It’s amazing how many of us live our lives by rote an endless succession of repetitive acts that all too quickly become patterns and then habits. I know. I’m as guilty as the next guy.
Ours was and still is a family business and one of our patterns was breakfast for the better part of 40 years. In the beginning, we owned and operated a 24-hour service station, so the time was irrelevant. There was no “opening,” just a shift change. If that was supposed to happen at six o’clock in the morning, we’d meet at the restaurant at 5 and eat while we planned our day.
Now that I’m the only Schneider left at Schneider’s Automotive, breakfasts aren’t what they used to be. I’ve stopped “stopping” for breakfast before work and plan my day during the 25 minutes I spend on a treadmill or elliptical machine.
After the cardio, I put in a solid 30 minutes of resistance training and then head to my favorite quick-stop, drive-thru, coffee place. From there, it’s off to the shop and a hearty breakfast of protein powder, fruit and peanut butter every day, Monday through Friday.
My manager Frank and I talk about the day that is about to begin as I choke down my shake. Most of the time, the conversations are light, positive and optimistic. And why not? These conversations usually take place at 7 in the morning, a half-hour before we open and generally before much can go wrong. Sometimes, however, they’re not, as was the case this morning.
I was finishing my shake as we were finishing our conversation when Frank broke off to call a supplier. The call took longer than it normally does and I watched as his body tightened up and his entire demeanor changed as the call finally came to an end.
“Mitch, you’ve got to help me out here. You’ve got to do something about these guys and the ‘new’ phone system! It’s driving me nuts.”
When someone in your organization, someone you depend upon, respect, care about and trust begins a conversation like that you would be well-advised to listen.
His concern was simple, whereas before he would pick up the phone and call our local D.C. directly, he was now being directed to the main warehouse… or, the secondary warehouse… or, somewhere else where he knew absolutely no one. And, that’s if the calls went through. Sometimes the phone would ring eight or nine times an eternity when you have a client staring at you across the counter waiting for an estimate or availability only to have the call “drop,” requiring you to start the entire process all over again.
Now I understand the switch to a new and “improved” phone system was undertaken for the express purpose of expediting phone orders. I know it is designed to ensure the phone is picked up by someone, somewhere as quickly as is humanly possible, and I appreciate both the effort and the cost involved. I do. I also recognize that the system is new and that there will be “bugs.” But, I think someone may be missing the point, or, at least, missing a point. And that point IS the relationship.
I’d be willing to bet there isn’t a technician or a shop owner in the country involved in a “first call” relationship with a parts house of any kind who does not have a specific “go to” counter professional they ask for every time they call. If the parts house is lucky (translation: good, competent, professional), they may have many, equally or almost equally as personable and qualified. People like me call to speak to people like that because it saves us time, reduces stress and ensures the right part will arrive at the right time and at the right price! It’s just that simple.
If you begin to sacrifice intimacy for the sake of expediency you run the risk losing too much.
You run the risk of losing everything you’ve worked so hard to build, if indeed, you understand the importance of these relationships in the first place.
The personal relationship that exists between a good counterperson and a good tech or shop owner will often forgive late deliveries, the wrong parts and even the loss of a point or maybe even two in margin. A dispassionate, impersonal relationship with a stranger, a computer or telephone recording won’t.
The strongest leg of the three-legged stool supporting our industry is invisible. It is the personal relationships that exist: person-to-person, distribution professional to service professional. Service, price and availability are important: critical in fact.
But, people do business with people, not technology. Technology exists solely as a tool to enhance those critical relationships, not replace them. If one supplants the other, if people are removed from the equation, the only thing left is price and availability and anyone with a newer, cuter, sexier way to capture the business wins for the next minute or two.
I called my salesman and shared these observations with him and then I called the owner to let him know how I felt and why. Unfortunately, he was out of the office. When he returns and calls the shop, I think I’ll have his call routed to my home… the shop… or, maybe to my cell… And, then…