Management Retail Service

Competence and confidence

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Competence and confidence

To work at a retail sales counter and engage in a meaningful way with the retail public requires a level of competence; although, from time to time, I witness and experience incompetence that causes me to shake my head.

I believe the tire retail business and automotive aftermarket requires above-average competence. In this article, I’d like to point out a subtle, yet powerful, difference between competence and confidence.

In my mind, moving from competence to confidence is a process that if given consideration and application, will put the practitioner at the top of his/her game.

I am an emphatic believer in process. I believe in it so much that I’ve coined my own phrase, “Excellence is a process, and a process is a moving forward requiring many changes. We are all in a process.”

“Webster’s Dictionary” defines confidence as a firm belief, trust; reliance, assurance, feeling certain, a belief in one’s own ability; self-confidence. Prepare is defined as to set in place or in order, get ready, to make ready for a specific purpose.

With these thoughts in mind and our objective of being counter intelligent, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of what we do, and the key role that confidence and preparedness play in our successful execution of daily duties.

The motoring public places a great deal of trust in us to repair and/or maintain their vehicles. They trust us to inspect, to quote accurately and reasonably priced services, and to perform them in a reasonable time. In a word, they are placing confidence in us. They have a belief, a trust, and a reliance on our ability to complete a job that includes, most importantly, safe driving ahead.

A confident shop is a successful shop

Assuming your shop personnel are capable of performing the requested services, then we will focus on your ability to communicate with confidence. Self-confidence plays a key role in the overall satisfaction of your customers. Your confidence enhances your customer’s confidence in the work done in the shop by your techs and general service personnel. When you assure the customer that you and your team will take care of the necessary issues, they immediately feel more confident, and confidence is critical to customer satisfaction.

I’d like to offer a few simple tips that I have found very helpful over the years. These are so simple and became a part of my everyday communication with customers.

✔ Pre-assure and reassure: I liked to pre-assure a phone shopper before they arrived at the store. For example, when a customer called to ask if we did alignments and the cost, I liked to say, “It’s your lucky day. One of my best alignment techs is working today. What time is convenient for you?” That planted a seed that the customer was going to receive quality work and that my tech didn’t work every day, so to come in that day. Of course, I could only say that if I had confidence in my alignment tech.

Another way to pre-assure the customer is by saying, “Great timing. We recently had our alignment machine re-calibrated, and we’ll set it just right.” What I did is to build trust in the customer’s mind and then reassured them later when they arrived. (I always had a sense of satisfaction when a caller arrived and asked for me by name.)


Another simple form of communication I learned is if you give the customer your name, you are at some level putting their mind at ease when they walk through the door. They are asking for you because you pre-assured them.

✔ Instill confidence: The legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi is quoted as saying, “Confidence is contagious. So is the lack of confidence.” Coach Lombardi instilled confidence into his team, into each individual. He understood that a team was a collection of individuals working together to accomplish a common goal: winning.

The same is true for us at the sales counter; winning is working together and helping customers.

Another simple thing I used to do was place focus on certain services. For example, I would tell my shop guys, “We are going to do at least five alignments today.” My confidence that we were going to focus on this valuable service, and that I could sell ’em if they could set ’em, set a tone for the day. Vince Lombardi was right. He understood human nature, and he especially understood a man’s will to achieve, his will to succeed and win. At certain times in certain stores, I could not use the same level of assurance with customers because I did not have the confidence in the shop crew.

Confidence comes from preparation

Arthur Ash, the tennis great, believed in confidence, as well. He is quoted as saying, “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” It is difficult to be confident if you are unprepared, and yet preparedness makes your confidence soar.

Joe Gibbs was an NFL coach winning championships with players whose careers were less than spectacular; mediocre is a term that was often used to describe the Redskins. How was he able to achieve success with players who had been less successful elsewhere? Confidence and preparation. Coach Gibbs won Super Bowls, three of them, and attributed much of his success to confidence and preparation. Gibbs later became a NASCAR team owner and, you guessed it, a champion there, as well. Gibbs says, “A winning effort begins with preparation.”

My last quote for this article is by Dale Carnegie, a motivational expert, who once said, “Action breeds confidence and courage.”

If you want to increase your success at the sales counter, and if you want to improve at serving the driving public, you must improve your confidence in yourself and your team, and instill confidence in your customers. This does not happen because you want it to happen; it happens because you make it happen. “Action breeds confidence and courage.”

Confidence is earned

Preparation is the key to confidence. I know people in our industry who seem over-confident, but really they are hiding behind a lack of confidence. The type of confidence I’m talking about is motivated by serving others and serving them well: serving the public trust, serving the community, serving the industry. What we do is honorable, it’s important. People’s lives are dependent on how we do what we do. This requires genuine confidence and preparedness.

I liked instilling confidence in my counter team and my shop team. Training is a huge part of being prepared. Everybody can be better, and being better is our job. I always wanted to feel that when a customer visited our shop(s), they received the best service in town, at least as good as anywhere else. When that wasn’t the case, we worked to make it so. Our business is becoming more complex, and as a result, you must improve to have the necessary confidence. Let’s face it; if there is a lack of confidence in your shop, then it’s just a matter of time, your shop has an early expiration date.

My recommendation is that you press yourself, enroll in training classes, get involved in organizations such as the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), attend seminars, be brutally honest with yourself, and prepare, prepare and prepare.


Vince Lombardi understood that men need to be challenged and pushed, and then pushed some more. You may need to partner with someone who will hold you accountable to improving yourself professionally.

Remember, prepare is defined as to set in place or in order, get ready, to make ready for a specific purpose. The purpose is always to perform quality work that provides safe and satisfactory driving; anything less lacks competence and is unworthy on a wide variety of levels.

I’m assuming, and rightly so, that if you have read this article and are to this point, then you are an individual who values your performance and is competent in your skill sets. The big take away is this: Never mistake competence for confidence.

Once you have grappled with your competence, you’ll come face to face with your confidence, and confidence, once earned, allows you to function at the very highest levels. Competence is ability-based; it’s about you; it’s about time, talent, training and application. Confidence is not about just you, but both you and others. These others are the people you work with and the customers you serve; it’s about your community. Confidence is earned and felt at the deepest levels, and it happens on both sides of the counter!

True confidence is unshakable and undeniable and worthy of your best efforts.     ■

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at

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