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If you want to find a great mechanic you can trust, look for these two things.

Curiosity and Empathy

Curiosity and empathy are the two most effective diagnostic tools in every service industry.

Perhaps the oldest analytical devices humans have, curiosity and empathy are still the quickest, most effective methods we have in problem solving and in providing great care.

Service industries continue to develop remarkable technologies that assist with both assessment and care. However, as both consumers and providers we need to become aware of relationships in which technology is used in place of inquisitiveness and concern. We need to notice when automation is used to replace compassion rather than to enhance it. 

As consumers, we need to notice when our providers lack connection and sincerity.   We need to take responsibility for interactions by first understanding what “service” is, and second by holding providers accountable for “serving”.

Without curiosity and empathy to guide procedures, automotive repair especially has become a wild landscape of relationships untethered by a “service” ethic. 

Automotive Repair is “service” not “retail”. As both consumers and providers in the car repair market, we have unwittingly participated in the commoditization of what is clearly a service: vehicle maintenance and repair. 

Caring for people and machinery is not a material “thing” or “commodity” to be bought or sold. As mechanics, our expertise is not merchandise that customers can take home. Caring for people and their cars is a relationship that customers take home, that is tethered to the Shop. 

Service is not a transaction, it is a relationship. Service is fore-going and on-going attention to needs—human, mechanical, technological. Without curiosity and empathy it is simply not possible to notice or address problems in meaningful or efficient ways.

Automotive repair has become a field in which curiosity can no longer be employed without advanced training in the technological assists that fine tune inquiry and wonder. However, we are finding more and more as employers, that staff trained in the use of technology, but unpracticed in the mental and emotional exercise of curiosity and wonder, fail most often at correctly assessing problems.

The failure to correctly assess problems has world-wide become a billion dollar industry. Incorrect diagnosis stemming from the inability to initiate and to follow a line of inquiry is costing drivers a fortune, inflating Shop revenues, and gutting the natural purpose and satisfaction of the service ethic.

As customers, we have become numb to the expectation that service providers should behave inquisitively or in a genuinely interested and analytical way toward our service appointment.

Service providers across the board have eliminated curiosity and empathy from appointments in favor of franchise-system automation. Removing the natural elements of inquisitive and compassionate human interaction from a service transaction narrows expectations and limits disappointment.

When people get curious about each other it almost always takes time and often leads to unexpected interactions. When we get curious about an unusual material failure or wear pattern, it takes time and often leads to paths unknown.

We have commoditized the service transaction to such a point that we are not rewarded for either curiosity or compassion because we don’t get paid for asking questions or following lines of inquiry. We get paid for selling jobs.

We get paid for selling jobs. We get paid for selling work, not meeting needs. We get paid for selling work, not for working. We get paid for selling, not listening. We get paid for selling, not asking.

We get paid for selling work, not for “working.” Think about this. It has not always been this way.

We should get paid for figuring out, for understanding, for assessing what someone or something needs in order to be whole. We should get paid for meeting needs. We should get paid for paying attention to, and for noticing what a patient or client has not been able to assess themselves. We should get paid for articulating, discovering, uncovering things.

When you sit down at a salon, if the hair dresser doesn’t look you in the eye and ask you what you want with curiosity and empathy, you can be guaranteed you’ll get a bad haircut. 

We’ve all had a bad haircut. I’ve been there too many times, and every time because I didn’t take responsibility for the interaction. As customers it is our place to guide the service appointment and to protect and provide for curiosity and compassion. This is not pushy. This is being a patient, not a consumer. It also doesn’t have to be a demanding or unkind process. 

Asking for, or inviting curiosity, is the first step to successfully navigating a commercialized service industry.

The second step is mirroring compassion and inviting empathy. Questions like, “Does my description ring a bell?” or “Have you ever heard of a noise like this?” and “Do you have time to help me right now?”

As customers, we have to reclaim and reinstate a “service” ethic in the service industry by viewing ourselves as patients and clients rather than as consumers. We have to initiate this change and let our dollars leverage proper ethics.

As service providers, we have to reclaim the service industry by charging for the work we do. We have to stop selling work.

As employers we have to calculate overhead based on the effort of active inquiry. We have to view, understand and calculate payroll as direct compensation for the work of compassion and curiosity. 

The billed-hour model, for many technicians, creates a nagging sense of scarcity that opposes the exercise of curiosity and wonder, and even psychologically paints the practice of these diagnostic tools as an immature waste of time.  

The irony of monetarily pressurizing time allocated to puzzling out problems, is that natural curiosity, coupled with being surrounded by the compassion of a collaborative team, is incredibly fast. It is also academically fluid. It is technical training of the highest value.

Active participation in collaborative team environments is an investment in a library of information that is a collective Shop asset, the dividends of which are paid out in fulfillment, sense of purpose, affection, and great service to customers. 

As employers we have to reclaim the service ethic in ‘service advising’. The commission model for service advisors requires them to sell work in order to make a living. The burden of selling work is also the burden of making sure the mechanic can make a living. 

Service advisors are tasked with not only selling work for themselves, but selling work for their teammates. 

Selling work is the antithesis of compassion. Our innate humanity and desire to serve someone would never allow us to “sell” them work. It would only allow us to work for them, to meet their need.

For the service advisor, the challenge of selling work is more about living outside integrity than it is about the challenge of communicating a diagnosis and recommendation with empathy.

As employers we have to establish goals for service advisor staff that align with service ethics. Service advisors need the latitude and support to serve customers, time and desire to accurately meet the need in scheduling and carrying out appointments.

As service advisors, we have to make it our business to get curious about the customer concern. In order to help technicians, we have to be curious about both what our tech wants to know, and about what the customer knows about their issue. 

Here is where we as employers misunderstand and miscalculate the costly effects of automation and expediency.

The more time we spend being curious about customer concerns, about the questions our techs like to have answered, the quicker these cars roll in and out. The more accurate their repairs, the more fluid our workflow, the more purpose we feel, more satisfaction we feel. We have to remember this basic human phenomena of exercising curiosity and compassion that results in connection, resolution and professional growth.

Curiosity is a diagnostic tool that has been used for thousands of years. Muting inquisitive and analytical endeavors in the interest of expediency is mis-seeing service, and it is costing our industry millions. Millions. 

Last week a Honda Odyssey got towed in from another Shop where it had been diagnosed with a bad engine. The other Shop could not get to the engine overhaul so the brought it to us.

After reading the previous Shop’s diagnosis, our technician got curious. He listened to what sounded like the tell-tale knock of a bad engine. Rather than dive right into a lucrative engine swap that would allow him to beat the book by several hours and bump his pay significantly, he got out his stethoscope. He was curious and compassionate. He only wanted to spend several thousand dollars of this woman’s money if he had to. 

He eventually discovered it as a mimicking noise rather than an engine knock. 

He isolated the noise to a pulley behind the timing cover. A simple repair with parts in town. The customer had been waiting for their van for five weeks. Because our technician is curious and compassionate, he was able to be a hero, got paid well for his expertise, and is proud of what he does. 

We have examples of this all day, every day. 

Almost everyone I know has a similar story with regard to healthcare. When doctors take the time to stop and look you in the eye and ask you what is going on, they so often nail the diagnosis and the treatment. When they take the time. When the structure of their institutions give them the time. 

The gradual, clearly imperceptible, commoditization of service ethics has all but erased sharp diagnostic practices that require curiosity and empathy.   It is time to wake up by redefining, and again expecting “service” from every Service Industry. Unless we remind ourselves what good treatment is, we will likely never find it.