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Opinion

We Still Need Counter Professionals

Service includes people. Robots and/or computers can’t duplicate what you do on a daily basis.

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Every time I walk into a parts-distribution point (for those old codgers, a parts store), I’m reminded of the importance of those who wear the title “counterperson.”

I, in fact, was one, many years ago. Actually, I wasn’t a very good one. I was terribly wet behind the ears and spent most of my time in the shop. I was only asked to come up and help at lunch or on Saturdays when someone else was off. I remember the frustration and/or nervous apprehension I would feel when the phone would ring or someone would come up to the counter for service. Please remember the word “service” in my previous sentence, because I’ll be coming back to it later.

Why was I so nervous? Well, probably for several reasons. I wasn’t very good at the catalogs. They were these enormous things and arranged by parts categories that to this day make absolutely no sense to me. They were jammed into the holders so tightly you could only read about three-fourths of the page without having to stand on your toes and look sideways. Then there were all the questions: Year, make, model, engine, transmission, with or without A/C, and my all-time favorite, before or after a certain serial number or build date. Then, once the decision was made, did we have it? Was the inventory card up to date? Could we get one? Then the biggie: When could they have it?

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We haven’t even made it to the real stumbling block: How much was it? Back then, parts were priced by the function of the purchaser. Each type had a specific color of price sheet, cost, WD, jobber, dealer, stocking dealer, retail, etc. Then, if that wasn’t enough, most customers had special deals, X percent off one of the above-mentioned pricing sheets. Getting the price wrong either got you in trouble with the customer or the boss (my father) or both. You can probably see why I was just glad to get back to the blast tank even if it was 100 degrees and full of hot oily steam.

I bring all of this up because, while the methods of doing business have changed, you still need to complete the same basic steps to service the customer. Wait, there’s that word again: service. The Oxford Dictionary defines service as: “the action of helping or doing work for someone.” When you stand at that counter or pick up that phone, you’re starting the process of helping someone find the right part and then doing the work of getting it for them.

I recently purchased something online and received a survey afterward asking, “How was our customer service?” I chuckled – there was no customer service! I interacted with a computer and waited for the mail to come. Service includes people. You are the providers of this service in our industry.

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The automotive aftermarket relies on people to get the parts where and to whom they’re intended. You provide true customer service. Look at the front cover of this edition of Counterman. You’ll see Chris Johnson. Chris is today’s version of a counterperson. Technically proficient, understanding of the interdependence of parts and the ancillary items required to complete the repairs. He provides service to his customers, every day.

Robots and/or computers can’t duplicate what you and Chris do on a daily basis. Service takes thought, decision-making and knowledge. Those are all components in humans. I hope you all realize your importance to the supply chain. There are more than 250 million vehicles out there, and they either need or will need parts to keep them running. You all provide that service of getting the parts. Thanks for what you do!

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