Running a Shop Shop Customers

Patient Advocate

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I’m ill. Seriously ill. It’s no secret. I’ve written about it before.

I’ve been tested, had blood drawn and seen a wide array of medical professionals close to 150 times over the past five years. The experience has been nothing less than overwhelming.

With the exception of the very first couple of appointments, I’ve not been to the doctor without being accompanied by at least one other human being. In almost every case, I’ve been accompanied by my wife and my/our patient advocate—in this case, a very dear friend who has way too much experience dealing with doctors, hospitals, the Veteran’s Administration, pharmaceutical companies and who knows who else.

Her experience comes from keeping her husband—one of my closest friends—alive for more than 20 years.

As you may have guessed, I can’t tell you how important I think it is to have someone available to help navigate the dark and choppy waters of contemporary health care in America today. I can tell you for a fact that after I heard my oncologist articulate my diagnosis, I literally heard nothing else! Not one word.

I watched his lips move and heard the sounds he was making, but all I could think of and the only thing I could hear was the trombone from the Charlie Brown animated specials that indicated an adult was speaking. Had I not had two other people with me, I would have walked away from that meeting with the name of my disease; the words “terminal,” “incurable” and “untreatable”; and little else.

However, with at least four additional ears sitting there with me, I achieved a pretty good understanding of what I was up against.

By now, you’re wondering what any of this has to do with you, the repair community or your shop. But, there is an undeniable, irrefutable correlation you just can’t ignore: the need to have someone present who knows more about what you are trying to accomplish than you do.

I saw this at our shop more times than I care to remember. I recognized that blank deer-in-the-headlights stare far too often when a client was confronted with problems and decisions, they were unprepared to deal with.

You don’t know what you don’t know, and nowhere is that more obvious than when today’s typical vehicle owner is forced to deal with a mechanical or technological problem for which they have absolutely no understanding whatsoever. And yet, they are forced to navigate a host of difficult and enigmatic choices a veteran mechanic or technician would have difficulty with.

If you want to understand the foundation of most client/service provider conflicts I think it would be safe to say they are grounded in a failure to communicate clearly and effectively. They sit atop the pile of unexplained, poorly managed expectations, alongside a boneyard of poorly made, ill-informed decisions.

In all too many cases, all it might have taken is just a few minutes and a better explanation. In others, a digital image or visual inspection results. Any way you look at it, the majority of conflict could be easily “repaired” with just a little empathy, a modicum of compassion, a clear head and the willingness to work things out.

I think that’s why I was so impressed when I first saw the title, client advocate, on a service manager/service advisor’s business card. It was a powerful and positive statement of what this relationship could be: identifying someone inside the shop, working hard to help the client understand his or her choices and navigate their way through to the “right” conclusion.

It says everything that needs to be said and provides a powerful psychological reminder that this particular position is all about the client and a powerful, positive and successful experience. It isn’t about sales. It’s about doing whatever is in the best interest of the client even if that means sending them down the road to another service provider.

Quite frankly, I won’t make an appointment without consulting with my patient advocate. I won’t make or go to a doctor’s appointment without ensuring my wife and our patient advocate are available. Certainly, there is too much at risk. Decisions are literally a matter of life and death, which makes understanding even more critical.

But, tell me something: How is that any more critical than a single mom working two jobs trying to scrape by when confronted with a blown head gasket, worn front or rear suspension components or a transmission that has failed? Is it any less important for her to understand not only the cost of the repair, but the value of the vehicle as well?

Isn’t it just as important to have someone in the shop responsible for guiding the client through and to the right decision, especially if there is no friend or family member to accompany them? What would it be worth to establish the reputation for always acting in the client’s best interest: of always acting as the client’s advocate? My guess is, invaluable.

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