I’ll Stick To A Human Counterpro



By Allen Markowitz and Allan Gerber

Wow, artificial intelligence — modern technology is absolutely astounding. Recently, I purchased an Apple iPhone 4S. One of the many features built in is Siri, a speech-recognition “personal assistant.” Being my inquisitive self, I started exploring this feature, setting appointments, placing calls, setting up alarms, asking it to read my e-mails to me, play my music, tell me what the weather will be, give me stock quotes, etc.
After accomplishing these tasks, I went deeper, “Siri what is the part number for an air filter for a 1995 Chevrolet Impala V8?” A few moments passed then the reply, “Allan, I do not understand your question?” Again, I repeated my question, same answer. Where am I going with this, you ask? The realization is that however smart we think robots, cell phones, tablets, notebooks, laptops and computers are, they are all tools that need to be programmed and operated by humans.

This is where we, the experienced, well-trained counterpros come in. Try asking your computer for a part number when a major component on the vehicle has been replaced or modified. Obviously, this is not going to have a happy ending in supplying the correct part to our customer since there is no way this modification can be input into a computer.

It is constantly amazing when we see counterpeople who not only know what parts will work when these modifications are needed but also know the reasons why.

I also do not think that any artificial intelligence will ever replace all of the years we have with our ancient paper catalogs, the ones you probably have stashed under the counter, pages ripped and almost falling apart (which are now out of print and are absolutely irreplaceable) that get referred to when we have a difficult part request or when we need a picture of an obscure part.

So, where does this leave us with my new friend Siri?

By now we should know that customer satisfaction and loyalty starts and ends with us, the counter professionals. Why do you think we always go to the same barber? This is because he knows the result we are looking for, asks only a few questions and gives that consistent end-product that keeps us coming back.
I have seen ads in some of the trade magazines for computer companies who will set up computer screens on the retail sales floor (some even on poles or columns) for the customer to look up their own parts while they are shopping.

I wonder how long before there is a crash or the screen develops a problem?  What is the advent of this new technology becoming the norm? This would certainly allow for a leaner counter staff and the hiring of untrained, uninformed counter staff. Somehow, I do not think our customers will be happy with this arrangement and it certainly does not seem like the correct formula for increased repeat business.
Counterpro knowledge and experience cannot be replaced by a computer — it has to evolve and be learned. The amount of time you spend reading trade publications, surfing the Internet for new parts information or speaking with manufacturers reps will make a definite difference in the your knowledge of new systems and their component parts.

Keeping up requires a commitment.

As for my new friend Siri, I guess that this artificial intelligence will tell me the weather, set up my appointments, read me my e-mails and keep me informed as to the ups and downs of the stock market.
When it comes to auto parts knowledge, I’ll stick with an experienced, well-trained counter professional.

Allen Markowitz and Allan Gerber operate Auto Biz Solutions, which provides training, marketing, management and business consulting services to both the automotive jobber and independent repair shop.
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