Up Your Business - September - 2021

Story Telling

Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature where I share stories, insights, and reflections about business and life.

I remember this story like it was yesterday, but it was nearly 60 years ago. I was 14 years old. (Go ahead. Calculate my age. I’ll wait.) Anyhow, I had a dilemma that only a 14-year-old would understand. I was supposed to meet up with my buddies for a pick-up baseball game in an hour, but my dad said I couldn’t go until I mowed the lawn – nearly a two-hour job. You see my dilemma, right?

Back in those days, lawnmowers weren’t as efficient as they are today. There were always a few weeds that didn’t cut cleanly on the first pass. Sometimes they were so tough, it required pulling them or cutting them by hand with sheers. For you younger folks, weed eaters came along about 10 years later. The only way to cut the grass to my dad’s satisfaction was to overlap the previous pass going in the opposite direction, effectively mowing the entire lawn twice. It all seemed ridiculous to me at the time.

So, being desperate, I figured I’d skip the second pass and finish quicker. I figured I’d just face the music later if Dad even noticed. That way, I could make it on time for the game and, if necessary, clean up the job after I’d played ball with the guys.

As luck would have it, just as I was a little over halfway through with my “modified” approach to the job, my dad made a surprise onsite appearance. I hadn’t noticed that he’d been watching me from the front porch and clearly seeing that I was shortcutting his prescribed process.

My dad was a WWII Marine Corp Veteran. He had always drilled into me, “Any job worth doing is worth doing right!” Of course, that day was not going to be an exception. But what came next taught me a lesson that’s so enduring that I’m sharing it with you today.

He said, “Son, I’m very disappointed to see shortcutting the job. You think you’re doing something fast, but it’s only half-assed. The reason I came out here wasn’t to check on you. I’ve always trusted you to do the job right. I came out here to tell you that I’d finish the job for you so you could go meet the guys on time. But now, that’s not going to happen. In fact, here’s the new plan. Go ahead and do the job just as you’ve started, but the job will not be accepted until you’ve pulled or cut every ‘straggler’ by hand.” By the way, “straggler” is a Marine term for anyone that couldn’t keep up. In this case, he was referring to the remaining weeds while giving me a verbal jab at the same time.

He added the following lesson to my punishment, “If you don’t have time to do something right the first time, where will you find the time to do it again?” Years later, when I went through Marine Corp OCS (Officer’s Candidate School), I discovered the source of those words.

Over the years, that lesson has stuck with me. I’ve also learned to apply in other ways and in other circumstances, as well. It’s not only related to taking the time to do something right; it applies to all aspects of doing things right. In our business, this includes things like using the best parts, fixing both the problem and its cause, making sure the customer’s car is clean after the job is done, saying please and thank you, and doing what you said you’d do. In other words, doing things right even when nobody is looking.

I hope you enjoyed my story. The truth is that most people like to hear stories. In fact, there’s an old sales adage, “Stories sell.” Sharing relatable stories is helpful whether you’re selling a product, service, idea, or transmission repair job.

Most of the best sales trainers were salespeople before they became trainers. But even as trainers, they’re still selling. They’re selling ideas. And without exception, they were great at telling stories, spinning yarns, and selling with their stories. A few famous names that come to mind include Zig Ziglar, Og Mandino, Paul Harvey, Dale Carnegie, Ken Blanchard, and GEARS Magazine’s own, Jim Cathcart.

Why do stories work? One reason is that stories are about other people, and therefore, they aren’t threatening. However, a story can confront an issue or make a point. For instance, in the Bible, Jesus often used stories called parables to confront his accusers or teach a principle. Whether you’ve read the Bible or not, you’ve most certainly heard some version of the stories of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan. There are even “Good Samaritan Laws” that protect people who offer lifesaving assistance from being prosecuted.

Another reason stories work is because people see themselves in the narrative, and when the story is relatable to them, it’s believable. In addition to selling jobs, I’ve also found stories to be helpful in handling customer disputes. It’s not even essential that the story be true as long as it’s relatable. The best stories bring the customer to a point where they can make an informed decision and reach a reasonable conclusion on their own. It makes it their idea, not your idea.

A good story structure might use the “feel, felt, found” sequence. It goes something like this. “I know how you must feel. Other customers have felt the same way. But this is what they’ve found.”

For instance, you could say something like, “Mr. or Ms. Customer, I know how you must feel. Your situation reminds me of another customer who had a similar problem. It was just a few months ago. They had (describe the situation). They felt as though (describe). Here’s what we found (explain). And here’s how we resolved their problem (explain and relate it to the current customer’s situation). By the way, they’re very happy with their decision to have the repairs done. Is there any reason you wouldn’t want us to do the same for you?”

An example of using a story to make a point is the story I told at the beginning of this article. My objective was to tell you a story that illustrates the principle of doing things right, for the right reasons, even when nobody is looking.

Unfortunately, in our web-based, low-touch world, selling with stories is becoming a lost art. Or is it?

Consider this. Your website and social media present terrific venues for telling and selling with stories. What’s unfortunate is that many of you are missing the opportunity to do so.

Most shops are good at telling their own stories on their websites – how long they’ve been in business, types of repairs they perform, special offers, warranties offered, and so on. While these are important for visitors at some point in the shopping process, how does it relate to them now, while they’re feeling the pressure of their problem?

Testimonials are relatable and believable. What if a customer could do a search on your website for certain kinds of problems? They could type in a description of the problem or choose from a menu of common generic issues. In either case, they’re led to a search result. Ideally, they’d read a story or testimonial about another customer who had a similar problem and how it turned out?

Or what if the homepage prominently displayed a couple of “choice” customer testimonials that deal with some of the most common customer concerns?

For example, I heard a radio commercial for a shop the other day. The commercial was a customer’s testimonial as told by the customer. It focused on how the shop handled a situation for her and how it made her feel. Why couldn’t you do the same thing with a testimonial on your website? It could be an audio or written story.

Another missed opportunity, in my opinion, is when customers post reviews on social media or on the shop’s own website. I think the shop should post responses to all reviews – good, bad, or indifferent. Most shops only respond to complaints or negative reviews. And of course, you should use this opportunity to tell a relatable story in your response.

Why not give Story Selling a try? You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Besides, it’s a lot of fun.

About the Author

Thom Tschetter has served our industry for nearly four decades as a management and sales educator. He owned a chain of award-winning transmission centers in Washington State for over 25 years.

He calls on over 30 years of experience as a speaker, writer, business consultant, and certified arbitrator for topics for this feature column.

Thom is always eager to help you improve your business and your life. You can contact him by phone at (480) 773-3131 or e-mail to coachthom@gmail.com.