Good Manners

Feb 15th, 2014 | By | Category: From our latest issue

By Edward D. Johnson, coliseum@verizon.net

Editor’s Note: The following article is a more in-depth version of the February issue Tow Times Learning Center topic: Basics of Towing 7: Good Manners.

The concept of “political correctness” has developed a negative connotation because it has harmed so many people who either deliberately, ignorantly or without intent said things that offended others. It should also be applied to those who either deliberately seek offense when listening to others, those who have some type of agenda they are trying to push onto others, or are overly sensitive. In my 65 years on this good Earth, I have found that few people want to say something hurtful to others. They may say something without realizing that the said words came out wrong, or something that is misunderstood by the listener. However, the world has changed drastically and comments that once would have been accepted can now cause damage to the speaker or the company he or she represents. Fortunately, it is not difficult to avoid saying things that could cause hurt in the workplace or bring shame to a business. The concept of “good manners” is the best general rule when talking to coworkers or customers. Respect other people, both friends and strangers, and you will rarely go wrong.

It was once common to see “girly calendars” in almost every auto repair shop, but shop owners began to realize that more women were bringing cars in for repairs rather than depending on their fathers, brothers or husbands to get servicing done. Shop managers came to the conclusion that the calendars had to go or they would lose potential customers. Now many shops have nice waiting areas with family-safe magazines where ladies can wait without embarrassment while their cars are repaired.

A number of years ago I produced an excellent publication for a state towing association. Quality business articles from experts from around the country were printed and the magazine was one that could be left out for customers to read. It was an easy way of showing people that there were quality companies in the towing business. Unfortunately, an owner of an important tow company got really angry when I refused to print a dirty joke and within a couple of months I was fired. Since then times have changed and I believe that few trade publications would even consider printing offensive material. Over 20 years ago I met one of the early founders of Tow Times magazine, Mr. John L. Hawkins. Mr. Hawkins was a brilliant man who knew the importance of producing an educational publication for tow operators in a form that displayed a positive image for the industry. Tow Times was then and still is a publication that can be left out for customers to read. This philosophy has spread and years later we read monthly trade magazines aimed at transmission rebuilders, tow operators, tire sales and general auto repair and all of them are conscious of the need for respecting their readers. Incidentally, Mr. Hawkins later hired me to write for him and that brought opportunities I would never have dreamed of.

In the towing business, we need to remember that we provide service to people of many races, nationalities, religions, marital status, economic levels and social beliefs. We depend on each of them for word-of-mouth advertising to help our businesses grow. Several years ago, I referred a friend to a plumber who had done good work for me. I was deeply ashamed when I found out that this plumber had disparaged the mixed race of my friend and his wife by statements he made to them. Not only did the plumber lose my friend as a potentially good customer, he also lost future work from me and that of anyone else I would have sent to him. Word-of-mouth advertising is free, but it can be the best or the worst we can get.

A view of good business practices comes from McDonald’s restaurants, which appeals to all types of people. Workers go to the restaurants for lunch and parents take their children there for fun while having a quick bite to eat. Employees speak politely to customers, advertising avoids controversy and the atmosphere tells customers they are welcome. While tow services are very different from fast food restaurants, we should be appealing to the same type of customers. People who trust us to provide quality service, respect and a polite atmosphere will come back to us repeatedly. Employees who curse as a normal part of their conversation and make crude, racist or sexual comments will turn your customers away to other companies. Drivers who gawk at young women or ask questions about their personal lives, or who come across as judgmental will often embarrass customers into using other companies in the future.

In training your employees, they must understand that vulgar language is not permitted by your business. Many years ago at the firing range at Langley Air Force Base (Hampton, Va.) there was a poster that simply said “Foul language is the mark of a weak mind trying to express itself forcefully.” How often do your hear preachers, government leaders or important businessmen using strong language when addressing the public? Not often. Thinkers realize that what you say and how you say it tells other people a lot about you. Considering your words carefully can carry messages to the listener better than bad language can. An important message is best carried when language is carefully used, informative and to the point.

There are a few other things you should impress on your employees. Men should understand that inappropriately staring at a woman is intimidating. Talking about race, sex, religion and politics are not a part of the job when speaking to customers. It is more important to ask about the history of their car, what happened before the current problem showed up, and other things regarding the vehicle. Keep the conversation business-like. Respecting your customers will lead to them respecting you.