Mondays can be brutal in my world. Mondays after a holiday weekend are generally worse: Ripping days out of a normal work week and then trying to make those missing hours up, regardless of the time remaining will almost certainly make you crazy. Mondays, after a holiday weekend, in the middle of a recession, are even harder to describe — or, endure! It doesn’t matter how hard you try or how carefully you plan, you never know when God will look your way and laugh despite, or, as a direct result of, all your effort and hard work.

It was a Monday when you could almost certainly hear the laughter if you just listened hard enough. It was the Monday after a holiday weekend in the middle of this recession and my lead technician was called for jury duty and had to report that morning. My manager had to stay home and wait for the gas company to come and figure out what the cable guy did to shut the gas off on Saturday, leaving him without hot water, a drier, an oven or a stove. The county dropped by to inspect the shop for hazardous materials handling and management and to verify our site plan; check to see that our hazardous material safety and data sheets were up to date and available; ensure we were having our safety meetings as scheduled and that they were documented properly. Oh, and, did I mention the normal chaos of incoming calls and both scheduled and unscheduled customer visits and service requests?

I felt like the Chinese acrobat on the old Ed Sullivan Show: running as fast as I could up and down an endless line of spinning plates, trying desperately to keep them all moving fast enough to prevent them from falling. When I looked up from the phone, I saw a pleasant enough looking guy patiently standing across the counter with a scrap pad in one hand and a couple of pieces of paper rolled up in the other.

He was wearing a logoed shirt that bore the name of one of our primary suppliers, but I didn’t need the shirt to tell me he who he was or where he was from. The scrap pads and the papers were a dead giveaway. “Hi! I’m So-And-So, from U-know-where! How are you? I was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop by to see how you’re doing.” I took a long, deep, cleansing breath and slowly let it out while his words were still screaming in my head: “Stop by and see how you’re doing… ”

All I wanted to do was look up from the desk and say, “Take a look around, Hot-Shot and you tell me how you think I’m doing! I’m up to my belt buckle in alligators! I’m short-handed! and you keep interrupting me! That’s how I’m doing!” But, I didn’t. I was courteous and polite. Perhaps, too courteous and polite because the guy across the counter never missed a beat.

He had come to the shop to harvest information, to carry out a research project of sorts. He wanted to know how his company was doing, whether or not the service was as good as it could be. He wanted to know if it could be improved and if it could, how. He wanted to know about our customer representative and even asked about the drivers. He wanted to know who else we were buying from and what we were buying from them. He wanted a lot, especially for someone who showed up at the counter unannounced.

Nevertheless, I was impressed. His questions were relevant and unusually thoughtful. But, I wanted a few things myself. I wanted to finish the work that was piling up on my desk. I wanted to answer the three phone calls that had come in while he was standing there. I wanted to answer the question my technician who was standing behind me was waiting to ask, but didn’t because he was afraid of interrupting. I wanted to take another deep cleansing breath.
I did just that, but, not before I stopped to ask him a question: “Have you ever considered calling for an appointment rather than just showing up, banging on the door shouting, “Com-pen-eeeeee!” He just looked at me dumbfounded. In fact, the only word to describe that look was ‘incredulous,’ as in, ‘Appointment? What’s that?’”
I stopped him. I let him know that I realized that what he was doing was important. I let him know that research into our wants, needs and expectations is long overdue. I let him know that I actually wanted to answer his questions. I just can’t always do it in the middle of a busy Monday morning.

I let him know something else — something I’m not particularly proud of, something I’m even a bit uncomfortable sharing, and that is the only reason members of his profession are able to get away with “just showing up” is because members of my profession are too insecure to stop it. Our self-confidence and self-esteem are too low, and our paranoia too high for us to trust each other enough to talk to each other, let alone work together.
But, there is something you should know, something you should be aware of, and that is this: as our ability and willingness to communicate increases, our confidence and self-esteem are likely to grow. So, before you just appear at the door, ring the bell and call out, “COM-PEN-EEEE!” How about, calling and making an appointment first. I just might end up feeling better about your visit and you just might end up with a little more time, a lot more information and maybe even a bigger order.

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, Calif. Readers can contact him at [email protected].

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