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How I Work: Suzette Burgess

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Laughter, singing and smiles all around—not exactly the first image that pops in your head for an automotive repair shop.

But at Pro Auto Care of Boise, Idaho, it’s the norm.

And that’s mostly thanks to Suzette Burgess.

“I guess I do have a thing about me and my laugh,” she says, appropriately with a chuckle. “I’m just an always upbeat person. It’s very rare that I’m down.”

As executive secretary for the Boise facility and a former business owner herself, Burgess has offered Greg Jarossy some critical aid with finances and sales—especially back when he was a new, struggling shop owner in 2012. With annual revenue rising from $370,000 when she started to $780,000 in 2016, he credits much of his growth to Burgess’ business know-how and handling of daily internal processes.

But beyond the numbers, Jarossy says Burgess offers so much more: She’s the glue of the company, bringing warmth and happiness to those around her, helping clients feel at ease, giving back to the community and providing employees a reason to come to work every day.

“Suzette maintains the highest moral standards in her life and this reflects greatly in how our shop is viewed,” he says. “Our turnover rate is minimal and our morale is consistently high.”

I open up the shop and go through my normal, everyday morning ritual of gathering the tech’s hours and checking emails, voicemails and banking information. I also cash out of all the jobs we had the day before.

I actually have a list on the wall so I don’t forget my normal routine. For me, that keeps everything in line so I don’t miss a beat. That way if anything happens out of the normal realm, I’ll be able to catch up because I can look up and get right back on track.

As I’m doing my normal routine, I answer the phone, jump in and help the service advisor take care of the clients when I’m needed, and prepare estimates for the clients that have appointments.

I refer to all of our customers as “clients.” I think it’s important to think of them that way. It makes them feel like they’re more than just another customer.

I didn’t have much auto repair experience when I got here, so I looked at my job from a public relations standpoint. When I was at the front desk at my own business, I wanted to reflect a certain personality, a certain type of person that could talk to the client in a good, happy manner and keep them upbeat even if they weren’t happy with something. I aim to help them understand what we do for them on their car and that we don’t rip anyone off.

But it was also important to understand automotive work. Service writers have to be technicians. They have to be able to talk to the clients in an intelligent manner, otherwise they won’t trust us, which is why I spent a lot of time asking questions and researching online. I was listening to the guys as I went along, writing down notes so I didn’t forget and so that I would state things correctly. I still practice that before I speak with clients.

If you look depressed, it makes it pretty hard to keep the mood upbeat. And you have to be upbeat for the client. They’re coming in with a problem and it might be costing them thousands of dollars. There are people that really need help, and we need to be nurturing and provide that for them. So an important part of interacting with clients for me is knowing where people are coming from so we can be sensitive to their needs. We’re not here to discuss money—we’re here to help the client take care of their car and help them stay safe.

“I just want that happy mood reflected throughout the shop when clients come in.” — Suzette Burgess Executive Secretary Pro Auto Care of Boise

When a client comes in, I give them a little explanation of how we work on things here and how we don’t try to upsell. We just find out what is going on with your car, explain it thoroughly and give them the choice to make their decision. We don’t push anybody. We do tell them that if it's detrimental to their safety that they should strongly consider taking action and we’ll help them find a way of spacing out their payments if needed. We’re thinking of our clients, not of ourselves, and after I explain how we operate, new clients feel very comfortable knowing that’s how we work.

I make time to write and send out letters to new and regular clients, thanking them for visiting. We also send out gift cards to those that spend a lot of money.

I’m always trying to keep all my co-workers in a good mood. If anyone has personal issues or sees something wrong in the shop, they can always talk to me. I tell them that. I’m very open. I just want that happy mood reflected throughout the shop when clients come in.

Greg has always been very involved with the community, and I’ve latched onto that. I knew a woman at my church who had an unsafe vehicle, plus she had three children and a husband who was recently diagnosed with cancer. We found an SUV with a bad transmission and repaired it, had it detailed and presented it to her as a surprise.

Something like that can do so much for camaraderie at a shop. Everyone was on board for it and was really into helping her. We just felt it was the right thing to do for the person. Those decisions cost quite a bit of time and money for the company, but I have to say that we’re always blessed back for it—you’re always blessed back when you give.

In the afternoon, once I’ve gotten through my normal routine and there are less clients to deal with, I’ll take care of priority items that are listed on my calendar. For instance, vendors are paid on the 10th, so over the next few days I’ll be getting ready to pay all those bills. I’m making sure all the invoices are correct for the vendors. Sometimes it means putting together payroll the rest of the week, sometimes it means checking inventory. When I do it just goes according to priorities along with the flow of the day.

Before I leave, I’m getting all the techs’ hours logged in, that way by the time payroll comes around by the first of the week, I’ve got it all ready and done. I’m also going through anything I’ve written down to be done, making sure I have called everybody that needs to be called, anything that might need to be done by the end of the day.

I really love what I do. I’ll be here for a long time. These are great people to work with. We align very much in our values here, and I think that’s what makes it a great place to work.

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