It’s one thing to lead—it’s another entirely to lead ethically. That’s what Devon Leman learned during his first Dale Carnegie Training class.
“Looking at the history of successful organizations tells us that the creation of ethical boundaries is the key to thriving and surviving,” reads the association’s “Ethical Leadership” course guide. “Tomorrow’s leaders are the ones who, through excellence and strong character, stood within their ethical boundaries today.”
It’s that sentiment that spoke to Leman years ago in the Dale Carnegie classroom. A career service advisor, Leman carried the inspiration from that session into his profession, where he finds himself confronted with the same ethical decision day in and day out: Is it about making the sale? Or is it about keeping the customer safe?
“I’ve worked in other shops where sales are the only goal,” Leman says. “And that’s not the way I like to do things. I like to advise the customer like I would with my own grandmother. Being as ethical as possible is what makes me a better service advisor.”
It’s an attitude that, ironically enough, has led to increased sales at Clark’s Auto and Tire in Salt Lake City, the shop’s owner, Alan Boyer, says. Leman keeps that responsibility in mind as he navigates his busy schedule, keeping every job in order for his technicians, and guiding customers toward the best, safest decisions for their vehicles.
I have a list of duties I like to check off when I open the store each day. I get the “Open” signs on, start up the computers, organize my office. I take the tickets from the drop box, tag all the cars, and call anybody for anything on which I need clarification. Once I get everything into a good order, I’m in a good spot to start the day.
After that, customers with appointments start rolling in. Mornings and evenings are my busiest times, as there’s a lot of interaction with customers going on. You want them to experience a positive atmosphere where they feel safe. It involves a combination of tonality, greeting, and stature when you’re welcoming them. You’re talking to them like a friend, like you’ve known them forever.
I always wear a smile. If you’re smiling, it’s hard for the customers to sense any sort of negative energy. Nobody likes going to the doctor’s office, but if you walk in and see someone holding their head up high, smiling, greeting you with a welcoming tone of voice, it instantly makes it better. If your head's down, your eyes are shifting, you’re not making eye contact, it makes the customer think: This person doesn’t want to talk to me. This is not going to be a very pleasant experience.
Then I try my best to ease into the rest of the morning. Generally we have our larger jobs that take a little longer to do in the morning, so customers will drop off, and I have to write up all those tickets while answering the phone. It gets a little hectic, juggling that with managing techs and ordering parts.
To ease the stress, I need to be as efficient as possible. With all these cars coming in at the same time, it wouldn’t make sense for me to write up one ticket, attach a key, then run out and tag the vehicle—and do this over and over. I get everything written up before I go out and start moving cars. It makes things much less hectic to form that rhythm and ease into the day.
I’m also making sure my techs are as happy as possible. I make sure they have the tools and parts they need by keeping a constant stream of communication going and following up about the repairs. When I’m writing up a ticket, I’ll include as many notes as I can, so they can answer their own questions by simply looking at the repair order. With my free time in the morning, I make trips to the floor, seeing if there’s anything I can do for them.
I have all my resources in order to address anything on the spot. I have contacts and vendors organized on my phone if I need to make calls right away, and I have Post-it notes on my desk to remind me of any issues to address. That way I’m never caught off guard and I always have a solution ready. When that’s all clicking, the techs can do their jobs more efficiently, they’re making more money, and they don’t have to worry about anything besides repairing vehicles.
The rest of the morning and the afternoon is where things slow down a bit and I can collect myself. Starting at 1 p.m., the waiting appointments for oil changes and tire rotations roll in. I’m balancing greeting those customers and calling back all the morning appointments to let them know about their vehicles.
Customers can sense if you’re being as honest as possible with them. When explaining repairs to the customer, you have to tell them everything and not hold back. A good example is our used vehicle inspections. People will bring in vehicles they want to buy, or have already bought. I’ll be straight up with them and tell them to not buy the car. People will argue with us, and then I actually bring them back and show them what’s wrong. And they’re completely wowed with how honest we’ve been with them.
If it’s a repair, I help them prioritize everything. I lay out everything we found, even if it’s a really high number, and explain which repairs need to be done straight away, and which ones can wait. That’s where the customer learns to trust you, when you’re helping them to arrange for work in the future, because you’re making it clear it’s not about making some huge sale. You’re giving them a solution instead of a problem. It helps build trust for the customer, but then actually has that customer come back to the shop to get the rest of the repairs done.
As the day closes out, nights become pretty busy for us as well with customers picking up their vehicles. That’s one of the most important contact points, as you need to give all customers the time they deserve. I don’t want to rush through it to get to the next person. They’re spending a lot of money with you, and they trust you to give them as much information about their cars as possible.
I go over the entire ticket with them, to the point where there are no lingering questions. Then I will print out an itemized receipt and go over that with them before they actually pay, as well as the warranties we offer.
If the customer is staring at the receipt or flipping through it while they leave, I didn’t do my job right. That means they still have questions, or that they’re not happy with something. I need to make sure that doesn’t happen. Knowing I was honest and helped the customer to feel good about the repair allows me to end the day with a clear conscience.
SHOP STATS: Clark's Auto And Tire Location: Salt Lake City Shop Size: 3,500 square feet Staff Size: 10 Number Of Lifts: 6 Average Monthly Car Count: 280 Annual Revenue: $1.8 million