If I had a dime for every time a customer said that to me while in the process of Repair Order composition… I would have made a lot less money off the ensuing job!
I mean, the whole idea of the pre-repair consultation—at least from my point of view—was and is to get as good an idea as possible about the nature of the vehicle’s problem, so a proper repair can be performed in an expedient, efficient, and cost-effective manner.
The fact that many professional people—including those in the auto repair field—don’t take this approach, and why they don’t, will be a subject for a future entry.
In my earlier, more naïve and trusting days, when a customer would tell me what a problem WASN’T—often with an intimidating amount of conviction—I would give their assessment a fair measure of credence as I approached a solution to the problem.
It was kind of an “innocent until proven guilty” sort of dynamic.
After a couple of jobs where I would have been happy just to have made a dime on the process, I sensed what I considered at the time to be a bizarre pattern being defined.
Over the years, the pattern continued to be supported and proven, to the point that it could actually be stated as some sort of natural law, like the ebb and flow of tides, the lunar phases, or even the rising and setting of the sun: if the customer said the problem with their vehicle was “anything but THAT”, it would, in fact, be NOTHING OTHER than that! And this fact would be further set and emphasized proportional to the amount of conviction the customer would use to make their point.
I learned not to argue the point of my ironclad “discovery” with the customer, as sometimes I would find that I had talked myself out of a job! The best method would be just to include what I thought it would take to actually get the vehicle running right (at least for demonstration purposes) in the initial estimate price. When I’d show the customer how the problem had been corrected, the perceived contradictory nature of the repair would be a little easier for me to explain, and for them to accept.
Since I’ve been covering some of my experiences with British Cars in the last several entries, I think it’s only fitting that the first germane tale I relate should be about one of them.
It was a mid-eighties Jaguar, not surprisingly. What surprised me a little was that the customer was a tech that had specialized in British Cars for some time, although mostly on older models. Examples from the “Marque of the Leaping Cat” were especially trouble-ridden during the period before the Blue Oval bailout, and I had gained some local renown for performing exceptionally well on such offerings.
While consulting with him, he of course told me about all the things he’d done to address the problem—all of the time, blood, sweat and tears. He was especially proud of the Lucas “Speedlead” spark plug wires he’d installed. In earlier times, I knew those to be the correct wire to use on the XJ-6 models, but I also knew that later models used a different version of the wire he’d installed.
When I raised this issue, he bristled, and I backed off and said that he was probably right, and that it must be something else. In any event, he knew I’d hook it up to my ignition system Oscilloscope, and I’d get a better idea then.
He was right about that, at least.
What the ‘scope pattern indicated was that the aforementioned “pattern” related to customer opinion as to the nature of the problem was again, indeed, repeating.
Apparently, the resistance value of the wire set he installed, while being ideal for earlier contact point-type ignition systems, was not allowing the electronic system this XJ was equipped with to generate the correct spark quality needed.
I installed the proper wire set, and the problem was solved!
The customer was duly pleased—our initial disagreement over the nature of the problem being forgotten. That highlights the real truth of these types of situations: the customer just wants their vehicle FIXED—opinions counting for very little in the final analysis.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Stay tuned for the next entry, where I will cover a couple of them.
Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.