Give every customer the full benefit of your training, experience

Oct. 25, 2017
Like the doctor you rely on to keep you healthy and safe, your customer relies on you to advise them on the state of health of their automobile. Here are a few thoughts on what you should be checking on each and every car you touch.

Much of the work we do every day is “routine,” isn’t it? Oil changes, tire services, and routine repairs are the norm. The driveability and electrical challenges that come in are relatively few in comparison, though they are often the jobs that require the most focus and time to resolve — and so, tend to stick out the most in our memories. Faced with these challenges, we pull out all the stops and use every tool and technique we can think of in our efforts to find and fix the underlying problem.

Do you give those “routine” jobs the same level of attention? Are you really giving the more difficult ones the full benefit of your experience and expertise?

Every car deserves 100% of your talent, experience and expertise.

Our profession is often compared to the medical field. Our patient is our customer’s car and it is up to us to diagnose what ails it and then apply the correct treatment to bring it back to health. The thought process is similar to that of a physician diagnosing your medical complaint, though our patient isn’t “running” when we perform our version of surgery on it. Whether our physician counterparts are faced with a particularly troubling diagnosis, or just providing you with a “routine” check-up, there are certain processes they apply. Baseline information is gathered; height, weight, blood pressure, temperature, general history and so on. What type of baseline do you take on the cars you work on?  Does it vary by the type of complaint or do you consistently apply your process to each and every vehicle?

Thoughts on a professional inspection

Like the doctor you rely on to keep you healthy and safe, your customer relies on you to advise them on the state of health of their automobile. Here are a few thoughts on what you should be checking on each and every car you touch.

Let’s start with the tires. This is, admittedly, a pet peeve of mine because it was so often overlooked in the shops I worked for when I was still a full-time tech. Even the shops that marketed themselves as tire specialists! One experience that really stands out in my memory was a car that came in for an unrelated minor repair. As I brought the car into my work area, I took note (as was my habit) of the mileage and overall condition of the vehicle, and saw that this particular customer had just recently had a routine oil change performed in the last 30 days or so based on the sticker affixed to the upper left hand corner of the windshield.

Nothing unusual about the car or the tires caught my eye as I moved around the vehicle setting the lift arms. As I began to raise the car, a loud “boom” echoed through the shop, startling the you-know-what out of me. The right front tire had blown out as soon as the weight of the car shifted from the tires to the lift. The inside edge of the tire was worn to the steel belts and the hole that was left after the failure was big enough to put my hand in. Is it possible that this amount of wear happened after the last service had been performed? Yeah, I guess so, but I tend to doubt it.

Checking brakes is easy and something most of us do routinely.

If you don’t do anything else I recommend here today, and you’re not doing so already, please make it a habit to inspect the tires of each and every car you touch. And not on the ground either. I mean lift it up, check the wear and look for tire punctures around the entire circumference of each one. And check/adjust the tire pressure while you’re at it. Yes, we have TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems) in place on a lot of the cars you’re working on but even they have won’t report a low tire until the tire has lost 20% and that’s (according to most tire manufacturers) 10% too much. Can you imagine the potential results of the blowout I just shared with you had that customer been driving down the freeway? I, for one, would not want the end results of any accident on my conscience because I didn’t look when I had the opportunity.

And that’s the real point I’m trying to make here. It is up to us, as professionals in our field, to provide our customers the very best we have to offer, to give 100% to every paying customer. It is a moral and ethical responsibility to advise our customers when we see any condition on their car that could cause a safety issue for them and their families AND it is our responsibility to look for these potential safety issues on each and every car we touch. I’ve preached this in the past and I already know I’ll get the usual comments about “not happening on flat-rate, I don’t get paid for that” from some of you. To those, I ask you to consider how you’d feel if the roles were reversed and it was one of your family members that suffered because the last “tech” that saw their car decided it wasn’t worth the time.

A few more items to check

I’m not going to go into the more common areas I think we all check, or I hope so anyway. Brakes, suspension components, and wheel bearing condition are just a few of the “easy” things to check on every car and also the areas that tend to make for great upsells if work is needed.

Damaged headlight lenses have an impact on nighttime visibility. Do you recommend this type of repair to your customers?

Other areas are not so routinely checked, I think. Another pet peeve of mine are those vehicles on the road missing rear lights, especially brake lights. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to slam on my own brakes because the vehicle in front of me didn’t have more than one, if that. It’s easy to do a walk around to check most of the exterior lights but you need to expend a little more effort to check the stop lights. Some shops use mirrors mounted so that the tech can see the rear of the car. Some techs have a buddy check while they hold the pedal down, and some (like I did) just use a lock rod to hold the pedal down and check them solo. It’s a small thing and the work sold won’t make you rich, but you are doing your customer a favor by performing this small task.

While we’re on the subject of lights, what is the condition of the lenses on your customer’s headlights? Are they clear or hazed over to the point that the headlight can’t penetrate the lens? Often the reduction in visibility is so slow that the customer hardly notices but it does make a difference.

Another is the condition of the wiper blades. Most customers don’t think about their wipers unless it’s raining and even if the blade is ready to fall off of the arm, as soon as the rain stops they forget all about them. Torn blades can lead to damage to the windshield itself resulting in a much costlier repair. And inspecting them only takes a minute.

Customers only think of their worn out wiper blades when they’re needed, and then forget about them when they’re not.

I’m sure there are a few other items you can add to this list, items that are often overlooked but vitally important to the driver when they aren’t as they are supposed to be. Checking them need not take a lot of time and most can be easily incorporated into your normal workflow.

What to do with it once you got it

Now that you’ve completed your inspection, what do you do with the results? If your shop is set up like the majority of the ones I worked in, you have to take that information to your service advisor and let them deal with the customer. I could perform the most complete inspection ever but if the service writer didn’t feel like bringing any of that to the customer’s attention, it was a waste of time for me and for my customer. I’d like to shift the conversation a bit from the back of the shop to the front counter, so shop owners – pay attention.

I’m sure there are service writers (or advisors, whatever term you happen to use) that are true professionals. It’s probably been my personal misfortune to not work with too many of them. I have worked with those that would simply ignore any recommendations made and those that would sell the services that were on this week’s “spiff” sheet, but I have worked with very few that would take the time to share with the customer the true condition of their car from a perspective of what was best for that customer.

And that is the factor that can make a ton of difference, both in the short term and definitely in the long term.

Our customers, in general, are leery of the “upsell”. They’ve come to expect it and they are prepared, in advance, to reject any suggestion that additional work is needed. How that information is presented to them is key in changing that attitude. If we can, by our actions, show that we truly care about their needs and have their best interests at heart, we can break through the stereotype they hold and make them lifelong customers.

Do what’s right for the sake of what’s right, and the rest (our wallets and our bottom lines) will take care of itself.

About the Author

Pete Meier | Creative Director, Technical | Vehicle Repair Group

Pete Meier is the former creative director, technical, for the Vehicle Repair Group with Endeavor Business Media. He is an ASE certified Master Technician with over 35 years of practical experience as a technician and educator, covering a wide variety of makes and models. He began writing for Motor Age as a contributor in 2006 and joined the magazine full-time as technical editor in 2010. Pete grew the Motor Age YouTube channel to more than 100,000 subscribers by delivering essential training videos for technicians at all levels. 

Connect with Pete on LinkedIn.

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