Greg Hughes, one of the rock stars I had the pleasure of working with on a gig has a nice phrase that he likes to whip out from time to time: trust, but verify.
Greg didn't coin the term. Wikipedia says Ronald Regan used it and others before him. The term indicates you should trust what people are doing or saying, but verify it nonetheless. I had one such opportunity recently and I'm sorry to say that I failed miserably.
The check-engine light went on in my car last Friday. I took it to a repair shop early Saturday morning and left it there. They called back in a couple of hours with an estimate to fix this, that, and the other thing. I winced, but said sure, go ahead. This is over the phone, mind you.
They called back a few hours after that and said there's one more thing. I asked for the total, winced again, and said sure, go ahead. Again, on the phone. This time, the part was offsite and the delivery truck couldn't arrive until Monday. No worries, we had the spare car thing worked out.
I get a call on Monday. The truck arrived, but not the part; weird. Apologies were offered by the repair shop, but I say, no problem, I’ll get the car on Tuesday.
Tuesday arrives and I get a call in the late afternoon. The car is ready, please come and get it. I was in a meeting, so I learned this by listening to the voice-mail the kind man left on my phone. I leave work, pick up the H-man from daycare, drive home to get the wife and drive over to the dealership.
We're less than a mile from the repair shop when I notice I have another voice-mail from them. In this one, the kind man explains that they close at 6pm, but I have until 8pm to pick up the car before the gates close. He explained that I can call him back and pay over the phone if I plan on picking up the car between 6pm and 8pm tonight. He also says the amount on the call. It's two times the amount he quoted me on Saturday. I'm instantly furious.
I park and walk into the repair shop, the service desk directs me to the cashier. The cashier grabs my file and asks for the 2X amount. I respond politely with "I can't pay that amount". She furrows her brow, understandably at 15 minutes to closing time, and returns with the service desk representative.
I ask for the amount he quoted me over the phone and he points to the 2X amount. Again, with all the politeness I can muster, as if I'm speaking to my grandma, I ask if he quoted me the 1X amount. He scratches his head and explains, it's all right there. His document identifies who called, when they called, who they talked to, and the amount of the estimate.
I'm baffled and I begin to doubt myself. But I'm also resilient and tell myself that if the man estimated 2X for the repairs, I surely would have declined and pursued other options. It's an old car and we're thinking of trading it soon. I was very sure, even now, that I asked him for the full amount. I was also sure that he never said anything resembling 2X in response to my question about the full amount. Under no circumstances could 1X be mistaken for 2X, even on a bad phone connection.
He explains that he'll have to get the manager, so he's off and I stand around for a few minutes perusing the repair sheets he left on the desk. It's all right there on the documents, how could two parties be so far apart on an essential matter?
A large burly man in a nice looking suit emerges from the back offices, introduces himself and asks me about my problem. I explain the situation and he takes it all in. Then he turns to the service representative and repeats what I said. Then he turns to me and repeats what the service manager said. Then, he repeated what the service manager said two more times, then he repeated what I said one more time followed by repeating what the service manager said and ending with a finale of "in all of my 20 years here...", you get the idea.
Those of you who have met me will know that I have a pretty good face for these types of things. I'm not too pretty, it's hard to tell what I'm thinking if I don’t let you and the whiskers don't hurt either. Plus, for whatever reason, I decided to wear a nice button-down blue shirt and dockers today. I looked professional and not like some punkass kid trying to skip out on part of the bill. Plus, I sincerely felt that I was right.
In any case, 2X is a lot of money to screw up.
The manager explains that the documents with the who-what-when-and-how-much are legal documents in the state of Oregon. I don't bite. I'm not in any mood to debate the matter. My position is clear and so is his. No quick, witty comment or sly argument from me is going to win him over. My only rebuttal is that estimates over the phone are inherently prone to these types of mistakes. He picks up on this nibble of an argument and thoroughly explains that in all his years, they've never had a problem like this. Again, I refuse to argue the point. It's futile to do so.
So, he explains that he has to go to the general manager of the repair shop. Again, I’m left alone near the cashier's desk. This time for about 15 minutes, the standard time one would sit in an office of a car dealership, waiting to see if the manager would accept your offer on the car. The old wear-you-down trick.
In the mean time, I think about what to do. I really do like jury duty. It's a lot of fun. I wonder of small claims court would be as much fun. There's the anxiety of getting over the problem, the possibility of losing my first case (I was a business law major until I took my first computer science course in college) and just the general hassle. Plus, I'm beginning to doubt myself. Did that guy really tell me the full amount on the phone and I just wasn't paying attention? I decided that they would offer to split the difference and I'd accept it.
So, the manager returns, right on time. He repeats what I told him; then he repeats what the service representative said one more time. Finally, the manager then says the general manager offered to split the cost with me. I asked if he was offering me 1.5X and I’m corrected. The general manager is offering it and the manager is merely saying it to me.
I put up the stop hand and said, I think this is the best solution for both of us. The manager knows to stop selling when the sale is over, so he turns to the cashier and firmly states that this customer is going to only pay 1.5X of the amount on the bill.
I'm relieved that the issue resolved, yet still disappointed that it happened at all. I'm out 0.5X, but I do have a few extra repairs on the car. Upon further review, I think some of the repairs are a little suspect. For example, my car is perfect on oil. It doesn't burn oil and my drive way is void of any oil spots. Why didn't I think of that when the guy said the oil pan gasket was leaking on the phone? Arrrgg!!
This is when Greg's term "trust, but verify" really became clear to me. My super smart wife pointed out that I could have asked him to e-mail me the estimate. I also could have asked him to call me back and leave the full estimate as a voice-mail on my phone if they were email-impaired. The amount of money is large enough and use of my car is important enough that I really should have been more diligent. I should have verified the estimate instead of just trusting what I heard on the phone.
Rats. Well, they say the awesome people can tell you all about their mistakes and the incompetent never see their own mistakes. Here's one more thing on the pile that I can learn from. I'm going to be riding the "trust, but verify" horse into the ground for the next couple of weeks. Apologies, in advance, to all my teammates.
I don't explain the identity of the repair shop or the amount here because you're going to trust, but verify next time right? So, in that case, it doesn't matter who I dealt with.