Knowing whom you deal with affects how you act

Jan. 1, 2020
Poor planning might mean offering extra value-added service.

Working in a parts store puts you in contact with all kinds of people. If you're there long enough, you get to see them at their best and worst. Nothing brings out a person's true character like adversity, and vehicles in general can offer adversity in spades. When I was asked who my favorite and least favorite customers are, I had to answer all of them and none of them for both categories.

In all the years I've worked in my store, I can think of only a few customers who always are on an even keel. I can think of a few more who were unpleasant enough to deal with they decided that the service they were getting wasn't worth the aggravation they were giving. As for the remainder, it's a matter of knowing whom you're dealing with and assessing the severity of the situation. You certainly have to consider all complaints and constructive criticism seriously, but knowing the source and consequences determines how you deal with them.

When you consider the product we deal with and the nature of how we do business, it's pretty clear that some mistakes are inevitable. There are as many ways to screw up a parts order as there are year, make and model of every vehicle ever built, and there is enough blame for everyone to have his or her fair share. Ninety-nine times out of 100, it probably isn't that critical, and unless you fall into that second group of customers I mentioned earlier, we can find a painless way through things. I suppose it's that 1 percent of the time that makes people decide who's on their list of favorites and who's not.

If you believe what I've said so far is true, then the best answer to who my favorite customer is would be anybody who calls or walks through the door. It shows that they think enough of my service and abilities to give me a chance.

After that point, the needle on the likeability meter can go either way depending on both of our actions. If you're the type of customer who thinks I'm asking you numerous questions about the vehicle just to hear myself talk, well, maybe things aren't quite as simple as they used to be. All any counterperson can do is try to make the correct interpretation of the information gathered from the customer and the catalogs.

On the other side of the coin, my attitude has to be professional enough to get that information and make those interpretations without being too overbearing or unconcerned for your troubles. We both also have to deal with expectations on availability and price, both of which can present potential problems. With all this going on, it's easy to see how even a simple transaction has the potential to go several different ways.

I remember a sign I saw that read, "Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on our part," and I thought it was a true and witty statement. The real truth is that it doesn't constitute an emergency as much as a need for providing that "extra special value-added service" that sets you apart from the many other parts dealers out there.

While it's nice to be able to provide that little extra, it's pretty tiring when you have to do it all the time. I guess after that I'd have to say my favorite customer is the one who plans ahead.

Mike Gordon, a 20-year counter sales veteran, works the counter at Sanel Auto Parts, Concord, N.H.