Are You Really Listening to Your EV Customers?

Great service is not pushy or condescending. Great service is one positive human interaction with another person or group of people. One has a need or a want and the other determines if they can make that happen.  

As citizens of this country, we are both service providers and service customers. What does it take to be great at the former? My answer: “When it doesn’t feel like a job.” That’s when you have reached the highest level of service.  

How does that happen? When you care about your customers more than your paycheck. Can that be every interaction? No, but it can be many. It starts with listening. Many people in this industry need some listening training. When I am really busy, my listening skills are diminished.  

My company, Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC), provides tech support for tire stores and repair shops that service hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and pure electric vehicles (EVs). We need to listen carefully to help them.  

When I opened my repair shop over 45 years ago, my listening skills were very bad. I was also very young. I have since learned there are two types of listening. I was pretty good at one of them and needed training on the other.  

The first type is “problem-solving" listening. This was my default type.

I have noticed that this is typical of technicians, as we spend our days solving problems. The best technicians I know ask a lot of questions of the service writer or if they have the chance, of the vehicle driver.

I recently hired a 14-year veteran from a local Ford dealership. Chris Bray is really good at diagnostics. ACDC has over 40 HEV, PHEV and EVs in our fleet and Chris had been getting some of the older ones running again and chasing codes.

Along the way, his experience has paid off. Chris and I spent time together, recently working on Toyota and Ford hybrids. The communication is good, as we are both well-trained technicians. We use problem-solving listening.

ACDC is no longer a retail repair shop, but it looks like one. ACDC is in the same building we moved to in 1984. Many of my old customers have moved from gasoline-fueled Hondas to HEV, PHEV, and EVs and they will seek me out from time to time.  

Recently, a retired couple, now both Prius owners, contacted me. Chris needed some experience, so we took that job in. My former job as a shop owner, service manager and technician kicked back in.

I needed to remember my other listening skill - the one I was taught by a great instructor when I was 40. This is what I call “simpatico” listening.  

I studied music from age seven to 18. I took lessons on the guitar, cello, string bass and trombone. Other than the guitar, you needed a “good ear,” as there are no frets or valves on the other instruments. My listening had to be in sync with the other players in the orchestra.  

When I tune my trombone, I use an old-fashioned tuning fork. Tap it on your knee and the frequency you hear is the one to tune to. Hold that tuning fork next to another one and it will vibrate at the same frequency. You need to tune into the same frequency the customer is in and you do that by caring enough to help them.  

Now, let us put this thinking into a tire store.

For many customers, tires are merely a commodity — just a round, black thing.

What do they know about balancing, alignments, tire pressure monitoring systems, suspensions, steering, ADAS and the overall safety of their multi-ton vehicle? Do they know that EVs require special tires? 

Most tire stores, at some point, end up in a face-to-face conversation with the customer. Your regular customers are easy. You know each other and they come back and send their friends.

Do you know why? Remember, most of them were new customers at some point. They came to know you and trusted your expertise. 

What do your customers who have moved from internal combustion engine vehicles to EVs really need or want? Just listen and they will tell you. The sales will come.

And finally, let’s also talk about employee compensation. How do you pay your front counter salespeople? Are they in “sales” or customer education?

At Van Batenburg’s Garage, we called our customer-facing employees “transportation consultants,” or TCs, for short. All employees then and now get an hourly wage. If I take care of the people who work at ACDC, they, in turn, will take care of our industry.

We think we do it well, but ACDC is always listening.

About the Author

Craig Van Batenburg

Craig Van Batenburg is MTD's monthly EV Intelligence columnist and the owner of Van Batenburg's Garage Inc. dba Automotive Career Development Center, which provides training for facilities that service - or want to service - electric and hybrid vehicles. For more information, see or email Craig at [email protected].