From Ambition to Meaning: Finding Your Why in a World Filled with Who, What, When and Where

Monday, June 07, 2021

By Bill Nalu, president, Interstate Auto Care, Madison Heights, Mich.

The year was 1987- President Reagan spoke the words that were heard for generations to come: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Dirty Dancing and Lethal Weapon were at the top of the box office chart, while WrestleMania 3 packed nearly 100,000 rabid fans under one fiberglass roof in what used to be The Pontiac Silverdome in my home state of Michigan. And least notably, a young 23-year-old college student accepted a management training position at a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based grocery retail store chain (Meijer Inc.) that would define what exceptional customer service means to him for the next 30 years and beyond. 

At the end of this three-week intensive management training program, and as was company policy, CEO Fred Meijer would personally congratulate the dozen or so graduates. While doing so, he would describe how a 14-year-old boy in 1934 grew up to become a millionaire 500 times over (in 1987 dollars), in large part due to the lessons that his father taught him about the business of customer service.   

While I left the company a few years later upon graduating from college, the lessons that Fred (he insisted on a first name basis) taught me were that excellent customer service isn’t something that I can DO my way into. Rather, it was something that comes from who I am.   

So you may be asking, “Is this a God-given talent vs. skill-set discussion then?” Perhaps.

For example: Why is it that two shop owners – or two service advisors – can come out of the same training course(s) and come away with significantly different results of measurable CSI (customer satisfaction index) to show for it in the years to come?

To dig deeper at what separates these two from each other, we must consider why people that do what we do for a living, choose our vocation in the first place, and by that I mean the retail service industry.

At some point in our lives, we were either asked this question by a parent or guidance counselor, or we were contemplating it internally, perhaps in the middle of math class or in our dreams:

What do I want to be when I grow up?

“I want to be an astronaut.” “I want to be a doctor.” “I want to be a superhero.”

But how does one become an astronaut without being qualified to do the things that an astronaut has to do? Or a doctor or a mechanic for that matter?

Easy, because we can live out our dreams tomorrow, only when we acknowledge an idea as old as time, and as predictable as gravity.

As the 20th century author Ayn Rand put it best, “The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life.”

Put simply, it is a declaration that what we are doing today has everything to do with what we wish to be in our dreams, so long as we see ourselves as the driver rather than the passenger in the vehicle that represents our profession.  

So how does one spot one of these folks? Just look at that smile as they say “hi” or the way they shake your hand. Look at how present they are in your presence, as if nothing else is more important to them than what they are “doing” (yet being) at that moment.

Shop owner A is BEING Empathetic, Authentic, Intentional, Kind, Courteous, Generous, Available, Transparent, etc.

Shop owner B wants to be the biggest, best, most profitable, entrepreneur in the business.

Shop owner A understands that A comes before B, while shop owner B thinks that there will be plenty of time for A, after B is achieved.

Service advisor B thinks that he or she must say the right words to become a more effective sales person, while Service advisor A isn’t selling a darn thing; he or she is providing whatever support that the client is in need of at that moment, in order for the client to feel 100% in control of the process. Afterall, this is about the client’s journey and in service to providing them what we surely need and want when we are the ones on the opposite side of that counter.

Service advisor A is competent, while service advisor B attempts to convince said client that he/she is competent. Service advisor A is trustworthy, while B is selling trust, and the client can sense that slightly desperate/need-based energy from a mile away, although they (the client) may themselves deny that they feel it in their gut at the time. 

Therefore, consider the possibility that while an overwhelming majority of those in the retail services industry struggle with the day-to-day rigors of a high pressure/high pace work day, a select minority reach a place of a warrior’s surrender.  

They surrender to not follow a black and white script that spells out what can’t be spelled out in orderly words, but that is transmitted with the style and energy that is unique to their own. Unique enough to make them one of a kind, because the script they use is of their own authorship.

So the next time you find yourself in the presence of an extraordinary person who makes customer service look effortless, ask them to describe why they do what they do for a living and notice the effect that they have on the clients, as well as those who they work with.  

Bill Nalu is a 30+ veteran of the aftermarket automotive service industry who credits much of his success to his attendance and participation in Management Training events at AAPEX over the years. For more information on training at AAPEX 2021, visit the Training Schedule.