Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2011   by Murray Voth, TACT (Total Automotive Consulting and Training)

Never Let Them See You Sweat!

Many times, when facing difficult circumstances, it is hard to imagine things could be better again. In fact, when times are tough, our minds keep telling us that times will always be tough. In addition, when experiencing difficulty or failure,...

Many times, when facing difficult circumstances, it is hard to imagine things could be better again. In fact, when times are tough, our minds keep telling us that times will always be tough. In addition, when experiencing difficulty or failure, it is easy to believe that we are complete failures, that we have no skills or talent whatsoever. What were we thinking, going into business? This risk is not worth the stress and worry and pain.
We have just been through one of the most difficult economic times in many years and for some of us it is not over yet. However, even during the best economic times, there were automotive service shops closing their doors. Some were due to financial failure and poor management; some due to the owners giving up as it was just too much work and there was no fun in it any more. We all have struggles in life, in our relationships, in our work and in our businesses; yet there seem to be some individuals that rise above their challenges. Whether they know about this instinctively or have learned it, they seem to be able to learn from their mistakes, and overcome the difficulties life throws their way.
At the risk of sounding like a psychology textbook, I am going to explore this topic as it relates to surviving and succeeding as an automotive service provider. One of the key factors in a profitable automotive shop is car count, the number of customers bringing their vehicle to our shop. A second is the amount of money spent on that vehicle. Many of us assume that our marketing and advertising bring customers to our door and that our sales skills cause them to spend money. What most of us don’t know is our emotional and mental state actually has a significant effect on how many customers choose to come to our shop and how much they spend when they are there. Before you think that I am about to spout some psychobabble, think back to a specific day when your shop was busy. There were plenty of vehicles to service, customers were saying ‘yes’ to all the estimates. You felt confident, you joked around with staff and customers alike, and you found it easy to turn down people who wanted to bring in their own parts or asked you for credit.
Now think back to a recent day where things were quiet, hardly any vehicles in the shop and when presented with estimates, customers were turning down the work. You began to take in whatever work the ‘cat dragged in,’ people bringing their own parts, asking for credit (after the work is done) or customers asking for partial repairs or diagnosis, which then caused no end of problems. Usually, we think that we feel good because it was a good day or feel bad because it was a bad day. What people who rise above their difficulties know is that you have a good day because you expect it to be good and a bad day because you expect it to be bad. You have a good car count and customers spend money because you expect them to, rather than projecting your negativity and financial stress on to them and having them backing away.
Don’t worry, you are not about to get a lecture on the power of positive thinking. However, we are going to learn that how we think and respond to troubled times, actually affects how others respond to us. That old expression, “never let them see you sweat” applies here. What most of us don’t know is that we as human beings are very sensitive to each other’s moods; in fact we can hear them and smell them. When we are worried or stressed we create stress hormones and the human nose can detect these hormones in our perspiration and breath. As well, when we are stressed and worried our customers can sense it in our voice, and in our language. Many times when customers don’t show up or turn us down, it is because they sense our stress; they can’t put their finger on it, but it causes them to stay away or not to buy. In addition, we attract difficult customers because they buy into our stress or sense that they can take advantage of us in our stressed condition.
Many years ago, I received advice from one of my suppliers. This advice worked well, but it was only recently that I understood why, based on some research I was doing. He would show up at the shop and ask how things were going; of course there would be days when he was there when it was very quiet. We would complain about our circumstances to him and he would have an interesting response. He would say, “I see that bay door spring is still broken, how come you guys are not fixing it?” He asked me if I had ever noticed that when I started to do a project in the shop, like repair a broken bay door spring, as soon as I started, I would get interrupted by a customer on the phone or dropping by. The conversation would turn into an appointment and next thing you know we would be busy and the door would not get fixed. I think you can all relate to this. Or he would ask, how many times when you are busy you run into a problem like a broken bay door spring, or an air line that needs to be repaired, but you are too busy to fix it, noting that you would do it on the next quiet day. However, when that next quiet day came along, you were too anxious or depressed to bother with catching up on shop maintenance. His advice was to get together as a shop and create a list of all repairs, maintenance and projects for the shop. When a quiet day comes along, start with the list and begin to work through the projects.
This is not magic. Psychological research has found that the human mind cannot worry at the same time the mind (and body) are busy working. For example, you have a day with very few appointments coming in, you grab your shop maintenance list and begin one of the projects. While you are working on the project, it is impossible for your mind to worry. At a certain point, you may get interrupted by a phone call or a customer dropping by, you may even roll your eyes as you go to speak with them because of the interruption; but when you take the call, or greet them you are your normal confident self because your mind has been distracted from its anxiety. Because of this, the customer senses confidence rather than anxiety and is much more likely to book an appointment or agree to some service work that you presented them. In addition, you may have a quiet day without interruption and get several of the projects completed. Many studies also show that when the human brain solves a problem, it rewards itself with a shot of endorphins. These are the feel good hormones, and yes we can smell them on each other. So even if that particular day remains quiet, we will feel like we had a good day and this will carry into the rest of the week. Next thing you know we are busy again. I have shared this with dozens of shop owners and they report back to me that it works!
The other key lesson from people who seem to rise above their tough times and succeed has to do with whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. This research comes from Dr. Martin Seligman and his team. He is known as the father of the “positive psychology.” After decades of research they have found the following: When bad things happen to a pessimist, the pessimist assume that it will last forever, that “everything” has gone bad, and that it is their fault entirely. When a good thing happens to a pessimist, they believe that it is only temporary, that it only affects part of their life (glass half empty), and that it was only dumb luck. When a bad thing happens to an optimist they assume it won’t last long, they look to see what part of their life is not affected (glass half full), and don’t indulge in self-blame but take responsibility for their part if it is applicable. When a good thing happens to an optimist they consider its effects to be permanent, they see how much of their life is affected, and look to see how much they can take credit for, and how they can duplicate it.The good news is that a pessimist can learn optimistic habits, it takes hard work, but this knowledge is power and the rewards are worth it.

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