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Saturday, 31 August 2002 17:00

Inattention -- the root cause of failure

Written by Tom Franklin

Quite a few years ago, one of my clients was a fast food establishment. They were having a continual turn-over of managers and couldn't seem to keep one for more than a few weeks. We did an analysis and found that the job called for simultaneously watching the cooks, the clean-up people, the take-out window, the lines where employees were taking the eat-in orders, and the cash registers. When we asked a couple of ex-managers what the problem was, they said while they were watching one employee, one of the others was certain to make a major mistake. They felt it was impossible to keep track of everything they were expected to. 

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The overwhelmed shop manager
I've been in many body shops where something similar was going on. The owner was attempting to be certain estimators were writing accurate estimates -- and getting the keys and the job every time. At the same time he or she was making certain parts were being ordered correctly and for the right price . Plus he or she was answering phone calls and handling questions from workers in the shop, and dealing with appraisers from various insurance companies . And while all of this was going on, he or she was also trying to attend to a wiring problem, a city inspector, an error in the latest bank statement, and a new advertisement that was being considered. It's not surprising that more than a few things slip through the cracks. Worse yet, potential profits get left on the table.
Limited attention

Very early on, psychologists studied human attention to test its limits. It was determined at that time, that the most a person could keep track of at one time was eight things. Many people could only focus on much less. The fast food managers had obviously reached their limit.

With so many dimensions of life and business to keep track of, a shop owner needs a highly efficient staff and system to monitor and control it all. Estimating, scheduling, parts ordering, work assignments, cycle time management, insurance and customer notification, supplements and more must be systematized sufficiently to free the attention of the owner or manager. Otherwise he or she will never get around to creating an effective marketing and growth program. Anything that isn't growing will begin to die, so a lack of attention to these important issues may someday kill the entire business.

Balancing demands

With our fast food restaurant client, when we found out what was causing the managers to leave, we put together a simple training program to provide new managers with a better system of tracking the multitude of elements necessary to control the store. First we determined which elements were most important and created a checklist of elements to attend to. Since controlling money was most important, we had the manager check that most frequently. The clean-up man was least important, so he went to the bottom of the list. Every ten minutes the manager rotated through the checklist. Initially we had him just focus back and forth on two items, then three, then four, and finally he was able to rotate through the entire list effortlessly. The turn-over problem vanished.

Generally, shop owners who have successfully expanded beyond one shop into multiple locations already have personnel and systems in place to cover most of the items that require constant attention. But even there, automating everything will eventually have its drawbacks. Answering machines capture messages, but fail to provide human contact. Bulk mail may reach thousands of vehicle owners but how many will respond to an impersonal communication? With e-mail, pagers, cell phones and more, it would seem to be impossible to fail to give attention to whoever needs it, but opportunities and prospective customers still fall through the cracks. And we have seen with Enron, WorldCom, and other corporate giants, how easily delegated management responsibilities can become corrupted, distorted and fail.

I talked with the owner of a shop that does nearly $12,000,000 a year in business. He said his biggest problem was preventing theft and fraud. When the job of managing assets, equipment, parts, and financial transactions must be delegated, the ultimate responsibility to attend to them still falls on the owner or general manager. If the limits of his or her attention are exceeded, the leaks in the company structure that may occur could sink the entire ship.

Creating a culture of attentiveness

The body shops that I see operating most successfully pay special attention to employee needs. The length of time many workers have stayed with the shop attest to a culture where they receive the attention they need. And I've found these same shops give their customers the same degree of attention. I am often surprised to hear the shop owner discussing a customer's health and family issues with that customer as though the owner was a close friend instead of just an autobody repair service provider. The difficulty arises when these same shop owners try to find and hire other personnel who will provide that same level of service.


Being a source of attention

Everyone likes attention. We seek out the restaurant where the waiters or waitresses know us by name and give us that special attention. We prefer the dry cleaner and the barber and other service people who favor us with their attention. In the people business, attention is the most valuable thing there is. Knowing this, you have the key to gaining all of the business you can handle.

Insurance agents, DRP coordinators, dealership owners, and other potential sources of business for your shop all enjoy attention like everyone else. And you have the power to give them that special attention when you have an opportunity to do so. You have only two tasks. One is to create those opportunities. And the other is to demonstrate special attention for your prospects.

Creating the opportunities may be the easier of the two tasks. Sincerely giving people your full attention may not come so easily. Every day we're bombarded with false and phony "attention." The telemarketer who calls you pretends to be interested in you. The waitress may give you her "attention" to get a bigger tip, but in reality may think you're a jerk. Salespeople practice the art of ingratiating themselves to prospects all of the time. But after a while you become good at spotting phony attention. And you brush these people off.

So how do you come across as genuine? How do you demonstrate a sincere interest in a person, and show them special attention that they will sense is real? Not long ago, I wrote an article about "Getting Under the Hood" for more effective marketing. In that article, I answered this question in great detail. If you're interested, call me for a reprint. But there are some natural ways to come across as genuine that will usually work. You probably already use some of them. When you're selling a customer on using your shop, you probably ask a few probing questions to see if you have something in common with this person. When you find it, you prompt them to talk about it and you listen intently. That's always easy when you're really interested in the subject. That's all it takes.

Now all you have to do is apply this same technique to your communications with those insurance agents, DRP coordinators, dealership owners, and other potential sources of business for your shop.

Why inattention causes failure

The opposite of receiving attention is being ignored. If you're not staying in touch with prior customers, in effect you're ignoring them. No one likes to be ignored. Today a program to stay in touch with prior customers is essential. If you are seeking business from potential insurance and commercial referral sources and not communicating with them regularly, in effect you are also ignoring them. That lack of attention nearly guarantees you'll never get their business. You need to call, write, visit and otherwise communicate on a regular basis to win them over. Since you can't be everywhere at once and have limited time to give your attention to all of the demands you already have on your time, you have to find a way to leverage yourself. Somehow you have to multiply your avenues of attention.

How you do this will depend on what works for you. Some people enjoy calling on the phone. Others like to play golf and arrange ways to meet out on the course. Still others don't mind making personal visits and can somehow fit in the time to do them. And some people even have the ability to stand up and speak to groups, and this is a very powerful way to leverage yourself and multiply the number of people you reach at once with your message. My approach has always been to write. My articles probably reach several hundred shop people every month. A monthly newsletter is the least time-consuming, most leveraged way to communicate inexpensively.

However you do it, the key to becoming successful is to give abundant attention to those people who are most able to send a whole lot of business your way. And to give them that attention as frequently as you can.

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail:


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