Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2006   by David Wright David Wright

The first moves toward shop ownership

I'm thinking about owning my own business someday or moving up into management. How do I get started? When will I know if I'm ready to take on responsibility in the shop? How do I let my boss know I f...

I’m thinking about owning my own business someday or moving up into management. How do I get started? When will I know if I’m ready to take on responsibility in the shop? How do I let my boss know I feel ready to share some of the management load? Do I have the skills I need to deal with customers? Can I motivate other techs to work for me and how do I coax their best work from them on a daily basis? How do I develop a plan which will guide me in using the best business practices? How do I measure the risk which I may be taking?

These are likely some of the dozens of legitimate questions you will be asking yourself; and these are the questions that you must ask yourself in order for you to do an honest self-analysis of your skills and abilities, to see whether you are really ready for owning your own business.

First, let’s talk about your motives and goals, why you want to go down this road. If you were to make a list of reasons to go into business on your own or to move into a management position, some of the items on that list would have to be (not in order of importance):

1. A general desire to position your skills more strategically, blending your knowledge and manual dexterity with your hunger to grow as an individual. This hunger will sustain you through the most difficult times as no other stimulant can, for if you don’t have it, you would do better to stay where you are, safe and comfortable.

2. Making more money should be a major reason. You are thinking about putting yourself into a job that has longer hours, a position that isolates you and exposes you to criticism, tolerates no excuses for failure, operates according to the rules of provinces, municipalities, licensing commissions, regulatory bodies and shop manuals, and a universal mantra that the customer is “Always” right.

3. Personal satisfaction and the desire to grow.

These are all good reasons, and I am sure you can add some of your own. Whatever your reasons may be, there are some skills not taught in the shop manual which must be discussed. You may be an excellent technician, have admirable diagnostic abilities, work smart, fast and complete assignments in good time and with few errors or comebacks, and still fail in running your own shop if you ignore these basic tenets of commerce and building and maintaining customer loyalty.

The first tenet is you must become a proficient listener — that most important and basic of the customer service skills. The person standing in front of you must believe that he or she has your undivided attention and that you are listening to their problems and symptoms. You must listen patiently, concentrate, make notes if necessary, smile and warm them with your understanding and empathy. Resist the temptation to add your own remarks or finish their sentences. Ignore the cell phone and engage them with your pleasant manner and have an open mind. Thank them for the detailed analysis and for reciting all of what they could remember of how their problem became acute. Make sure that you get all of the information they know about the problem (even if they omit that their actions may have made the problem worse).

Try not to be judgmental or critical of their driving habits or amateur diagnosing. You don’t need to stroke your ego or make them feel inadequate as such actions will not build good and long-lasting customer relations. The customer must feel reassured they have made a wise choice in selecting you and your products and services over others.

Remember, even a simple problem is a great inconvenience for the average driver. Try to let them know you understand both what they say and how they feel. Remember to thank them for bringing their problem/ complaint to you. It is a compliment to be consulted not an interruption of your busy day and you cannot tell how much your pleasant and reassuring “body English” wins people over, but you must believe that it does. Try to think of other ways you can improve your skills when dealing one on one with customers, fellow technicians and your superiors. If you are curious, just how powerful these lessons are, walk up to your boss tomorrow and as he tells you what he would like you to do first and gives you his expectations for work for the day, smile, listen attentively, wait until he or she is finished and then thank your bos, repeat any important items that they tried to stress to you and then look in him or her in the eyes. You will have your answer.

David Wright established and managed for many years a successful automotive service facility. He has received many awards for excellence in customer service and has advised and assisted Sunoco Inc. with marketing and planning terms to increase profitability and improve the image of the company’s sites in Ontario and Quebec.

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