Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The perils of offering technical advice

In the old days it used to be pretty straight cut most Triumph specialist's/suppliers were Triumph enthusiasts turned parts purveyors so brought with them a grounding in technical knowledge. These days it's more difficult, when was the last time you saw your preferred specialist turn up for work, or attend an event in a Triumph? Factor in the all invading spectre of public liability worries (and it's associated insurance implications) and it's not to difficult to understand why some are reluctant to help in your hour of need. Indeed I have been in competitors shops and noticed the proliferation of signs stating something like 'due to insurance company guidelines we are unable to offer any technical advice' or words to that effect.
We (John Kipping's/Canley Classics) have always been known for our freely given technical advice based on our own usage of a fleet of dissimilar Triumph's that have been used (and abused!) for 30 odd years. That enthusiasm however is waining as others loose interest for whatever reason and the burden is shifted to the few of us that still care to proffer an opinion. It's not helped by the increasing numbers of waif and stray customers of other specialists who cast around for advice in the absence of any from the people they normally buy their stuff from. A good example of which we shall call Mr X. Mr X had been a regular caller, so regular in fact that the sales people here got to recognise his voice over the period of 18 months or so he had been calling on average once or twice a month. In the end they would know without him asking to put him straight through to someone with a bit of technical nonce. Then someone thought to ask him his name/customer account number, to which he replied 'oh I don't buy anything from you, I get my parts from supplier XYZ, but they never help with technical advice'. He should have thought through his answer more carefully! Now the sales people here filter technical enquires as a matter of course, and do you know an interesting statistic that has come to light as a result? Well it's not exact by any means, but I'm being told only about 20% of these enquirees are coming from our own customers.
Harping back to the 'old days' even more, back then if a punter asked an opinion of a specialist it was taken as semi gospel based on the fact that punter respected that opinion because of the specialists experience. These days it's all changed, it seems most are now canvasing opinion, and with the help of the tinternet that opinion can come from almost anywhere. One gets a little disenchanted when you have just spent 20 minutes on the phone to someone advising him how to do a job you have done a thousand times before only to find later that same person asking the same question on the World Wide Web through various club forums, or newsgroups! Time is precious, and never more so as staffing levels reduce, and workload increases, please remember that before calling anyone still willing to spend a little time helping.
You might think miserable old bugger (only the wife is allowed to call me that) but sometimes I dread Friday afternoons when everybody else and his dog have finished work early and feels the need to speak to me about seized trunnions, or Monday mornings when punter X of supplier Z has wrestled all weekend with, and failed to, remove his rear hub with three legged pullers, oxy/acetylene, and a BBH (Bloody Big Hammer). Sometimes it starts to feel like groundhog day, can I hear Sonny and Cher playing on the radio?


  1. Never ceases to amaze me that people are prepared to buy off one trader and get their fitting advice off another - without thinking that what they are doing is at best cheeky. I do wish that the power to the web was harnessed more to provide a databank of fitting and fettling information but alas it's not going to happen until we get organised! Where's the Wiki for all things triumph??

  2. The only things I've bought from Canleys have been steering rack gaiters, so I'm demonstrably not a big customer. However, I have approached you via e-mail for advice about an engine defect, an engine you didn't rebuild.

    With me, the plain truth is that I don't buy Triumph stuff full-stop, having reached a level where I've got a garage-full of stuff that'll see me through. I'd like to think, however, that I wouldn't have the audicity to constantly pester a supplier by 'phone if I wasn't a customer. It wouldn't even occur to me. BUT, there's a sense with the classic car supplier that you're a kindred spirit, and quite possibly an owner/driver/club-member. Yes, I agree that approaching you via shop-hours when you're supposed to be working is not ideal - but it would take a sensitive person to observe the subtlety there. To most folk you live/breathe/eat Triumphs, and they'll see no harm in bothering you. I'd hazard a guess that the fact you run a blog also adds to the message of approachability - like it or not!

    You're obviously aware that the pestering you observe is not a recent thing, and is not confined to the classics industry. Every backstreet garage, indeed every 'technical' department within main dealerships, will have a roster of full-time pests. The chap that pops in for a thirty minute chat every three days while out walking the dog, regailing all with his sage wisdom on how to dismantle a 1984 Ford Escort radio console (though notably never the advice to put it back together again!).

    But, that's retail for you. It happens in every niche store across the land surely? From electrical shops to garden centres. To think you're going to be immune would be like running a town-center pub, and not expecting to have a scuffle on a Saturday night ;)

    Taking the step to filter via customer number (or somesuch) is a good move, and probably the only thing you can do. But be mindful that there are many facets to the marketing dilemma, and offering free advice is one of those intangible, but necessary things to do to set you apart from the competition - the odd pest notwithstanding. Good luck!

  3. Jason.., i have not yet required to contact Canley Classics, but i can see and welcome that day.

    I now have two triumph herald 13/60 convertibles.. one is a runner, mot, i just bought it.. unseen and drove it back from Carmarthen to Hunstanton, .. the other, was originally destined to be saved.. but now i have a tracker in my works van.. my control of my working day has been usurped....someone else wants to be me.. control me.. and i am not a machine.. not for no one. So things i had planned were changed. I remain independent.. no one dictates my path.. even if they put a parrot on my shoulder to watch me, Red dot TV.. what the hell do we go down that road for?. So the triumph i bought two years ago will be a supply of parts.

    Whenever i am given the opportunity in conversation i excel the virtues and real engineering skill that made possible the triumph herald.. not a computer in sight.. a guy with a pencil.. a telephone.. his vision.. his purpose.. a piece of him.. Still after 39 years.. the triumph i bought unseen.. took me 277 miles.. folks on the M4 waved and flashed... not one computer chip anywhere in it.. no idealised design, The vision goes on.

    I agree its easy to get demoralised.. depressed even.. especially in such a piece of paper waving society the UK has become.. one cant do anything now without having a piece of paper saying you can, agreed by a whole plethora of unconnected individuals.. HSE.. The Legal process.. it will stifle entrepenauralism.. We cease to be competitive when we cannot make instant and unguided decisions, those are what gave me the skills i have.. i made mistakes, i took the wrong path.. i learned.. i wasnt told..

    What keeps me here..? why dont i just go and get a new new car..? more reliable.. cheaper.. recycle friendly.. better everything? Because i believe what made this country... what made us Great Britain... is still there, its embedded in our culture, we are still United. There are folks who will maintain that.. who do stuff because they can see the way.. not influenced or dictated to..

    I see the integral problems.. its easy to become discouraged.. desperate even depressed.. what the hell do i do this for? who cares.?

    I care. you care.. Canley Classics cares.

    Its why we are here.. rain or shine..

    I would miss Canley Classics if it went.. another brick in the wall.

  4. it works both ways;
    probably you have a lot less customers asking you how a carburetor works,
    or want to know electric stuff, or ask why there is a 6v igniter in an 12v car,
    these questions can be easily found on the internet too.

    but i agree it is painful to spent too much time on a customer, without any financial result,
    but that is the same principle as with your bar-bill;
    you can count every drink on ever bill you get, but you can also trust that 1 month you have more drinks as billed and next month you have less.
    and within the years, you will pay the same, but save time on counting...

  5. I guess many of us think if it were not for the interuptions from client/customers I could get so much more done.... but eventually when all the existing work was done I would have no new work.

    By the way I have always valued your firms approach of providing help - long may it continue.

  6. I know exactly how you feel Dave. People take up lots of my work time asking about computers - and I don't even sell the buggers!

    It is a very difficult balancing act, as although it takes up time, it must lead to some sales / new customers.

    I always appreciate your advice but mainly for which products to buy. It would be a sad day if you stopped; sometimes you need advice from someone who USES Triumphs to cut through the cr*p of the other retailers who drive home in their BMW's

    I'm afraid that being a Triumph Celeb' comes with a price. ;-)

    See you soon for more bits.

  7. I'm guessing I'm one of your most regular customers - never spending huuuge sums of money, but always spending regularly! I'm always very coincious though of keeping you too long on the phone as I can only begin to imagine how many stupid questions you get asked per day, and then never get any work done!
    Unfortunately its exactly the same where I work, at a small engineering/fabricating shop, making rally parts specific to Mk2 Escorts and preparing bodyshells. My boss sometimes gets absolutely nothing done some days, due to phonecalls and people 'dropping in' to visit. Trouble is, they think they're the only ones who do so. With genuine customers, fair enough maybe, but with people who are neither friends nor customers...!! Some people dont seem to be able to differentiate between us making a living, and their favourite pastime. Thankfully some do though, and let us 'get on with it'!

    Keep up the good work anyway, your knowledge is invaluable! Hope the filtering works :)