People Vs. Process

Feb. 5, 2018
Is your shop a true people-centered environment?

Recently, I chanced upon a phone conversation between a customer and a body shop customer experience representatives (CER). Since it was a phone conversation, I really only heard one side of the conversation, so I tried to figure out what the customer was actually thinking after hearing what our CER said. Here a few things I imagined the customer was thinking:

CER: “We’re not a DRP for your insurance company so you’ll have to get an estimate from them first.”

Customer thought: “What’s a DRP and why does it matter if you are or aren’t? Maybe ‘DRP’ represents the drip I’m speaking to.”

CER: “Oh, you’re insured with XYZ company. They use aftermarket parts.”

Customer thought: “Well, I don’t know what aftermarket parts are but it doesn’t sound good. What am I supposed to do about it?”

CER: “Please hold.”

Customer thought: “If by ‘hold’ you mean you need to take a moment to reflect on your poor customer service and how I should take my business elsewhere, yes, I’ll hold.”

CER: “Have a nice day.”

Customer thought: “Wow, what a novel idea. I wish I had thought of that myself. I was going to have really bad day until you suggested I have a nice one.”

So yes, I’ve embellished a little bit for effect, but the point is, many of us are a little bit guilty of “scripting” responses to customers. I’ve learned a lot about this topic from some really smart people and I’d like to share some of their advice.  

Stephen R. Covey, who wrote 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has a lot to say about the concept of listening. He wrote, “Many people listen with the intent to respond, not to understand.” Think about this for a moment and then test yourself during an actual conversation. When you engage in a conversation, do you listen intently to the other person or are you already formulating a response to the words you hear from the other person? The art of effective listening begins with another Covey maxim: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Many times, we engage in conversation and fall into the habit of predicting where the conversation is going and we try to get to that point more quickly. When this happens, the other person never quite feels that you are actively listening and understanding them.

The Dalai Lama said, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” A lot of body shops are working diligently on standardizing processes in hopes that we can become more efficient and productive. Sometimes this is referred to as creating a process-centered environment. This is all well and good and I highly encourage the pursuit of implementing SOPs, lean processes, etc. My caution to you is that you must always remember we work in a people-centered environment. Each transaction you have with a customer should be unique, because the individual you are dealing with and their singular experience is unique.

It’s easy to become a little jaded right around the 10th time you hear a customer say, “The other guy hit me going 50 miles per hour.” You start thinking, “Buddy, you wouldn’t be standing here if you got hit at that speed.” We are busy every day and this causes us to rush through our conversations with customers, and not give them our full attention by actively listening.

Albert Einstein once said, “The main issue with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I want you to spend some time being a fly on the wall at your shop. Listen attentively to the conversations that are occurring with your customers. Try to determine how much jargon is being used in the conversation; DRP, aftermarket, R&I, and other terms are meaningless to most of your customers. Ask your team to participate in this challenge and to be on the lookout for opportunities to connect with the customer in a meaningful and understanding manner.

I’ll leave you with this short story from John C. Maxwell that epitomizes the truth that people tend to listen with the intent to respond, not to understand:

A couple of hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other hunter starts to panic, then whips out his cell phone and calls 911. He frantically blurts out to the operator, “My friend Bubba is dead! What can I do?” The operator, trying to calm him down says, “Take it easy. I can help. Just listen to me and follow my instructions. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”

There’s a short pause, and then the operator hears a loud gunshot! The hunter comes back on the line and says, “OK, now what?”

About the Author

Steve Morris

The late Steve Morris was the regional director for Classic Collision in California (formerly Pride Collision Centers). He was an Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) and ASE-certified master technician. Morris died April 22, 2022, at the age of 63 of complications following surgery.

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