I love my ‘regulars,’ the customers, clients and friends who have been coming in and coming back forever. I really do!
They make me smile and reinforce the resolve you need to do this every day, especially in this economy.
I like people… in general. And, I really do appreciate the important role we play in the lives of the people we serve. I also understand and appreciate that service is a verb as well as a calling and a privilege.
It’s the people who magically appear after a prolonged absence as if they were still coming in regularly every three or four months I find the most likely to have problems like these. It’s as if they’ve forgotten why they came to you in the first place, how much they trusted you or the great job you did finding their problem or fixing their vehicles.
However… And, I know you’ve been waiting for the ‘however’ to appear – I don’t like or appreciate having to explain things: the same things, three or four or maybe even five times before someone at the counter ‘gets it.’ That is, if they ever ‘get it’ at all.
Now, that statement clearly needs some explanation. Or, at least, I feel it does and since I’m the one whose fingers are tap dancing all over the keyboard, I get to decide.
People who were once regular customers and for one reason or another haven’t been back because: they purchased a new car, ran into to financial difficulties, moved out of the area or decided they would like to try something else, someone new… and, then returned because that new vehicle is finally out of warranty, they are back in the ‘black’ again, moved back or realized that we look pretty good compared to a lot of the automotive service possibilities out there are always welcomed home and welcomed home as if they never left.
The people who have been everywhere else, to everyone else… and, then returned because we’re up next in the rotation are a “whole ‘nother story!”
As an example, the person responsible for this particular piece – just appeared after a two year and 20,000 mile absence. Two years ago, she came in for a problem and a cost-free general inspection. We performed the inspection, came up with the solution to her problem and solutions to at least a dozen other problems she was both aware and unaware of. She said thank you and left.
This time, she was back for a severe oil leak… and, another inspection.
I told her the inspection would have to wait a day until we cleared our schedule sufficiently to actually look at the vehicle and I told her how much it was going to cost.
“You’re going to charge me for the inspection? You didn’t charge anything last time…” She said.
“Last time you had less than a couple of thousandths of an inch of friction material left between the brake pads and the rotors. It’s 20,000 miles later and the brakes aren’t making noise. I think you may have had someone else do the brakes. You might want to ask them to look for the oil leaks for free…”
She left the vehicle…
It was assigned and the tech started the inspection with a road test. He got to the driveway, put the vehicle in reverse and slowly backed into a parking space. When he got out of the vehicle his face was ashen and he was shaking. The vehicle had no brakes. Even after pumping the pedal it would barely stop. We finished inspecting the vehicle and created an estimate for the list of problems we were able to identify, both new and those remaining from the first inspection, starting with a failed brake master and booster.
She returned to the shop that evening with a friend… her resident ‘expert.’ I told her about the oil pan gasket that was leaking, the front seal and the valve cover gaskets. I also took a minute to explain that oil leaks were like ants at a picnic: there is no such thing as just one and it was likely there would be residual oil leaks, albeit smaller ones!
I told her about everything else we had found and then I paused, took a deep breath and asked, “Is there anything special you forgot to tell us about your brakes… Like, there is a terrible hissing noise when you step on the brakes, the brake pedal goes all the way to the floor and the vehicle won’t stop…?”
“Oh, she stops… But, you do have to pump the brakes really fast and really hard. And, I guess there is that noise when you step on the brakes. But, I haven’t really paid much attention to it…”
Another deep breath, “But, it doesn’t want to stop… How and where do you drive this vehicle?”
“Just to school and back when I take the kids…”
I took another deep breath and went over the inspection and the estimate again with both the owner and her expert and then asked her what she would like us to do… She was focusing on the oil leaks when I stopped her.
“We’re not going to touch the vehicle unless we’re asked to fix the brakes first. If you want anything else done other than brakes you can take it some place else. But, you’re going to have to tow it because I won’t let anyone drive it off the lot in its present condition.
It doesn’t matter how the vehicle runs or much oil the vehicle is leaking because nobody should be driving it without brakes! None of the other problems matter either – not until you get the vehicle to stop!”
We did the brakes…
She came back the following evening to pick up the vehicle and we went over it all again – twice.
She told me how great we are and how happy she was and that she would be back to see us in a couple of months to get the rest of the work done. I smiled. That’s what she told us two years ago.
I guess we’ll have to see whether or not she makes it into that treasured group of regular customers that either returns after a short break or remains with you; or, the group that leaves to start a new cycle of visits to every other shop in town.
I’m OK either way. First, I’m OK because we were paid and paid well for both the inspection and for what we did. So, I don’t really feel too bad about what we didn’t get to do.
And, second, having to say “Lemme ‘splainit twoya… again!” may actually be a good thing. If nothing else, it helps you appreciate the clients, customers and friends for whom it isn’t necessary.