art of appliance repair

Zen and the Art of Appliance Repair

Article originally published in The Retail Observer.
By David Oliva, RD Appliance Service, Corp.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig wrote: “When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.”

How many times have we, as technicians or business owners, felt hurried while we work? It’s a busy day, it’s hot, we have something better we want to be doing after work – there are innumerable reasons for feeling hassled and hurried. But how is it affecting the quality of our work, and the customer’s perception of us, and our own state of mind? Can we become true masters of our craft without conquering these emotions?

I began servicing appliances over 20 years ago, after I’d worked as an auto mechanic. I’ve always liked technical and mechanical work, but in the background of my mind there was a certain nagging feeling of just wanting to get the job done. Looking back, I can see now that I was seldom fully invested in any given repair – I just wanted to complete it so that I could move on.

My father would tell me to take my time with each job, to be there in the moment, and not be concerned with what needed to be done next. I heard him, but it never clicked. And then one day a funny thing happened, and it finally clicked. After years as a technician, I began to truly appreciate and enjoy the work I do.

During a tough job, I decided that since I’m doing this repair, even though it’s exceptionally difficult, I’m going to relax and be fully aware of what’s in front of me. And once I did that, once I accepted that change of attitude, everything shifted.

From that point, each job became pleasurable, something I wanted to do, as if it were a hobby. I wanted to cover every possibility, I wanted to be certain that each moving part was properly lubricated and each wire was properly restrained. I wanted to appreciate the moment. The quality of my work improved, and warranty call-backs decreased. But even more important, I matured as a technician as my goal became not just to complete the job, but to master my skill.

Being fully conscious of the job at hand and taking pleasure in the moment allows us to see the problem and solution much more clearly. It makes for a steady evaluation process that results in a confident diagnosis. And all of these attitudes add up to produce higher-quality interactions with the customers.

Robert Pirsig tells how he brought his motorcycle to a roadside shop for an emergency repair, and how he got an impression that the mechanics were good-natured, friendly guys, but not very involved in their work. “There was no identification with the job. No saying, ‘I am a mechanic’. At 5 p.m. or whenever their eight hours were in, you knew they would cut it off and not have another thought about their work.”

Being a technician is more than just doing the job, it’s a lifestyle. A technician leaves things better than he found them, in and out of the work environment. I was twenty-one when I started repairing appliances, and I was a lot like the mechanics in the book. I was surprised by how often customers questioned my diagnoses of their problems. My frustration and irritation were probably felt by the clients, and if they didn’t hurt our business relationship, they certainly didn’t help. I wasn’t communicating with the customers properly; rather, I was subconsciously communicating my lack of self-identification as a professional technician. I was just another person like them, telling them what was wrong, and why would they believe me?

So what’s the lesson? Veteran technicians will no doubt understand this, but for the others there may be a lesson in my story: the way we embrace and accept the difficult tasks we have to do, like it or not, can almost automatically transform those tasks from a burden to a pleasure.

This simple transformation can have a profound effect on the quality of the work we turn out, and the perception the customers have of us. On the other hand, a lack of identification with our work will be perceived as a lack of skill, knowledge or caring. Taking pleasure in the journey of the task at hand is more helpful and profound that hurrying to the destination. It’s why the website of our family business says: “For us, this isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life.”

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