Auto Shop Coaching Blog

How to Grab Your Customer’s Attention

“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”John Gardner

My wife and I were having breakfast at a local chain restaurant. “William,” the waiter, was friendly, the service was timely, and the food was tasty.

Towards the end of our visit, William handed me the bill and instructed me to go see “Two Star Mary” to settle up.

When I arrived at the cashier counter, she asked me a question that grabbed my attention.

ATI Fundamental #11 reminds us that, “We’re all in the customer service business.” You may be friendly, your service may be timely, but when was the last time your customer received a remarkable experience that stopped them in their tracks?

By now, you may be thinking, “Twiggs, you grabbed my attention! What did Mary ask you, and what does this have to do with my shop?”

If you and your advisors ask this same question, you will grab your customer’s attention. To accomplish this, you must first create a culture of discretionary effort.

Ideas to grow your businessGrab your customer’s attention. Discover valuable, easy-to-implement tips and strategies in ATI’s shop owner events. Grow your business and improve your bottom-line. Register today at

Discretionary Effort

In his book  The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek tells the story of a young man named Noah, a coffee barista at the Four Seasons hotel.

Noah was funny and engaging. He made buying a cup of coffee an enjoyable experience.

Noah’s enthusiasm grabbed Sinek’s attention, so he asked, “Do you like your job?” To which Noah replied, “I LOVE my job.”

“What specifically is The Four Seasons doing to make you feel this way?” Here’s how Noah responded:

“Throughout the day, my manager walks up to me and asks me how I’m doing and catches me doing things right.”

He went on to explain, “I also work at another hotel. On this job, my manager is always trying to catch me doing things wrong.

“My goal there is to keep my head down and collect my paycheck at the end of the week! Only at the Four Seasons do I feel that I can be myself!”

Why did Noah become a different person when he went to work at The Four Seasons Hotel? It’s the same reason that Mary’s nickname was Two Star Mary.

The leader created a culture of discretionary effort.

Discretionary effort is the level of effort that is above and beyond the minimum requirement. It’s the level of effort your people could give if they felt motivated to.

At the restaurant, “The star” was highly coveted and only given to the best of the best for going above and beyond for the customer.

Mary had been awarded two stars by her manager that she proudly displayed on her apron.

Now that you know about Noah and Mary’s manager, here’s my question: What are you doing to create a culture of discretionary effort at your shop?

If you have the right culture in place, your advisors will ask “the Mary Question” whether you’re present or not!

The Mary Question

Here’s the question Mary asked me after I handed her the bill:

“Tell me something that was great about your visit today?”

Asking this question has three benefits:

  1. It allows you to leverage The Recency Effect, which is the tendency to best remember how the transaction ended more than you remember the other details of the experience. The great things they mention, along with the fact that you cared enough to ask, is what they will remember the most about their experience with you.
  2. If the customer isn’t happy, you get the opportunity to resolve their concerns before they leave your shop. Studies show that 90% of unhappy customers express their complaints with their feet and not their mouth. In other words, they will use their feet to visit another shop instead of yours!
  3. You will differentiate yourself from your competition. My wife and I dined at other restaurants that weekend, but Mary was the only person who asked me what was great about my visit.


So, there you have it. If you consistently recognize what your employees are doing right, you can create a culture of discretionary effort.

The combination of the right culture and “The Mary question” will grab your customer’s attention!

I challenge you to provide a level of service that inspires someone to write a book chapter or blog post about it!

At ATI, we focus on teaching and coaching shop owners on best practices to get the most out of your automotive repair business. Want to learn more? Find an ATI shop owner event near you.

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Eric, the Accountability Coach, is an Executive Coach at ATI and has coached since 2009. Eric came to ATI having managed over 60 different automotive repair facilities and having supervised over 500 employees at a given time. He loves seeing members progress beyond what they thought was possible and improve their shop to the point where they can leave for weeks at a time and come back to a business that's better than when they left.