This article was published in the Better Business Bureau paper "The Bridge" April, 2005.
By Phil Moses
Customer Connection Director
Situated on a side street in Richmond Heights is an auto repair shop with an enviable record.
The name is Gray's Auto Service, and the company has had zero complaints since its BBB file was opened 15 years ago--not even an FYI letter from a disgruntled customer.
What makes the record even more remarkable is that auto repair shops ranked second among industries generating the most BBB complaints last year, with a total of 836 being processed.
Eager to learn the story behind this spotless record, we made a date with owner/ president Bruce Gray. It’s a surprise to find an 8-bay repair facility in the midst of a predominantly residential neighborhood, but except for the sign, the building is unobtrusive.
Gray himself is also a surprise. Looking far younger than his 55 years, Bruce Gray wears the same uniform as his four mechanics, and may be seen as much “on the floor” as in his office, usually at the computer.
Although the building is not new, it’s new to Gray’s Auto Service. For almost 50 years, the shop was a 3-bay mainstay on Big Bend in Richmond Heights.
Bruce Gray started working there for his father when he was 15 and, except for two years with the artillery in Viet Nam, has honed his skills as a mechanic, a manager, and a customer relations specialist ever since.
Gray is justifiably proud of his new facility. It took five dumpster loads to haul away the gutted remains of the original.
Still a work-in-progress, the facility is state of the art: the men have a shower in the locker room; their refrigerator is stocked with candy bars, sodas, V-8 juice, snacks and bottled water, all at no cost.
And Gray’s men work in one of only three shops in St. Louis with air conditioned bays.
The guest waiting room (that’s right, guest) not only has free coffee, candy and television, but movies on DVD are stacked under the set. On the wall is a montage of thank-you notes testifying to Gray’s service.
And as much as he likes to talk about his new facility, Gray’s conversation inevitably reverts to a discussion of his customers.
He draws the analogy of his attitude toward a customer with that of a doctor toward a patient. They both want to give their clients the best news.
The customer-service philosophy behind this analogy is intriguing: he and his men seek the simplest and least expensive answer to the client’s problem.
The expected result is that when the news is bad, when the problem is serious, the customer has full confidence in Gray’s diagnosis and estimate. The company mission includes “customers NEVER get sold unneeded parts or service.” (see www.http:// graysserv.com)
Gray views customer service as building relationships. He makes no distinction between customers and friends, and his friends now number well over 1,200.
Although he is deeply committed to the role of the computer in auto maintenance (he boasts access to three million pages of data), Gray is less enthusiastic about their role in customer records.
No People Allowance
“The trouble with computers, “ he says, “is they don’t make allowances for people.”
Sometimes a customer needs another month to pay: maybe there’s a special discount on a part; or perhaps delivery was a day later than promised. “You make allowances,” he shrugs.
Employees Are Family
As we so often hear (and preach in our seminars), Bruce Gray treats his employees as family.
Together the five men represent 140 years of experience. If Gray’s father Marvin, who retired five years ago at 79, drops by to put in an hour or two, the figure jumps to 200 years.
Gray’s Auto pays for all medical and dental. Every month, each mechanic receives a cash bonus based on the company’s profitability.
Gray believes a bonus system, as opposed to commissions, nurtures teamwork and focuses each employee on getting it right the first time every time.
He directs the same loyalty to suppliers. He buys almost exclusively from Carquest because their service to him mirrors his to Gray’s Auto customers.
“On billing, delivery, credits, returns, I trust Carquest completely, and that leaves me free to do my job.”
One secret of Gray’s success, and he passes it on by example and by demonstration:
“Never believe the customer’s diagnosis,” he says grimly, “especially if it comes from another shop.” He continues, “Ask for the symptoms. Ask leading questions. Listen to the customer.”
Magic words that sum up the story of an auto repair shop with no complaints.