RELATIONSHIPS - Saving them without a therapist - Engine Builder Magazine

RELATIONSHIPS – Saving them without a therapist

How’s your relationship? I hope things are good at home, but I was thinking about at the workplace.

Merriam-Webster defines relationship as: “The way in which two or more people, groups, countries, etc., talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other.” Have you ever stopped to think about your relationships with your customers? How about with your suppliers? Your employees? Or even your competitors?

If we’re doing our jobs right, most of us speak or interact with our suppliers daily, or a few times a week at the least, and we see our employees or co-workers daily. Our competitors, not so much.

Just like personal relationships such as a marriage, nothing will test it like expectations. Ever had a customer walk in, express that they needed a job done now no matter what your work load, then proceed to tell you that the compensation you need for an expedited job done well was too much? Happens all the time.

Sometimes, these are opportunities. Other times, these are disasters.

Sometimes we can drop everything and do what needs to be done for our good customers. This behavior can be very rewarding, in a come-to-the-rescue sort of way. With luck, you end up feeling like a Boy Scout and your cash box is a little richer. Sometimes no one is happy. Will your relationship survive this?

Another expectation I hear about far too often lies in the high performance world. How often have you had the request to make 500hp on a $500 budget? Maybe not this extreme, but crazy nonetheless. Some of those newsstand magazines and Internet forums put ridiculous expectations in the consumer’s mind.

What happens when things don’t go so well? What about my first example where the job is done, but the cost is contested? Do you stand firm and get paid, and paid well for what you did? The best way to guarantee this would be to establish the cost, or the hourly rate for the job, before you start. That way there are no surprises, no wrong expectations. And if you don’t want this type of expectation to turn into the norm, not be the exception to the rule, you better get paid well for deviating from your schedule. This way your customer with a special need will think twice before putting you in this position again.

What if you can’t live up to that expectation, the demand for immediate service, no matter what you did? You’d best be honest if you want that customer to come back. Sometimes you just don’t have the tools, the time or the knowledge, especially when it’s a rush. You might already be expediting a project for someone else.

The truth is, referring a customer to someone you know you can trust to do things right might pay off. Chances are good that you will be remembered more for the good advice and all your previous good work, than you’ll have to worry about losing that customer to someone else. This is a call you’ll have to make based on the recommendation and the quality of your relationship with both the customer and your competitor.

What about customer problems? We all know people who can take what should be something simple, and throw common sense out the window. Or what if they don’t know exactly what they are working on, and try to put you in the position to guess? Are you willing to stand up to them when things go wrong and they want to blame you or the parts you sourced, even when you know that’s not the case?

Of course you will. You must. After all, they came to you with their problem, not yours. And if you don’t want to own a little part of it yourself, you must handle these customers in a way that will steer them away from additional problems. And sometimes this may mean being direct. Why waste time tracking down parts if it won’t address the real problem? Why waste your or your supplier’s time guessing?

This leads to consistency. Above all, isn’t this what we all want? Isn’t this why customers comeback? If your service is consistently good, your prices consistently fair and you consistently hit your time estimate then you’ve consistently met your half of the agreement you’ve made and you’ve lived up to your customers expectations, thus strengthening your relationship.

Things don’t always go well. Maybe it’s more accurate to say they rarely go as planned. Like the military says, “No plan survives the first contact with the enemy.” What happens then? How do I retain the good relationship I’ve built? Just as with any relationship, the key to success is communication. No one wants to be left hanging and no one likes costly surprises. If the job is not going to go well, it’s your job to inform the customer. And we have a saying for that as well. “The sooner the better.”

I can picture nothing worse as a customer than coming to pick up my shop job and being hit with surprises. First, I don’t want to take time out of my day to travel across town to my shop on the designated date my job was promised only to find out that it’s not ready. Nor do I want to show up and be surprised by a parts and labor bill that is greater than what I had been quoted. As a matter of fact, unless I’ve been warned and agreed to the estimated costs, it’s illegal. And talking about wasting time, yours is much too valuable to find yourself spending a day in court fighting over a bill.

I think the problem with the high horsepower expectation on a low budget, though very common, is easily handled with the first estimate. Labor is labor. If some machine work is needed, be it a stock rebuild or a full power quest, it needs to be on the bill. No compromises. You need to get paid for what you do, and the job needs to be done right. This will leave a balance to their budget, so show them how to spend it realistically. Next, show them what they might do more, if they increase their budget. Show them how much more it would cost to meet their goal. Often you’ll find they can come up with the extra cash to meet your second estimate, obtaining the best compromise. This way they have chosen how this is going to go, leading to a happy customer. And what if the customer is not happy, believes those crazy magazine builds or some ridiculous story from the Internet? Frankly, you don’t need this kind of job anyway. After all, some expectations just can’t be met no matter how much you communicate.

Sometimes we see this work both ways. There are times we all get frustrated with our suppliers. I’m sorry but I think this is just useless emotion. Ask yourself, what good is it to get angry over something that is out of your, and maybe someone else’s control? Is it worth a heart attack or stoke?

Let’s explore this part of the relationship and why it can get emotional. When you think about it, most of us do our jobs every day without so much as a thank you, probably 95-99% of the time. The percentage is so high that we not only depend on it to go right, but we soon expect it. We can even cause more trouble for ourselves by making choices that to be done right depend on things going perfect. Funny, but this is when it usually doesn’t.

Now, due to what can be no more than embarrassment for the predicament we’re in, we get all puffed up and angry. Useless energy. How has it changed things, except for the worse? Talk about damaged relationships. That 1 or 2 percent of the time things aren’t perfect and we completely forget the 98 or 99 percent of the time we didn’t have to think about it, nor show graditude for it. Yes, that’s how it works. We do our jobs and the paycheck is the reward. But just because something didn’t happen to perfection we should not forget the times that it did. Don’t forget the law of averages where those who work the hardest, do the most work are also those who are favorites to make an error. Nor should we forget to sometimes compliment a daily job well done.

Employees and co-workers can be some of the most complex relationships. We see some of these people more than our loved ones. Just some advice on this topic. Consistency is a must. You are always the boss, even after hours if you don’t want any ambiguous behavior in the work place. You are always a professional and you must always be respectful of the laws protecting the rights of your employees. I think we can let our hair down a little after hours, without throwing these things out the window.

And last, let’s not forget these are co-workers, not usually family and your privacy should be guarded at all cost if you don’t want to be reading your story on Facebook.

We take our relationships for granted on a daily basis. We try to just get through the day, day in and day out without too many upsets. We rarely stop to look around at what seems to be becoming more and more of a rare commodity, our relationships. Whether it is at home with a spouse or child, or the people that on a regular basis help us to put food on the table for our spouses and children, we need to recognize the value in that relationship, interaction or transaction. Without them the world would be a very lonely place and our work, workplace and bank accounts would look much different. ν

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