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Cell Phones and Bad Customer Behavior

An educated customer is a good thing, but access to wrong information can make some people less trusting.

My grandfather Ralph owned a gas station with three-bay shop in Denver, CO. On weekends, I would go to the station and hang out with my dad when he filled in.

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I can remember how much customers valued his opinions and advice on automotive service and maintenance. As a child, it made my dad a very important person in my eyes. He was someone who saved a family’s vacation or helped a traveling salesman get home with a new tire after a week of sales calls. It was clear to me that a technician and shop owner was very important, and my dad was a hero.

This past month, I went to a shop to get the A/C system recharged on my car. I decided to wait and enjoy the ambience of a shop’s waiting room on a Saturday morning. As the morning rush was coming to a close, in pulls an SUV with the wear sensors and pads grinding on the rotors as the driver pulled into a parking spot.

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Back in the days of my grandfather’s gas station, people respected the knowledge and experience of those who worked on cars for a living. Times have changed.

If you have worked the front counter at any shop, you can tell a lot about a customer as they walk from their car to the front door. The first clue was her cell phone permanently attached to her hand. In her other hand, she held some paperwork. I am not singling out women here — men act the same way except they usually come armed with internet forum posts. They will also deny and disavow any automotive knowledge or self-attempted botched repair jobs like when brake pads are installed backward after a YouTube-inspired home brake job.

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She comes into the shop, no greetings, no common exchanges of human kindness or courtesy to the staff, and tells the service writer that the dealer told her the brakes were not covered under the warranty and she was mad. The service writer behind the counter kept a smile as she pushed the paperwork toward him. As he scanned the estimate, she asked, “How much?”

He said they would need to inspect the vehicle first before quoting a price. She did not like this answer. She was convinced this was a ploy to sell her something she did not need. She relented and sat down in the waiting room, smartphone in hand. She probably went on Facebook and complained about the dealer and having to visit another shop while hoping to get sympathy or likes from her Facebook “friends.”

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Access to the wrong information — and too much of it — can make a person downright mean.

After the inspection, the service writer gave her the estimate. The service writer remained cool and calm. She did not like hearing the job would require new front rotors. Her expression got even worse when he brought up a worn ball joint. She accused him of trying to take advantage of her and that this would be all over the internet. She declined the work and waited by the front door feverishly tapping away on her phone while they put the wheels back on her car.

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This scenario is in sharp contrast to what I once saw at my grandfather’s gas station more than 40 years ago. Back then, people were more civil and respected the knowledge and experience of those who worked on cars for a living. They didn’t have a device that could give you the answers you want.

It can be said that knowledge and being able to access it can make some people paranoid, isolated and less trusting. But access to the wrong information — and too much of it — can make a person downright mean.

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