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Are Old Habits Holding Your Business Back?

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The year was 2008. I was about three years into running a tire and service outlet. I remember running a group of stores where the owner - let’s call him Charlie - would make rare but impressionable visits. While I was usually worried about the smallest details in order to make a good impression, I didn’t quite have a good grasp on the end game quite yet. 

When Charlie arrived at the store, he spoke to everyone. He always entered through the front door and went directly to the waiting room. He’d say hello and thank you to every single customer. Without knowing him, they all knew who he was. At least that was my impression.

Over time, it occurred to me that this was one in a series of lessons that, through his leadership, would make a huge difference in the years to come. No reports, no audits, no reviews, no sit- down meetings - just leadership, all with a simple please and thank you.

Years later, having worked with hundreds of tire dealership owners, I’ve come to call that lesson “listening to the walls.” Let me explain.

From the moment Charlie walked through the door, he worried about nothing but the impression of those people who were in the waiting room. Sure, he probably saw a million other things that I needed to manage better, but that wasn’t the point. (Owners and managers, please take note!)

Charlie made a significant impression on our customers - and on me. My resolve was to figure out how to replicate his magic on a daily basis. So after closing time, I set a chair in the middle of the waiting room and sat in complete silence for several minutes. 

It occurred to me that our technicians walked through the very same door as Charlie multiple times, day in and day out. They would then complete their work, pass back through the front door and hand work orders off to the service manager, while completely ignoring the customer.  

The simple answer was for them to pause and do just as Charlie had done. “Ms. Jones, my name is John. I worked on your vehicle today and it’s ready. Thanks for your business.” This would turn out to make a huge difference to our customers and to our business.

Having changed the customer experience in a small but significantly impactful way, I wondered how to do the same at scale. Call me crazy, but once again I took a seat in the showroom after hours and just listened. I listened to the walls. I moved to the bays and listened to the walls there. I even took a seat in the parking lot and yes, I listened to the “walls.” They spoke volumes - at least to me.

You see, we’re creatures of habit. From a young age, we’re taught to arrive at school at a particular time, sit at the same desk and move on when the bell rings. It should be no surprise that as we grow, these habits entrench themselves in our lives. 

Breaking habits or changing behaviors, as we discuss in our 20 Group meetings, can be some of the most difficult barriers to creating a successful dealership. Sometimes the best lessons come from breaking our patterns and habits. When it happens, it’s magical. You should try it.

While sitting in a quiet shop all alone may seem crazy, I bet you’ll hear and see things you wouldn’t otherwise. Giving yourself an opportunity to gain a new perspective is something we all deserve. You’ll hear and see small things, like dusty furniture, old magazines, outdated point-of-sale material, untidy restrooms and unstocked refreshment areas. But you’ll also see some really big things. 

If you keep an open mind, you’ll see pieces of your customers’ journey that can change their experience. You’ll see barriers to productivity and efficiency. You’ll notice things that have been in plain sight for years, but were never seen or heard.

Our habits limit us. We should work on changing them. While you may not be crazy enough to plant a chair in your showroom and simply listen, there are so many ways to see and hear a fresh perspective. Start with simple changes. Take a different route to work. Observe. Open your store through a different door. Observe. You get my point. Change the behavior and observe. I’m willing to bet you’ll learn something you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Charlie’s leadership all those years ago led me to see things and change behaviors in ways I only came to appreciate later. Whatever position you’re in, I challenge you to lead change for the better, as well. All you have to do is listen  even if no one is speaking. 

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