When I was a sophomore in college, I surprised myself by changing my own brakes on my 1991 Ford F150. My mechanic quoted $300. I spent $100 on a Chilton’s Manual and parts, changed the brakes, then drove from Seattle to Provo the very next day and didn’t die. I had so little confidence in my brake repair abilities that my brake pedal appeared to be working my sphincter muscle.
Since I was a poor college student, I was stoked that I saved $200, but my limbic brain didn’t get a rush from fixing the brakes. Auto repair doesn’t fit with my “why,” so I prefer to have somebody else take care of it. As a result, I haven’t developed my mechanical skills, and I’m automotively illiterate. (Another result is that I don’t have hardly any tools. Feel free to attack my masculinity in order to augment your own.¹)
As a CPA, I’m grateful that lots of people’s limbic brain doesn’t get a rush from doing accounting and that they need to pay somebody else to do it. ‘Cause that’s how I gets my skrilla² to afford my dope ride. Currently my dope ride is a 2007 Honda Civic. Why a 2007 Honda Civic? Because at 40 mpg, my limbic brain gets a huge rush when I calculate my mileage deduction.
My 2007 Honda Civic is fully loaded. Oh yeah. It’s got seat belts, a dash board, and brake squealer tabs. Just looked that last one up on Google. Pretty high tech car crap. Brake squealer tabs make a bad sound when it’s time to get your brakes changed. Very helpful if you suck at cars.
Not too long ago, my squealers were squealing, so I called my usual mechanic. It went to voice mail. I didn’t leave a message.
Lesson #1: Answer your damn phone.
I’ve never been too excited about my usual mechanic. He’s the uncle of a close family friend, but for some reason I always felt like I was getting screwed. Maybe because I suck at cars.
Lesson #2: Your clients might worry that they’re getting screwed because they suck at accounting. A fixed price agreement plus a scope document goes a long way.
I work with a guy who’s a great resource when it comes to everything I suck at. He’s a total car guy, motorcycle guy, tool guy, fix it guy. If I need something done, he always has a good recommendation. So I asked him where to take my 2007 Honda Civic. He recommended Mike & The Mechanics.³ Didn’t hesitate. Said that was the place to go.
Lesson #3: Read The Tipping Point, then make sure that you’ve got customers who are mavens. Mavens are “people we rely upon to connect us to new information.” If someone asks a maven to recommend a CPA firm, two things need to be in place: you have to be a great CPA firm, and the maven has to know about you.
I took my Civic into Mike’s. He did the work. I picked up the car. The price was reasonable. He told me that my rear tires were balder than Patrick Stewart, James Carville, and Joey Brannon combined. He recommended that I get them replaced ASAFP.
As I was driving away, I thought I heard my car making a noise, but it was so faint I figured I was just imagining things. Over the course of the morning, that faint sound turned into a disturbing grinding noise which turned into a horrible clanking. I pulled over multiple times to try to see what was wrong, as if I had the kind of skills where I could pull over and just see what was wrong.
I hate being the guy to complain, but my car sounded like the bastard child of a rock polisher and a roto hammer4. When I got there I explained to Mike the various noises that my car had made. He suggested we take a quick ride together so he could hear what I was talking about. We got in the car, and the damn thing didn’t make the noise! Nothing! The car sounded perfect. It was making the noise when I pulled up right in front of the door to the office of the shop. Now nothing! My 2007 Honda Civic was making the sounds of silence like Simon and Carfunkle which pissed me off and made me feel stupid5.
After explaining that I’m not a liar and that just moments earlier the car sounded like someone shoved an unopened can of tomato paste into a garbage disposal, Mike said, “I believe you. You wouldn’t have come down here if you weren’t hearing something weird. Let me clear a bay, take it back, and see what’s going on.”
Lesson #4: When a customer complains, he already feels stupid. Give him the benefit of the doubt that – at bare minimum – his expectations were not met. Maybe you made a mistake, or maybe his expectations were wrong – either way your job is to get expectations to match the deliverable. Regardless, Mike earned big points by simply saying, “I believe you.”
It took him just a few minutes to clear a bay and get my car back there.
Lesson #5: Start fixing the problem immediately.
Just a few more minutes passed when Mike came back in and told me that something was indeed wrong. A bolt was missing from the brake apparatus, and he was mortified. He took me back to the shop to show me. It was cute that he thought I would know what he was pointing at.
Mike assured me that they would get it fixed as quickly as possible at no charge to me. Unfortunately it would take about an hour because they had to get a new bolt from Honda. I didn’t have an hour; I had to get back to work. So Mike insisted that I take his Jeep for the rest of the work day – not a car that belonged to the shop, but his personal vehicle. He insisted.
Lesson #6: If at all possible, when a customer complains, do something that will blow his damn mind. Mike letting me drive his personal car was an unexpected, over-the-top demonstration of customer service.
So I took his Jeep, he fixed my Honda, and I won’t ever go back to my old mechanic.
Lesson #7: Customer complaints are an opportunity to create incredibly loyal customers.
Studies show that customers who complain – and whose complaints are dealt with to their satisfaction in a timely manner – are more loyal than customers who never complain.
I never complained to my old mechanic; I never wrote a blog post about him, either.
¹Attack it, you wussie! I knew you didn’t have it in you.
²Skrilla is slang for “money, esp. paper currency.” Use it with your clients.
³Not the real name of the shop, but an amazing idea for the name of a real shop.
4Like I know what a roto hammer is.
Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Provo, Utah, with his wife and two kids. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.