Success Strategies - August - 2019

If Only They Had Told Me

If only they had told me featured image

W hen people don’t know what’s going on, they often assume the worst. For 16 years, I drove a delightful little 2003 Thunderbird, but at 142,000 miles, and it was becoming a less appealing investment. I listed it for sale, and a buyer took one test ride and bought it from me that same day. Then I traveled to San Diego and bought a used Jaguar XK8, a luxury sports car I had wanted for years. This one was a good buy but needed quite a bit of work, so I drove it home to Thousand Oaks and promptly turned it over to my favorite repair shop.

I said, “Check everything! I want this to be my daily driver, and it needs to be solid and reliable as well as good looking.” I gave them a laundry list of small and large items to check, replace, or repair. Then I flew to China for a 3-week lecture tour and got busy working. However, every day, I was thinking about my new car. Personally, when I have a project to complete, I want regular progress reports and the full truth. If something is wrong and it’s going to be expensive, I want to know that right away. Otherwise, I assume that everything is going as requested.

After a few days in China, I called for an update. The report eased my tension considerably, but there was still much to be done. A week later, I called again. In the meantime, I’d sent a handful of texts to specify details and request status updates. Note that I’m the one initiating these messages, not the shop, and I was getting no replies. There was no apparent reason to not communicate with me. A text message sent to my phone costs the shop the same whether I’m in China or sitting in their waiting room.

When I did get the status reports that I’d repeatedly requested but rarely received, they were only general updates focused on major items only. For example, “We replaced your brakes and rotors; put in a new radiator, and we’re still checking on that mirror adjustment switch.” Well, that’s good to know but, did they also change the oil; fix the upholstery on the door panel; service the transmission; program the key remote; and repair the glove box latch? Moreover, had they found an upholsterer to replace the headliner affordably; were the new leather seats ordered; are we replacing two or four tires; did the check engine light go out; and did the detailer pick it up yet?

I’m a car guy – I love my cars. I take great care of them and drive them for many years. It’s important to me that this car is reliable and one that I’ll be proud to drive. Finally, I got my report with a photocopy of the work order and most of the details. It was a $7,100 repair bill. Yes, it’s “a lotta” money, but worth it if the car turns out as well as I hoped.

Upon my return to the USA, I rushed to the shop to see my revitalized ride. I anticipated that with the high-end detail, new brakes, tires, axles, radiator, a few interior items, and a new lease on life, I’d proudly enjoy this car for many years. I even ordered custom But, when I saw the car, my heart sank. The $500 detail job was no better than a $45 drive-thru car wash would have provided. Lots of areas had visible dirt and stains. The door panel was still at the upholstery shop. They’d made no mention of the transmission nor oil change, the warning light was on, and some parts still hadn’t come in (despite them having the car for three weeks). It was as if I had arrived at my birthday party only to find a penciled note, “Hey, Jim. Had to leave for a meeting. Hope your birthday is happy. Sorry about canceling the party plans.”

The shop was apologetic and didn’t understand what they’d done wrong and failed to do right. I was disheartened, not just because the car was incomplete, but because the communication from the shop had led me to expect a great job completed by my arrival. They told me, “We just got it back from the detailer, and it looks great!” “We took it for a test drive today; you’re going to love how it drives!” They also assured me that they’d taken care of all repairs, but that wasn’t the case.

They considered many of the items on my list to be minor, low priority items. If I’d known that they were ignoring those items until they completed the major ones, I would have changed the priority of some of them. If they’d understood what I expected from a $500 detail job, they would have had me speak directly with the detailer. They heard me, but they didn’t really listen to me. If, if, if…, there are lots of ifs here.

The one thing that would have changed everything for me would have been timely and accurate communication. I don’t expect perfection from others, but I’m willing to pay for it when I can get it. Likewise, I’m happy to forgive oversights and errors if they’re corrected. But I need to know what’s going on, and this shop didn’t have a clue that this was important to me.

Don’t assume everyone wants information the way that you do. People have communication style preferences. By observing and identifying their preferred style, you can connect with them more successfully. Learn to read their communicating style as you speak with them about their cars. Observe whether they want to move quickly or slowly and carefully. Ask them how much detail they want and how often they want it. Don’t over communicate nor under communicate. Don’t assume their style is the same as yours.

My colleague, Dr. Tony Alessandra, calls this practicing “The Platinum Rule® – Do unto others as they would like to be done unto.” So, don’t merely follow the Golden Rule, upgrade to the Platinum Rule®. Then when people pick up their cars, they’ll be happy, satisfied customers.

Jim Cathcart is a long-time friend of ATRA and contributor to GEARS. He has written and published 20 books on Success Skills and travels the world, delivering seminars to “Help People Succeed.” Jim is a member of the Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame and, adjunct professor at California Lutheran University’s School of Management. He’s also a car and motorcycle enthusiast. Reach Jim at or 1-805-777-3477.