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Boggs: You Never Know Whose Presence You’re In

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I read a funny story about Queen Elizabeth II after her passing in September. She was walking on the street with her bodyguard when she met two American tourists who didn’t recognize her. The tourists knew they were near the queen’s favorite castle and asked her if she ever met the queen. She said no, but pointed to her bodyguard and said he sees her all the time. The tourists then asked the queen to use their camera to take a few pictures of them and the bodyguard. They also got a few pictures of the four of them together, and the queen remarked to her bodyguard, “I wish I could be a fly on the wall when they show those pictures to family back home and one of them recognizes me.”

The story referenced the queen’s great sense of humor, but it got me wondering how many times I may have mistaken people for who they really are.

I had a customer stop in for an estimate once that I immediately disliked everything about. I had been writing estimates for a while and felt I had developed the ability to size up a customer for what they were really after. Whether they were looking for the cheapest estimate, or the highest so they could collect from the other party and never get it fixed, etc. And while I think I was correct more often than not, when Bruce walked in for the first time I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

By the way Bruce was acting and talking I thought I was going to waste my time writing an estimate and never see him again. Midway through evaluating his vehicle, I decided I needed to be professional regardless and show him courtesy. About 18 months later we had done almost $100,000 of work for Bruce. He didn’t own a fleet of vehicles, but he had a string of accidents in a short amount of time. If I had trusted my instincts at that first estimate we would have lost quite a bit of work.   

Another time we had an ad in the newspaper—yes, we’re going back a while—for a painter and a guy named Alex showed up at our door. I hadn’t yet developed thorough interviewing processes so I asked Alex a few things like if he had been painting for a while, and if he had painted with our paint brand before. Alex said yes to every question I asked him and he was hired on the spot. 

Alex showed up the next day and we quickly found out the only word he knew how to speak in English was “yes.” By the end of the day everyone on the shop floor was telling me we had to get rid of Alex. I almost obliged, realizing I did not do a very good job of screening him. Yet I decided to have Alex come back in for the rest of the week and quickly demoted him from painter to trainee. By the end of the second week everyone was in love with Alex as he was an extremely hard worker and fast learner. A few months later he was the best painter in our company. That was no small feat, as our other painter had recently finished in second place in a multi-state painter contest.

I can also tell you about a parts vendor who called on us for seven years to try and get us to buy Honda parts from him. We thought we were partnered with the best before, but when a few backordered parts caused us to order from Dave a few times, we realized there was another level of service we had yet to experience. Dave and his dealership became one of the most important relationships we ever made, and we let him walk out our door time and again for seven years.  

One day a parts broker walked in our door and told us he could find any part we weren’t able to find, and he’d drive anywhere for us to get it. I laughed out loud at the thought of this being genuine. And he even said he wouldn’t charge us for the service, he would bill the dealer we order from. He might as well have been a leprechaun, as I thought there was no way this could be true. When we found ourselves stuck looking for a part (this is pre-2021 when it was rare) we gave him a call. He found the part in North Carolina, an eight-hour drive away, and went and got it for us. This turned out to be one of the most important relationships we formed in our 50 years of business. 

I have many more examples where I didn’t recognize people for who they really are. Now I don’t think I missed out on royalty like those two tourists, but I certainly may have passed up the opportunity for some valuable relationships that I will never be aware of. The point I hope I made is, we really don’t know who people are unless we spend enough time giving them a chance to show us the reality. I would have missed out on a great customer, painter, vendor, and broker if I had just judged their book by the cover and never took a look inside.   

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