Just the Bartender
It’s early in the morning, the shop is still full from the previous
day and I’m just getting around to my first cup of coffee when the
phone rings. An anxious, exasperated lady was on the phone.
“Oh, I’m so glad I caught you,” she excitedly said, “Your name kept
coming up when I was asking around town for the best mechanic
to fix my car.”
“Well, what can I help you with?” I asked while juggling the
phone and the coffee pot.
The story goes her car was at the dealership and it had been
there for over a week now. From the sound of things, there was
more than one issue that needed solved. She told me they had
replaced the timing belt, water pump and an ignition switch, but
her original complaint was still there. They wanted to do some
more testing to solve the problem and I could tell she was getting
a bit frustrated with them. What she really wanted was not necessarily to bring the car to my shop, but at least have some assurance from somebody else that the dealership was able to tackle the problem.
After a few sips of my coffee and a bit more conversation, I assured her the dealership was more than capable of handling the problem. I told her if she still wasn’t comfortable with the amount of time they were taking to solve her car problems, she could certainly bring it to me. You could tell by the tone of her voice she was feeling much better about having the dealership handle the repair. She thanked me for easing her mind and said she would certainly take me up on my offer if she wasn’t satisfied with the dealerships results in a day or two. I sipped down the rest of my coffee and finished up the morning paperwork when it occurred to me that the whole time I was on the phone I wasn’t just a mechanic answering a customer’s concerns; I had taken on the role of the corner tavern bartender. You know, the guy or gal behind the bar who listens to all the patrons’ problems. It was just like at the local watering hole where you’ll find a bartender listening to stories from across the bar. They’ll often play the part of a concerned friend who listens to their plight even though they probably can’t do a thing about it. Especially after a few shots have been tossed back to loosen them up.
That got me thinking, maybe it’s not so much what you do out in the shop, but more of what you do to help a customer when they’re not your customer. Maybe, what some folks need aren’t your skills as a mechanic, but more of your knowledge and assurance that it will all be fine in the long run. I felt kind of like a bartender with wrenches rather than shot glasses and high ball tumblers.
I finished my coffee and headed out to the shop to start my day where I found myself confronted with another issue. One of the cars in the shop had more wrong with it than originally thought. Now I’ve got to make the phone call and break the news to the owner. That got me wondering even more about the last phone call. Is the owner of this car going to call someone else and ask their opinion of what I was about to describe to them? I’d say there’s a good chance of that. That is, unless I can break down the repair procedures and explain it in a way that makes perfect sense to them. Even then, there’s still a possibility they’ll ask their “bartender” for their input on the whole thing anyway.
Being a mechanic, like in many other trades dealing with the general public, you’ve got to wear more than one hat during a day at work. Sometimes you’re the guy who diagnoses the problem, sometimes you’re the guy who makes the repair, sometimes you’re the guy who has to explain the whole thing to the customer… and, sometimes you’re just the bartender. On the other hand, some mechanics are so wrapped up into the technical side of the automobile that they have a hard time relating to the average consumer. They tend to forget the customers brought their car in not only for expert repairs, but also some expert advice. They’re the ones paying you for your time and knowledge. At times the car can be a challenge to repair, but there’s an even bigger challenge in making the customer feel at ease with all of your efforts. No doubt, it’s a skill that can’t be taught in a repair manual. It’s something every mechanic has to develop with time. Just like being a good bartender, you’ve got to be able to mix the cocktails and serve them with a smile, but to be a really good bartender you have to learn to listen, too. Not every phone call to the repair shop is going to turn into a paying job, but at least you can listen and do your best and be a good bartender. The dividends may not be immediate, but one thing for sure, that person on the other end of the phone won’t forget your words. Which may be all they need to remember the next time they have car problems. As a mechanic, knowing the ins and outs of the technical issues of today’s cars is extremely important to the customer. Although, sometimes all that knowledge and expertise doesn’t help when the customer is unsure of what’s going on. You might be an ace mechanic but, sometimes all you really have to be… is just the bartender.