Publisher's Perspectives: Our Business is Still a ‘People’ Business
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Publisher’s Perspectives: Our Business is Still a ‘People’ Business

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Can you imagine a business where you didn’t talk to your customers? The orders would appear on the printer or the cars would be lined up in the parking lot each morning just waiting to be serviced. To some degree, it happens in all our businesses. For you, it’s the car in the parking lot with the keys in the drop box and a note that says something about smoke coming from the engine. That’s probably a good day — no selling involved with that job, just fixing it.

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Just imagine a day without customers complaining, with no comebacks, no returns and no problems. Also imagine what you would do when business starts to slow down. A few weeks of blaming it on the mild weather go by and you’ve run out of excuses. What do you do? You need some feedback. Perhaps there is something wrong in your shop, but since you don’t talk to your customers, you don’t know what those problems are.

While traveling on business a couple weeks ago, I stopped to visit a few of the readers of our magazines (Brake & Front End, ImportCar and Underhood Service). For me, the readers are my customers and it’s always nice to talk to them on their turf to see what’s going on. The conversations always include the topics of tool and equipment purchases, types of repairs they perform or vehicles they specialize in, and where they buy their parts. On this particular day, we got on the subject of high-speed Internet access. All three shops had a DSL line and were extremely happy with the ability to use it to get technical repair information and to communicate with other technicians through iATN. One of the shops is ordering parts online, another couldn’t wait to be able to do so, and the third has the capability, but won’t do it.

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The shop owner who won’t order parts online was emphatic about the fact that this is a relationship business and she wants to be able to talk to the person on the other end of the phone, and make sure he understands the importance of their transactions and to be able to give him feedback — both positive and negative. She wants to listen to his advice, wants to know how his company is doing, wants to know about his recent vacation and wants to know the name of the person who is available to help when there is a crisis. The other shop owner who is ordering online said his jobber doesn’t have enough people to talk on the phone — they’re busy pulling parts. So this jobber’s most vital contact with his customer is the responsibility of the part-time guy delivering the parts. If business takes a turn for the worse, will there be time to change their ways and hit the streets again? If they’re looking to grow (and who isn’t), will they have the customer knowledge to make the correct decisions?

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Technology is great and has an important role in business transactions, but we can’t forget the value of business relationships that are built on honesty and trust — relationships that are cultivated through face-to-face communication with customers, where we can learn and care about their concerns, and help them develop solutions to their problems.

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