Land Mines and Hand Grenades: Eliminate Them From Your Business

Oct. 14, 2020

In this column, I often talk about processes and their importance. Sticking to a routine is important in how you and your employees:

  1. Greet the customer;

  2. Record the customer’s initial request;

  3. Probe for understanding;

  4. Send out the ticket to the shop;

  5. Perform a vehicle “health check” of some kind, if approved;

  6. Get the customer to act upon or not act upon;

  7. Perform all approved work, and;

  8. Cash out the customer while expressing thanks.

It all seems so simple, right? How hard can this be? Apparently, it can be really, really, really hard. If you’ve ever spent time in a shop, those simple eight steps can seem like climbing a mountain. The reason I believe it seems that way is because of land mines and hand-grenades.

Land mines are the biggest issue, because they are embedded in your process, whatever that may be. Maybe you don’t have a process and it’s a free-for-all? That’s just a giant land mine and one that goes off 12 to 20 times a day.  

Not having a process means that every service advisor has his or her own unique way of handling calls, appointments and initiating a ticket. This also means it’s highly likely that each tech has developed a unique way of dealing with tickets. Some shuffle through and cherry-pick good jobs. Some pick the jobs they like to do first and delay bringing in “tough” ones. Some write notes on the back of paper tickets. It can be chaos.

Smaller land mines are ones built within your process that simply make work harder. Sometimes a landmine is cutting corners when things get busy. This is a common one.

Maybe the land mine is not confirming a cell phone number or a good time to contact a customer? People are busy. People change phone numbers all the time. “Can I call your cell?” is not an adequate question anymore.  

It’s better to say, “Is this the best number to reach you at around 11:30 a.m.?” Not asking that way is a landmine. Now we have a car, eight feet in the air, with the wheels off, and no way to contact the customer or any idea when they may call back, asking, “Is my car done yet?”

Land mines are implanted into your process. Hand grenades are thrown by customers.

Hand grenades, by their very nature, are dangerous. Sometimes, people will throw themselves onto a hand grenade to protect the greater good. Sometimes, the grenade goes off in the trenches, doing maximum damage.

A hand grenade, at least in the movies, makes a metallic noise (“tink!”) when the pin is pulled. It’s subtle. But you now have just a few seconds to do something before the grenade goes off. You need to listen for the pin noise up at the sales counter and while on the phone.

“Hi, I just had four tires installed somewhere else and now I have a slow leak I’d like you to try and fix.” (tink!)

First-time customer: “Hi, I’d like to get a tune-up.” (tink!)

“Whatever you do, do not lower my driver side window,” says the customer on the hottest day of the year. (tink!)

Sometimes, there is a hand-grenade/land mine combo. “Hi, this is my first time here. I’d like an alignment.” And then the service advisor doesn’t ask why.

Hand grenades are often best dealt with via thorough, probing questions. It may take time to ask these questions. Inevitably, hand grenade throwers arrive when there’s a rush at the counter or the phone is ringing off the hook. But don’t fall for it.  

Three to five minutes spent asking questions may save you literally an hour or more of work in the shop.

Do yourself and your business a favor. Review your process and sweep for land mines. Start removing them permanently, especially the famous “we’re too busy to follow the rules” land mine.  

And learn to see hand grenades long before the pin is pulled. As an owner, do not be afraid to intervene, even as the keys are being handed to the service advisor, and put up a temporary roadblock.

It is far healthier for your dealership, employee morale and the success of your business to handle potential hand grenades before they make it into the shop.

Dennis McCarron is a partner at Cardinal Brokers Inc., one of the leading brokers in the tire and automotive industry ( To contact McCarron, email him at [email protected].