In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
How Much Is Advice Worth?
Jul 18, 2008
At the dealership where I work I have to account for every minute of my day. On a perfect day, every minute is billable to repairs on a specific machine for a specific customer.
But on most days, I get phone calls from customers asking my advice or opinion about repairs or problems with their equipment. Sometimes customers stop by the shop to ask questions. The questions usually take 5 or 10 minutes to answer, but sometimes stretch to 20 or 30 minutes. The customer hangs up the phone or leaves the shop satisfied with the answers he sought, but I turn around and ask myself, "How do I account for that time?"
I was probably "punched in" on another customer's repair job when I took time to help the phone caller or walk-in. If I don't clock in and out to answer the questions, then the original customer ends up paying for me to help the guy who calls or walks in. If I open a ticket and actually bill the phone caller or walk-in for the time I spent answering questions, there is invariably an angry phone call when that bill arrives in the mail.
Cell phones have exacerbated the problem. I've actually had guys call with questions that were plainly answered in the owner's manual. When I politely pointed out to the customer that the answer, along with illustrations and photos, was in the machine's owner's manual, the customers laughed and said, "It was faster to call and ask you than to find the manual and look it up."
I don't mind giving advice. I like helping my customers. But by the end of most workdays I've often spent a total of an hour, maybe more, answering questions and giving advice. If it was YOUR machine that I was working on when I was interrupted, would you mind paying me to give advice to your neighbors? If you were the one asking the questions, would it bother you to get billed for a half hour of my time? (Dealership policy is to bill for no less than 1/2 hour, so even a 5 minute chat would generate a bill for a half hour.) Or should the dealership "eat" the time I spend helping customers with questions and advice? There are more than a dozen mechanics in our shop--if they all spend an hour a day helping customers, that's a lot of money for the dealership to absorb on a daily basis.
I never imagined when I started working as a mechanic that business ethics would be one of the challenges I face on a daily basis.