First Word: 05/05

Its All About Customer Service
Compared to the engine shop business, the sort of backstabbing and duplicitousness Hollywood is known for is gossip over the fence exchanged between rank amateurs. Some of these engine shops really have it out for each other and if given half the chance to vent about the sins of the other guys, you can count on hearing an earful, as I did when one of them phoned the other day to complain about our engine shop survey article in the April issue.

Ill refrain from naming names but this shop is a well-respected, nationally known engine builder; youd know it. The shop manager wanted to know why we didnt say as much and while were at it, how could his shop possibly finish with a lower customer rating than that X$#%^$& in California? We keep up with what other engine shops are doing and there’s no way theyre building better engines than us, he said, obviously irritated at our surveys findings.

After he had unloaded for a few minutes, I meekly pointed out that the engine shop survey wasnt about engines, it was about customers. Given the resulting silence on the phone, I gathered that this took him momentarily aback. While he was chewing on that, I had a realization of my own. To collect price data for the engines, we called the top shops and it occurred to me that those rated highly in the survey talked less about engines and more about customers. In other words, they appear to be customercentric rather than enginecentric, if I may coin a phrase.

What this means, in my view, is that when confronted with the inevitable occasional engine gone sour, these shops are less likely to argue about whose fault it is and more likely to focus on what would make the customer happy. In any service business, this is the kind of attitude that builds intense customer loyalty and few, if any, complaints bitter enough to cause the buyer to swear off dealing with that shop ever again.

I don’t think the shop manager who phoned me quite gets this. While he was citing chapter and verse on what other shops were doing and how our survey just couldnt be right, I wondered if I might encounter the same mindset if I were a customer with a warranty claim.

There was a time in American business when the phrase, the customer is always right was a genuine guiding principle. Now, we live in a world where companies sell things that don’t work, have Draconian return policies and who farm out their customer support to subcontractors who don’t even answer the phone. In that context, its easy to see why a Penn Yan, a Lycon or a Zephyr is viewed so favorably by customers.

Tyranny of the (Lack of) Numbers
The shop manager did make a couple of good points, however. One is that its difficult to judge a shops reputation on only two or three customer reports. Wouldnt at least six or a dozen be fairer? Hes right. Although we received a record number of responses to our survey and took extraordinary steps to circulate the questionnaire, some shops are either too small to generate many reports or, due to the luck of the draw, their customers simply didnt reply to the survey.

That doesnt mean these shops don’t build good engines or provide good customer service, a point we should have made more clearly in the survey results.

What then, you might logically ask, is the value of the survey? Validation, mainly. If youve heard good things about a well-known engine shop that did we’ll in the survey, I think there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll be happy with the services it provides.

-Paul Bertorelli