My grandfather owned a gas station and three-bay shop in Denver, Co. On weekends, I would go to the station and hang out with my dad when he filled in. I can remember how much customers valued his opinions and advice on automotive service and maintenance.
As a child, it made my dad a very important person in my eyes. He was someone who saved a family’s vacation with a new A/C compressor, and helped a young traveling salesman get to his next sales call on a new tire. It was clear to me that a mechanic was very important and my dad was a hero.
This past month, I went to a shop to get some flash reprogramming done on my car. I decided to wait and enjoy the ambience of a shop’s waiting room on a Saturday morning.
As the morning rush was coming to a close, in pulls a 2009 Ford Escape (the #1 Cash-for-Clunkers seller, you know the type…). You could hear the wear sensors and pads grinding on the rotors as she pulled into a parking spot.
If you have worked the front counter at any shop, you can tell a lot about a customer as they walk from their car to the front door. It is a talent all service writers develop. When she got out of the Escape, even I could tell the service writer was in trouble.
The first clue was her “cell phone body language.” She was one of those people whose phone was permanently attached to their hand. You could hear it buzzing and chiming with text messages, tweets and Facebook updates.
In her other hand, some paperwork and a massive key chain with trinkets and every customer loyalty key tag from the tri-county area.
Also, by the way she carried herself, you could tell that she was angry and defensive about something. I am not singling out women. Men act the same way. Except men usually come armed with TSBs and internet forum posts. They will deny and disavow any automotive knowledge or attempted botched repair jobs when someone who knows more confronts them. It is a guy code thing.
She said the dealer told her the brakes were not covered under the warranty and she was mad. No greetings, no common exchanges of human kindness. The service writer behind the counter kept a smile as she pushed the paperwork towards him. As he scanned the estimate, she asked, “How much?”
He said they would need to inspect the vehicle first before quoting her a price. She did not like this answer. She was convinced this was a ploy to sell her something she did not need. She relented and sat down in the waiting room, smart phone in hand.
She probably went on Facebook and complained about the dealer and having to visit another shop while hoping to get sympathy or likes from her online “friends.” I am also willing to bet she “Googled” or submitted her problem to an “ask the expert” website looking for answers that matched her paranoia and pocketbook and not reality.
After the inspection, the service writer gave her the estimate. She did not like hearing the job required new front rotors. Her expression got even worse when he brought up a worn control arm bushing.
Her abuse of the man behind the counter cannot be repeated in this magazine. She accused him of trying to take advantage of her and that she would be in contact with a local TV station. She also pepper the conversation with phrases like “I read…,” and “it said…” The lowest point was when she asked him about his commission rate.
She declined the work, and waited by the front door feverishly tapping away on her phone while they put the wheels back on her car.
This is in sharp contrast to what I saw at my grandfather’s gas station more than 30 years ago. People were more civil and respected the knowledge and experience of people who worked on cars for a living.
It can be said knowledge and being able to access it can make some people paranoid, isolated and less trusting. But access to the wrong information and too much of it, can make a person down right mean.