Working in a body shop wasn’t something Chris ever dreamed of doing. Sure, he knew a lot about cars. Actually, he loved just about anything with an engine. He was the type of person who could fix anything. He didn’t have formal education or work experience, he was just naturally good at taking things apart and putting them back together. Chris was young. Initially, he was hired just to clean the cars as repairs were completed. Customers tend to give better reviews for being sent home with a clean car, and nowadays good reviews run the world. Chris came to work every day, did his job and worked well with others. It wasn’t long before the body shop director, Wayne, realized Chris had real potential. So, within a few months of being hired, Chris was no longer washing cars. Instead, he was training to write estimates on damaged vehicles. He was still a rookie and only shadowing, but to be honest he caught on better than most of the older employees.
The way a body shop works is actually straight forward. A customer brings a damaged vehicle in to get an estimate written. An estimate is exactly what it sounds like, the estimated cost to repair what is wrong. An estimator is the person who writes up the estimate. The protocol to write the estimate is set up to protect both the customer and the shop. Colored paint pens are used to mark both the damages that will be repaired, and any damage that will not be repaired (usually marked in a different color).Detailed photos are taken of the entire vehicle, not just the damaged parts. This is to prevent any claims of additional damage being done to the vehicle while it is in the shop. Upon approval, the necessary parts are ordered and the repair process begins. Once the parts come in they are prepped, primed and painted. Then the new parts, or the newly repaired parts, are placed back on the car. The car gets looked over by quality control to make sure everything was properly reinstalled. They check to make sure things like lights and blinkers work correctly, and that there are no errors in the repair work. After this detailed inspection the customer is called to come pick up their car. Ideally in three to four days. Chris would eventually be responsible for guiding his assigned damaged vehicles through these stages of repairs.
Furious isn’t even close to describing the way Jerome felt immediately after being rear ended. The light had been red for about fifteen seconds, he was at a dead stop when it happened. He wasn’t the one not paying attention. He wasn’t the one who caused the damage to his precious 2019 Lexus LX570. Pearl white. The first new car Jerome had ever purchased. He actually bought it without even test driving it. The last thing on his mind was that some teenage girl would slam into the back of him. Jerome knew she must have been distracted somehow. Something like texting and driving, putting on makeup, fixing her hair, or looking in the mirror. Whatever it is that teenage girls do. Jerome honestly didn’t care what distracted her, he was solely focused on trying not to actually get sick thinking about his now ugly, damaged, depreciated car. The one he was stuck making payments on. The girl who hit him was crying as if her whole world had just ended. Jerome would normally feel sorry for her, would normally ask her if she was ok and take charge of the situation. All he could manage to do now was sit in silence. He was scared that if he started speaking to the girl it would end poorly. He wanted to be mad, and, even if she deserved it, he couldn’t direct his anger at her.
After the cops came and wrote up the accident, Jerome had his SUV immediately towed into the closest body shop. The tow truck driver even let him ride along. When they arrived, the driver let Jerome out in front of the building. He walked into the lobby and was greeted by a receptionist, who despite having a friendly voice, made it obvious she could care less he was there. She had him fill out a form and take a seat. Then she picked up her phone and loudly called for “any available estimator!” over the loud speaker. Jerome sat down. While he was waiting all that was on his mind was how unfair it all was. It consumed his thoughts. He couldn’t just sit and wait and think. He was too irritated to sit still. After about ten minutes he went back to the receptionist.
“How much longer is this going to take? I really need to get into work at some point before lunch” Jerome asked, a little bluntly. The receptionist took in a long inhale, almost like she was counting to ten. “Well, sir,” she said, extra slowly, making sure to let her sarcastic tone shine through “I let the guys know that you are here. They will be with you as soon as they can. Do you mind please having a seat?” she replied, not at all trying to hide that she was annoyed. She was annoyed? With him? For what? Showing up with business for the company she worked for? No. That wasn’t going to fly. He was not going to just have a seat. “I mean, I had my Lexus towed here by your tow truck driver. Shouldn’t that mean you knew I was coming? You should have known I was on the way and been ready to help me when I got here.” Jerome started again, a little more aggressively. “Well, sir, there are other people who got here before you. I can page again, but the guys will get to you as soon as they can. I assure you they know that you are here” the receptionist didn’t even look up to make eye contact with him. She just picked up the phone and, even louder this time yelled into the receiver “any available estimator, customer in the lobby. Any. Available. Estimator.” And then she slammed the phone back down. Jerome just stood there, still staring at her, not believing the morning that he was having or the attitude he was getting thrown at him. “That isn’t good enough for me! You need to go get someone out here to look at my car. That, or I want to speak to a manager!” Jerome was practically screaming now. He knew he was being pushy, he also knew he was being rude. He couldn’t help it, he was so mad. He could almost feel heat rising to his face. The receptionist finally looked up at him, and stood up. She didn’t try to maintain any sort of professionalism, she loudly muttered something about hating her job under her breathe as she stomped off in her high heels. Jerome couldn’t wait for her to find the manager.
The receptionist did not go to the manager. She went to Chris, for the first time ever, and said “Will you take care of this rude guy with the Lexus since everyone else is busy?” She didn’t bother to stay to see if he agreed. She just walked off. Chris called Wayne’s extension to see if he was allowed to help. After getting detailed instructions on how to proceed, Chris hung up the phone. Today he was getting his chance to prove he could do this job. Sure, he still had to have his estimates reviewed by the director, but that was part of the training process. Plus, he knew would not be micromanaged forever. His age was the only thing he had working against him. Unfortunately he didn’t know how to make himself look “older and wiser” in order to be taken more seriously.
Not much time passed before Jerome heard the obnoxious sounds of stomping high heels returning to the lobby. “Someone will be right out for you” she said, not to him but in his direction, before returning to her seat. Jerome felt a little embarrassed by his behavior. Normally, controlling his temper was not an issue. Hell, if the accident would have happened just three months earlier, he would have been in his old clunker. Then, he wouldn’t have even been mad! That Lexus was his prized possession. Life is funny like that sometimes.
Jerome watched a young employee walk from the hallway, straight to the receptionist desk. He saw the receptionist mouth “good luck” and point in his direction. The boy didn’t even make it half way to him before Jerome was on his feet. An uncontrollable rage was pulsing through him, and he didn’t really know why. The boy started to speak. “Hi, I’m Chris. I am so sorry we have to meet here, but I am glad that you are ok. Now, I see you brought in a Lexus for repairs…” Jerome was appalled. Who was this kid standing in front of him? He was practically the same age as the girl that got him into this mess. Didn’t he ask for a manager? Wasn’t that the exact words that had come out of his mouth? “What is this? Some sort of joke? I bring in a car that is worth more than you will make in an entire year and you expect me to trust that you know how to get it fixed? Are you even old enough to drink? How long have you worked here? You know what. Forget it. I am going to have my car taken somewhere else. To a shop that hires professionals, not kids.” With that, Jerome stormed out of the lobby and into the parking lot. There he made the decision to let his insurance company handle the car and he waited for an Uber to take him work.
Chris had no idea how to handle what had just happened. All he did was walk into the lobby and greet the customer, saying the exact same lines he had heard his coworkers use over and over. Chris wanted nothing more than to punch Jerome and his Lexus driving self in the face for yelling at him. He caused an unnecessary scene in the lobby, in front of coworkers and other customers. That, and the fact that all the yelling started before he even had the chance to do anything with the SUV. They hadn’t even made it outside to inspect damages! Nothing about this first customer was going as planned. Chris was by no means an expert when it comes to customer service, but he knew enough to know it wasn’t professional to argue with the customer, especially in a lobby full of other customers. He didn’t chase Jason out of the lobby to try to get him to come back. He simply let him leave.
Using the check in sheet from the receptionist, Chris managed to find the damaged Lexus. As instructed, he went ahead and took pictures and submitted the estimate for review. Mostly for practice. Chris also let the director know exactly what happened in the lobby, and that the customer mentioned taking his car to another shop for repairs. Chris thought being upfront and honest would be the best way to go. Apparently that was wrong. Wayne lost his mind! The body shop director actually blamed Chris for the fact that they lost such a big repair job on an expensive car. He also demanded to know why Chris didn’t do anything to stop the customer from leaving. “Are you kidding me? You’re blaming me for this? He didn’t even let me look at his car!” Chris tried to defend himself. Now, Chris had both his boss and his first customer yell at him, all before lunch. Chris honestly just wanted to go back to washing cars. At least with that he didn’t have to interact with any of the customers.
Wayne approved the estimate Chris wrote. Apparently, that was something Chris could do correctly. While looking over the estimate, in front of the other guys in the shop, his supervisor made the snarky comment “That Lexus better be in a paint booth by tomorrow if you want to last another pay period”. Up until today there had been no harsh words exchanged between the two of them. Chris felt both his hands ball up into fists, he could feel his face reddening. Not only was he being blamed for an incident he had no control over, now he was being singled out and criticized in front of his coworkers. In that moment, he really just wanted to tell his boss to shove this job where the sun don’t shine. Instead, Chris silently walked off and went back to his desk. There, he submitted the estimate in to the insurance company and ordered the parts, as if the shop were going to repair the vehicle. He figured he could just return the parts if that stupid ass Lexus moved to some other shop. Chris half way hoped that Jerome would go elsewhere, then he wouldn’t have to deal with him. He almost didn’t care about getting fired. Realistically he could get a job anywhere making what they pay him. Until today he had a lot of respect for his supervisor, but now Chris wasn’t sure how he felt about who he was working for. What type of person would let their employees be so mistreated, for no reason? Where was the back up? What does that say about the type of leadership within this company? This wasn’t a dream career for him. Opposite, actually. This was supposed to be a stepping stone.
The only problem was that Chris was no quitter. Even though he felt like he was getting the short end of the stick, he refused to let one hotheaded, entitled man come in and ruin the shot he had to make real money. Not to mention, as aggravated as he was with Wayne at the moment, he had barely been there half a year and they were already trying to move him up in the ranks. So, trying to keep that in mind Chris decided to simply call and update Jerome on the estimate. Chris picked up the phone and dialed the number Jerome wrote on his sign in sheet. After a few rings Jerome grumpily answers “Jerome here”. Chris inhaled and carefully started speaking “Hi Jerome. My name is Chris, we met briefly at the body shop earlier. I’m calling to let you know that I wrote up the estimate on your car and submitted it to the insurance companies. This way the insurance process will move a little quicker for you, regardless of where you decide to have your repairs done. Also, I am going to send you an email with the estimate attached, if you don’t mind giving me the email address to send it”. Chris was trying to sound professional on the phone, and he hoped Jerome couldn’t tell how nervous he really was. In the end Jerome not only gave him an email address, he actually apologized for his behavior earlier and told Chris to go ahead and let the shop fix the car.
Chris hung up the phone and went straight to tell Wayne. Talking to his boss again was the last thing he wanted to do, but he figured since this was good news it would go smoothly. He found Wayne sitting in his office staring at his computer screen. Chris knocked even though the door was open, and he slowly stepped in the doorway. Wayne gave Chris a “what do you want” look and just waited, awkwardly, for Chris to start speaking. Chris, feeling like a little kid in the principals’ office simply said “the Lexus prick decided to have the repairs done here. All parts are ordered and the estimate has been officially submitted”. With that, Chris turned around to leave. For a moment he considered telling Wayne exactly what he thought of him, but he restrained. As he started out the door, he heard Wayne call “Get back in here. Sit down. We need to talk”. Chris reluctantly returns to the office, this time taking a seat.
“Let’s get one thing straight, whether you agree with me or not, I am your boss. I get paid to make decisions. I am also the one who takes the blame when things go wrong, and believe me things do go wrong. My decisions may not always make sense to you. Today, for example, I am sure you were confused, maybe even angry, when I put it all on you to get that customer back. A customer who had no interest in having you help him. Car accidents happen. As unfortunate they are, they keep us in business. We need to keep all the business we can. Most of our customers walk through that front door already angry. We start out with that disadvantage. Today, I made you stick with your customer because today is not going to be the last time someone doesn’t want to work with you because of your age. You have to know how to counter that. You also have to know how to communicate with a disgruntled person, professionally. These are the types of things best learned by doing. That is why I made you stick with your customer. Regardless of the various people we have coming in and out of this shop, I need to know that I can count on my staff, my team, to remain professional. Even when you are frustrated. You did a good job holding it together today. Keep that up and you will be just fine. Get off my clock, go home and have a good night. Oh, and let me know if you know anyone with any receptionist experience”.