In conjunction with Katie Bowen, Director of One Stop Servicing in Newbury, Iain Robertson delves into the ‘what-do-you-do-when-it-all-goes-wrong’ factor that afflicts even the most successful of business operators, usually when they least expect it.
I want to whisk you back to pre-school story-telling days, when the sky fell onto Henny-Penny’s head…an apocryphal tale, its aim was to prepare us for those unforeseen occasions, when potential disasters strike, although I must admit, the Henny- Penny incident was a little on the memorably cruel side. Katie’s philosophy, wrapped in conveniently skilful assurance, is to stick to a prescribed plan.
“Every day demands a working plan, to which a business operator must work,” she explains. “There is no point in courting disaster by inferring that it might happen but managing it, when it does, has to be the priority. The best action is always to stop…check the outcome…and attempt a safe and speedy resolution. You can save analysis for later, which should serve to provide an answer, if it occurs again. However, no two pitfalls are ever exactly alike!”
As a relatively young female in a male-dominated working environment, it could be suggested that Katie has her hands full enough dealing with internal wrangling, let alone those presented by customers, but she is highly reasoned about them all. “The language can get a bit ‘fruity’ in the workshop at times,” she highlights, “although I have neither been shocked, nor fearful of it. Interestingly, I have witnessed a situation where Peter, my father and co-director, was verbally abused by a frustrated male customer, whose attitude softened considerably, once I had spoken with him.”
Communication skills are vital in a customer-facing role, but Katie admits to not being a pushover; she will stand her ground. If anything, being able to relate with female customers, some of whom may be visiting the garage in a distress situation, is hugely beneficial to the business. “There have been many occasions when I have been able to remove the ‘sting’ from a perceived problem,” she recalls, “such as when one lady customer felt she had been insulted by one of our mechanics.
I maintained a calm demeanour, asked the lady why she had been speaking with him in the first place, when she needed to talk with me instead!”There was no argument.
Of course, attitude, presence and know-how are vital attributes in a garage situation. “While I am not a mechanic,” Katie states, “my knowledge base has grown considerably in the past four years. I am not averse to getting my hands dirty and, having attended a Customer Relations training course, I am looking to participate in ‘light’ mechanical classes too. I am able to diagnose some mechanical, or electrical, problems with which we are confronted on a daily basis and I want to take those skills further. We have three of our present team of five that can man the MOT Test area and I would like to gain a Tester qualification in the future.
“Naturally, I do not get it right all of the time, but I have both the confidence and honesty to admit it”, she continues. “Let’s face it, both men and women of all ages bring their vehicles to us for repairs and servicing. In many cases, they have not the foggiest idea about what needs to be done, other than getting their vehicles fixed and paying a bill. It is the ability to speak equally, calmly and reasonably with all customers that resolves most of the problems, usually before they occur and, if that is my primary strength, then I am happy to admit it.”
When any of us discuss the finding of a suitable niche in our working lives, especially at comfortably less than 30 years of age, it is a rare thing. Katie, despite not being born into the garage scene, knows it is now in her blood. Few things that can go wrong are insurmountable to her and her gender has everything to do with it! Katie is a shining light in what can be, at times, a dark business.