The Waiting Room as A Classroom to Teach Kids Useful Entrepreneurial Life-Lessons.

This blog post was originally written on June 6, 2018, and is being published as is, partly for its nostalgic references, and partly for its timeless lessons.

How parents can find teachable moments in everyday occurrences.

“He stops to talk to everybody, even strangers” is a constant refrain of folks who know me. My take is that we work and play with humans. Therefore, every time we avoid human contact, or fail to observe or learn from our surroundings by burying ourselves in our phones, we miss first-hand learning opportunities on how fellow humans think and act. Life is a laboratory full of learning opportunities.

Here are observations from my visit to a car dealership’s service center, along with my thoughts on how parents could extract and impart entrepreneurial lessons from similar experiences. I had an hour to kill at a car dealer’s authorized service center, most of it in their Waiting Room. It just so happened that the operations manager was at the same coffee machine where I had tried unsuccessfully to pour myself a cup of coffee. We thus got into a conversation whereupon I inquired about the massive remodeling going on. “We surveyed our customers and decided to add more repair bays to reduce their wait-times”, she said. “We are adding other conveniences such as a maternity room for new mothers by expanding this waiting area.” I asked about concierge services to completely avoid a new mother having to leave home to get her car fixed or serviced. It’s cost-prohibitive, she explained. I wondered aloud if they could partner with a startup such as What if they do not consider the Service Center as a separate profit-center, since the costs of owning each car can tied back to the original sale.

I told her that the waiting room experience is like a doctors’ office. There is anxiety in the air not knowing the diagnosis and the costs of repairing a car. With the human body, there are still many mysteries. With a car built in a factory and sold and serviced in a dealership, why the guesswork? We parted ways with questions lingering in our minds.

However, the real learning was to come shortly thereafter. How the personnel at the repair bay treat an anxious customer determines whether a car owner will continue to stay as a customer and even consider their trade-in promotion to get another new car from them. A glamorously designed dealership may sell the first car, but it’s what I call bay-side manners by the maintenance team that will determine repeat sales. Customer delight can quickly turn into customer diminishment through poor bay-side manners. The dealership might be better off investing in culture than physical structure.

How can parents impart these invaluable entrepreneurial lessons to their kids? Here are suggestions.

  1. Even if your kids are glued to a phone playing a game or watching a Vine video, insist that they are next to you during all conversations. Kids are listening even if they aren’t looking.
  2. Be polite to the Service Manager even if he belittles you for asking questions and negotiating.
  3. Walk away with your wallet when you experience customer diminishment. Kids observe it.

Don’t bother explaining your actions to your kids until they ask you. When and if they ask you, seek their opinions and engage them in a conversation and blame the system not the individual for his lack of bay-side manners. Thus, kids would have picked up priceless lessons from the perspective of a future entrepreneurial leader of an organization, while being in the shoes of a valued life-long customer.