Yesterday morning I was reminded of an invaluable thing. Nothing new. But the best stuff is almost always the simple stuff.

When dealing with your clients, DON’T make assumptions.

“Yeah, yeah” you might be thinking  “I don’t do that!”

Hmm… are you sure?!

If you’d have been talking to me yesterday and said that I’d have replied with something like “No, definitely don’t make assumptions, that’s a rookie error.” Although in my head I’d have been thinking “Shit, yeah, I probably do do that actually … my bad … note to self: stop.”

Let’s be painfully honest for a second, it is a rookie error, but it’s also a pro error. It’s something you do when you’re new because you don’t know any better but it’s something you can find yourself doing when you’re really experienced because you think you know exactly what you’re doing.

What on earth do I mean? Well, here’s what happened to me over the last two weeks that’s led to this morning’s lightbulb about assumptions.

Grab a coffee (or a wine) this could take a while but it’s totally worth it, promise …

The mechanic and the marketer – Part 1

Ok, so, I’m not a car-savvy type of girl. Sure I love to look at and drive a nice car, but I have no idea what needs to be done to a car, when, how difficult it is, how much it costs, what happens if I don’t do it … none of that. I’ve just never cared to learn.

So it can be an awkward conversation when one of my warning lights comes on and I call a mechanic to come out and fix the problem and he ends up telling me that the thing that’s broken needed to be replaced 20,000 km’s ago and then looks at me like maybe I’m from another planet when I say “Oh, ok, yeah, I didn’t know that.”

I’ve gotten a bit better though, so this time when I booked my car in for a service I was super proud of myself because it was 500km’s before it was supposed to be serviced. Ok granted that was only because the car was doing something weird and I was thinking about selling it … but … I booked it in none the less.

I’d used this mechanic before because we were in a business networking group together. Note: He knew I was hopeless because he’d had one of those conversations with me last time he’d serviced my car. 

So I called him to book in the service, told him it was pretty much due anyway and that I was thinking about selling it but it was doing this strange thing so best he comes and does the service and looks at what’s causing this issue at the same time.

On the day, he arrives at my house we have a quick chat and I explain again about the strange thing it’s doing, tell him I might sell the car but I’m not sure and that if I do I’ll be selling it privately anyway so need it to be ready to sell with no issues. I think I’ve been pretty clear and he seems to understand, so I give him the key and go inside to work.

About 90 minutes later he comes to tell me he’s all done. He mentions something about the fuel filter needing to be replaced but that it’s a big job and says if I’m selling it then I probably shouldn’t worry to do it as it’s going to cost at least $350, but says there’s nothing else wrong with the car, and he didn’t feel it doing the strange thing I said it was doing when he drove it.

I nodded, accepted what he’d said and felt happy I’d been such a responsible car owner and called the mechanic to get things sorted before anything major went wrong.

He said he’d sent me the invoice by email and I told him I’d pay it that night.

Five minutes later I jumped in the car to get to an appointment I had, almost straight away my car started doing the strange thing I’d felt it do before, even worse than ever! About ten minutes into the drive a warning light came on that I’d never seen before and the car is seriously struggling. By now I’m in an area that’s really hilly and has only one lane of traffic in each direction … great … the car is barely able to get up hills at 40 km p hr and I’m thinking “Oh good lord … do not tell me this damned car is going to break down now out here just after a damned service.”

At this point I was cursing my mechanic because I’d told him what the car was doing and he’d said it wasn’t doing it and was all fine, and now, less than 30 minutes later it was way worse (and he’d just serviced it).

I tried calling him, but as he’s mobile he was obviously busy and I couldn’t get hold of him.

The bad news

About 45 minutes later, after I’d made it to my appointment (just) he called me back and I explained what was happening with the car. He said “Oh … it sounds like it’s probably the spark plugs … I couldda replaced ’em when I was there … damn … yeah … but I can’t make it out till Tuesday now.”

This was all happening on a Friday afternoon.

Remember I said I was bad with cars and knowing what had to happen? Well, I did remember that the last time he’d serviced the car he’d said the spark plugs probably needed to be replaced but that we could do them next time as they weren’t too bad.

So for him to tell me at this point, after he’d serviced my car, and when I’d just assumed (yeah the irony isn’t lost on me) that he’d done whatever needed to be done – which in this case would have included the spark plugs – made me feel angry, frustrated and confused. To say I was annoyed was an understatement.

The good news

After a trip to the local auto spares place, having them plug their computer into the car, and with the help of my Dad and my partner (and Google) it was clear that it was indeed the spark plugs causing the issue.

More time trying to find the right spark plugs in stock locally and having Dad dust off his amateur auto-mechanic hat and install them for me and the problem seemed to be fixed at last.

But only after hours of inconvenience and me having to rope in other people to help too.

I’d arranged for my mechanic to come back on Tuesday and he’d said he’d plug his computer in to the car to make sure that was it and the problem was solved. So I thought this story was as good as over.

The mechanic and the marketer – Part 2

When he arrived on Tuesday he plugged his computer in, told me it was almost definitely the spark plugs that had been the issue and discovered a switch that needed replacing. We discussed the fuel filter again and I said that I just wanted everything fixed that needed to be fixed, so if the fuel filter needed to be replaced then for him to do it, because even if I was selling the car I needed it to work while I had it, and the new owner would want to know that everything had been done that it needed to be done.

He agreed and we booked the car in for yesterday morning (the following Wednesday) for the switch and the fuel filter to be replaced.

I remember standing there in my driveway discussing the estimate on price and the 2 1/2 hours he’d need to take the fuel tank out etc. and booked it into my calendar on my phone with him then and there.

And I also remember being annoyed when he sent me a new invoice for the computer diagnostic given his oversight on the spark plugs, and even though he gave me a 50% discount on it I made a mental note to discuss it with him.

The mechanic and the marketer – Part 3

He arrived at my house yesterday morning and after a quick chat and me giving him my keys I raced inside to do some work. Imagine my surprise when after just 35 minutes he comes out and tells me he’s done.

I told him I was surprised it was so quick, and he said “It was just an easy little switch”. I could feel my heart rate quicken and my blood pressure rise but I kept my cool and I politely said “I thought you were replacing my fuel filter?” even though I felt like saying “Are you for real? I’ve just organised my whole day around this!!! Seriously this is the second time you’ve stuffed things up now … twice in a row … OMG.”

Conversation inspiration

By now I realised we were in the middle of a serious misunderstanding.

So I told him that I was confused and frustrated because I’d booked my car in for a service the week before and then we’d had the spark plug incident. And that when he came back to check that out we’d spoken about the fuel filter and booked that in, but now he was now telling me that he didn’t have that in his diary because he thought I didn’t want to replace it and that there are a bunch of other things that should also be done that haven’t been done.

He started to get quite annoyed with me and defend himself, saying that I’d only booked it in for a minor service and that I’d not had certain things done at the last service so as he’d thought as I was going to sell my car he thought I didn’t want to do any of that stuff because it would cost almost $1000 all up on top of the $380 I’d just spent.

I reminded him that I’d specifically said I didn’t know how long I’d keep the car and that even if I sold it in 3 weeks the new owner would want to know it was up to scratch. I also told him that my expectation of him was that as my mechanic was that he would tell me what needed to be done, what it would cost, what the implications of not doing it were and give me the options so I could decide what to do, for example ask me if I want a minor service or a full service if that is an option … otherwise I don’t know!

He got pretty annoyed and said that he had mentioned this stuff to me last time and that it should be done but that I hadn’t wanted to. he also told me that it was written on the invoice and that he couldn’t force me to do them … almost like an afterthought he added “none of my customers who are thinking of selling their cars want to spend any money on them” …. wait … what was that?! 

None of your customers who are thinking about selling their cars want to spend any money … REALLY?!

Not once had I asked him to try to keep costs down or to let me know before doing anything because money was an issue. I’d never said anything about the matter as I’d not been given the option!

MAJOR ASSUMPTION ALERT. Huge red flashing lights going off everywhere.

This one assumption was at the heart of 85% of the problem in this situation.

I explained to him that he may have written it down but that I didn’t read my invoice looking for information on things that still needed doing. I thought I’d booked my car in for a service, he’d done it and things were as they should be. Even if I had read my invoice I wouldn’t know the cost, time needed or implications on my car (and potentially my wallet) of not getting each item on the list fixed, which is why I expected him to tell me that stuff.

In the future I’ll definitely be asking more questions and triple confirming things with mechanics (and across the board).

He didn’t think it was all that important nor that his customers would really want to have more info about it.

Lessons learned

I suggested to him that perhaps this was a good learning opportunity for both of us. And that it was a good reminder to QUESTION our underlying assumptions about thing we just take for granted and then go off and act accordingly.

All of us in business should regularly ask ourselves:

  • What our customers want us to do for them? (The outcome they want to achieve when they hire us)
  • What our customers expect from us? (Information, options, advice, steps in the process)
  • What our customers world-view is? (Do all people thinking of selling their cars not want to spend any money on them regardless of what the issue is? Are you sure?)
  • What our customers would really value? (having us service their cars OR having us help them maintain their cars by being proactive, demystifying things, giving clear and easy to understand advice and reminders of when things need to be done)
  • How well we’ve communicated with our clients about their options and the costs and implications of each? (Are you booking it in for a major service this time or just a minor service?)
  • How well designed and executed our customer experience is to deliver on what our customers really want? (Everything from initial contact through to post-sale follow-up)

Not surprisingly, he wasn’t very interested in my observations about all this and no doubt dismissed the entire incident as me being a really difficult customer who was unreasonable and demanding.

I will go and get the $1000 worth of work done by another mechanic now – as there’s zero benefit in me getting him back to do it – he’ll charge me the same as a brand new client and at this stage I have less faith in his work and less affinity for him as a person because of the way the situation has been handled. I’ve paid his two invoices in full, so I can walk away knowing I’ve done the right thing.

But how many more of his customers are like me but have’t told him? Who would have spent more money but he didn’t give them the option, who were annoyed by something he didn’t do and called another mechanic?

Because he doesn’t care, he’ll never know.

Don’t let this story be about you and your business.

Moral of the story? Don’t make assumptions … they will cost you money.