Let’s face it, you’re never going to get where you’re trying to go without others’ help. Interestingly enough, those so-called “others” come in many shapes and sizes, personalities and belief systems.
There is no one way to get your point across to all of them. I’ve seen that mistake made many times. Your one-size-fits-all approach might work sometimes, but it may alienate people at other times. And in today’s business world, that’s just not going to work.
Your shop is a microcosm of the world and the various personalities you’ll meet in it. In a normal day, you may be dealing with the “prima donna” technician, the nervous estimator who’s worried he’s overwriting or underwriting or both, picky customers, bargain-hunting customers, and frugal or undertrained insurance adjusters. And that’s just to name a few. Somehow you need to find a way to help everyone see your way to success.
A Different Perspective
I was lucky early on in life as I was able to receive a dual education. No, I did not attend two schools at the same time, but the knowledge I was able to obtain was much like that.
Around the age of seven, I started going with my dad to work at his body shop. My “normal” life at grade school and the lessons there were different than the ones I saw at the shop. My dad didn’t restrict me at all and expected me to help wherever and whenever I could. While at the shop, I preferred to be on the production floor versus the office. My favorite place to be was the paint shop and talking and eating with the painters and helpers. As time went on, there wasn’t one Saturday or day off from school when I wasn’t at the shop, which then turned into working in the shop every summer.
I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. One of the many things it did for me was allow me to see things from a different mindset, opinion and point of view. The guys in the shop gave me a different viewpoint from other kids my age, or even my dad’s. This experience changed who I was and taught me to see things from other people’s perspectives and not just my own.
Just Shut Up
I believe that people don’t leave their house in the morning and say, “I’m going to do a terrible job at work today.” And I don’t think customers say, “I’m going to lie and insist the shop damaged my car when they really didn’t.” Nor do I think an insurance appraiser purposely wants to short you on an operation you deserve. For me, it comes down to understanding things from their perspective and being a good communicator.
My first rule in making myself a good communicator is to shut up. Yes, that’s right, shut up and listen. Whenever I’m faced with a shop issue or customer complaint, the first thing I do is listen. And I don’t just mean letting someone get their first sentence out before I take over the conversation. I mean attentively listening until the person has gotten it all out and realizes you cared enough to listen to everything they had to say. Only once they’ve exhausted themselves do I begin by asking them questions to make sure I understand everything they said. I once read a quote that said, “A man with a grievance wants his tale of woe to be heard sympathetically even more than he wants it put right.” I believe that’s true. So make sure you listen intently so the person realizes you care, and that will earn you credibility.
Stick to the Facts
Once I’ve listened, I always try to stick to the facts. It’s never wise to go tit for tat. Focus on exactly what the issue is and try to stay focused on that. Zero in on what the true issue is.
When I first started my management career in this business at the age of 22 with limited experience, I used a simple formula to make my decisions: was it right or was it wrong? If a customer had an issue and I was looking at it, I asked myself, was it right or was it wrong? If an employee came to me with a problem and I looked into it, was it right or was it wrong? Almost every time there’s an issue of this sort and the customer sees something, then it’s truly there and needs to be addressed in some fashion. As an industry, we mostly run into trouble when we try to automatically defend ourselves and use terms like “commercially acceptable.” If you’re using a term like this in a discussion, chances are you’re already on the wrong path.
Never go into automatic defense mode. It’s OK; no one and no shop is perfect. We all make mistakes. But how you handle a mistake is more important. It’s OK to say a mistake has been made or that something is wrong if it truly is. There will certainly be times where you’re not wrong, and this is where you’ll have to utilize your knowledge and communication skills.
Remember to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re speaking to. They fully believe that you’re truly wrong, so if you don’t take the time to explain yourself and your reasons properly, it’s just going to turn into an argument that no one will win.
Don’t fall into the trap of fighting fire with fire. Instead, put out the fire with water. Too often when we feel someone is wrong, we want to be brief and move on. This is like saying, “You’re wrong because I say so, and I don’t have time for this.” No one is ever going to accept that as an answer, and then the person is just going to look for the person above you for answers.
Last Line of Defense
For most of my career, I was the last line of defense, and there was no one above me that the person could go to. However, I didn’t use that as a scare tactic. I wanted whomever I was dealing with to truly see and feel that they were dealing with the best, most knowledgeable professional who was going to help solve their problems. This wasn’t because my business card said so, but because I was that person and I presented myself as such. But this doesn’t come without practice. You need to hone your craft and add to your knowledge every chance you get.
When You’re Right
When you’re right, you may have to explain yourself more than once. Don’t get mad because someone doesn’t agree with you the first time. Unfortunately, most people only have one way to convey themselves, and then they get angry when someone doesn’t agree or doesn’t understand. If that happens, you need to try to explain yourself differently. Break down the issue piece by piece and ask questions if something is unclear. If the issue can’t be decided as a whole, then as you break it down, see if you can come to conclusions separately on each piece.
If you’re knowledgeable and always stand on the ethical high ground, you’ll always triumph. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. Communication is key, and it takes practice.