By Tom Kline, Lead Consultant and Founder, Better Vantage Point
“The purpose of habit is to remove that action from self-negotiation. You no longer expend energy deciding whether to do it. You just do it.”
-Kevin Kelly, 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice
You may have never thought of it this way, but problems at dealerships usually walk through your office door on two (2) legs: Either with customers or with employees. It’s always best to tackle these two-legged issues promptly, as otherwise, they can quickly escalate to regulatory challenges or, worse yet, lawsuits. I’ve seen it happen again and again.
There are two main ways to confront problems as the dealer principle:
• You can personally manage the issue itself, or
• You can manage the problems through well-trained employees who are empowered to fix them
Your operations will be smoother for you if you choose to embrace your employees’ ability to handle the day-to-day concerns.
One of the most powerful tools you can teach your employees to deploy is effective and strategic emotional intelligence, i.e. the ability to understand, use, and manage emotions through communicating positively. Your managers should understand this skill so they can effectively convey even difficult information to your customers.
The best way to change the communication style within your team is for you, as the leader, to model the use of your own emotional intelligence, whenever possible.
Here’s an example from last week. I was at a dealership group that wants to empower its managers to resolve customer problems through improved emotional intelligence. Together, the owners and I dug in with an action plan and dedicated a day to one-on-one sessions with all key stakeholders. We trained and practiced to ensure the managers understood the concepts and opportunities and could employ emotional intelligence tools effectively.
In this intimate training, we focused on a top-tier issue: How to De-Escalate Customer Problems and Build Trust. (To prevent problems at a dealership, this is step one and is the most important training for employees.)
During one memorable session, with just the three of us in the room, one of the managers seemed particularly fidgety, wouldn’t make eye contact with me, despite being only three feet in front of me. He looked at his watch, then looked at the floor, and then looked at his watch again…then, stared at the floor. Clearly, something was bothering him. (Let’s call him “Anthony.”)
Me: Anthony, you look like something’s bothering you. Are you okay?
Anthony: Yea, it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.
Me: You look uncomfortable. (When you label the emotion of what someone is feeling, it is disarming.)
Anthony: Nah. Sorry, let’s continue.
Me: Anthony, I can tell something’s wrong. Please let me what it is so I can help you.
Anthony: I apologize (looks at his watch)… let’s keep going.
Me: Do you need to be somewhere else? Is that why you keep looking at your watch?
Anthony: It’s not about work. Don’t worry about it.
Me: Where do you need to be? Anthony, I fix problems; it’s what I do! So please tell me what’s up so I can help.
It turns out Anthony had an appointment at the post office to have his passport interview. I asked how long he had been waiting for the meeting (knowing everything is still backed up because of COVID) and he indicated he waited for about six to seven weeks for the meeting.
I asked the other manager in the room if Anthony could go to his appointment and I could train him later. And, that’s exactly what ended up happening.
There I was, training about using emotional intelligence, and at that moment, I needed to deploy the very same tool, so Anthony could learn about emotional intelligence!
Yes, Anthony should have told his boss about the appointment weeks in advance, days in advance, and the morning of his appointment so we (all) could have avoided the herky-jerky start-stop. When someone is feeling boxed in, they quite often don’t think clearly, as Anthony displayed. (I’m certain he had pressures at home and was told, “you’d better not miss this appointment.” At least, his face indicated that conversation had taken place.)
So the moral of the story is: Use emotional intelligence when managing your employees and deploy these tactics to resolve customer and employee problems. Train on specifics and remind everyone to recognize the emotions at play under all situations. Then, you won’t have to remind yourself of this. Happily, it will be a habit. You will just do it!
About the Author
Tom Kline is a former dealership owner with 30+ years of experience, specializing in solving dealership problems through risk mitigation remedies: compliance, risk transference, and dispute resolution. Tom is the Lead Consultant and Founder of Better Vantage Point and has worked with publicly-held and private dealerships.