In The Shop: Forbidden Topics For Mechanics
Dec 18, 2011
In general, it is recommended that service people keep conversations with customers bland. It's an unspoken rule that we avoid "sensitive" topics such as religion and politics as part of any idle chatter while we make repairs. That's too bad, because customers have great opinions on those topics. So do I.
For example, I'm fascinated by all the different approaches people take to get right with God or whoever they worship. My personal views are strong, but I'm willing to listen to anybody else's views. I've listened to church deacons turn the air blue with profanity and make unseemly comments about their neighbor's wife. I've also got customers who belong to a very conservative religious group, sometimes ridiculed by their conventional neighbors, who are the most caring, patient, cheerful folks I've ever met. The funny thing is, some of my best, most meaningful conversations about God have been with some of the most profane, seemingly obnoxious people. Maybe there's something about wallowing in grease and mud while wrestling together to fix broken equipment that brings out the truly spiritual side of people. The Lord's name certainly gets invoked a lot...
Then there's politics. The coming election certainly has spiced up conversations during repairs. For the most part, my customers seem to be on the same side of the political fence as me, though some of us are farther from the fence than others. A few renegades from the opposite side of the fence enjoy pulling my chain, and things can get pretty animated as we trade insults about our respective political philosophies. My friend Sam and I have called each other "socialist" or "libertarian" a few times during our debates while working on his equipment. I'm pretty sure I was kidding.
Experts in customer relations recommend that mechanics and service people avoid such extreme conversations with customers. I admit there are a few times when I've apologized to customers for stating my opinions a little too emphatically. I can't really say I've ever experienced a situation where I felt I was owed an apology from a customer for something they said. After all, the customer is always right.