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Business, Diversity & Inclusion, STEM

Real Help That You Can Use

  • IMG_1138In the middle of running errands two days ago, I made a stop at the post office near 40th Street and Thomas in Phoenix. As I was getting into my car and driving out of the parking lot, I noticed an AutoZone store next door. I’d been meaning to pick up a quart of power steering fluid for several days now, and while the thought was top of mind, I seized the moment to mark that item off of my To Do List.

On entering the store, I headed towards the back where the motor oil section is thinking that power steering fluid would be nearby…that was not the case. After cruising a few more aisles a customer service representative appeared and asked if I needed some help? Yes! I need some power steering fluid for my car. Additional questions included: What kind of car do you have? and, Is this a normal refill or do you have a leak? On answering her questions, she handed me a quart of power steering fluid and we proceeded to the check-out counter.

After paying for the item, Sherry, the helpful customer service representative at AutoZone asked if I needed anything else? Well I have never put power steering fluid in my car, I said, and I lost my driver’s manual, however, I am sure I can figure out where to add it under the hood. Sherry said, I’ll put it in for you if you need me to. We agreed that she would show me where to add the liquid. I popped the hood and she was quick to point out the power fluid reservoir. So I’m thinking to myself, I probably could have found it on my own, but it’s great to have this minor problem solved before I get home.

Once again, Sherry offered to add the fluid for me. I thanked her and told her that she had been more helpful to me than she knew. I believe in doing certain things for myself when it comes to maintaining my vehicle, and this is one of them. After leaving Autozone, I asked myself why more people I know, especially those in the professional world of business and engineering, were not as helpful as Sherry? Too many would never have asked if I needed help, or would have figured out some excuse for not extending themselves beyond their comfort zone.

And there are those that insist on helping when they don’t know how to help or have the skills or resources to do so. Most of the time, you and I end up tripping over them and their good intentions which only adds to my list of problems not counting possible injuries. Like Sherry, they offer to help, but unlike Sherry, don’t know how or know when to back off or allow me the opportunity to fix things based on my preferences. They insist on me receiving their help even if it is not what I need, is not warranted, or could be potentially harmful to me.

A genuine offer of help should fit the problem that needs to be solved. If I need 20 pounds of potatoes, and you drop 20 pounds of tomatoes on my door step, you haven’t helped me, especially if I don’t like tomatoes or can’t use them for the needed application. A genuine offer of help usually also accompanies a few questions that show an interest in understanding the root cause of the problem, and should lead to the development of the best possible solution that is delivered efficiently in the least amount of time.

It’s one thing to have someone say, I wish I could help but I don’t know what to do. It’s another thing for someone to put themselves in charge of helping you, and you are the last to know it. I’ve had more than one so-called friend or manager try that one on me over the course of my career. No differently, more than one person or manager has claimed that they are mentoring me, yet I know nothing about it. How do you mentor someone and they don’t know that you are mentoring them? Isn’t that a bit twisted?

Needless to say, not much if any mentoring occurs, and no help is give. Sherry’s offer of assistance was followed by some leading questions, a proposed solution, an agreement or acceptance of the solution, and an offer to execute the plan. She also didn’t cross the line of customer relationship, and she knew when to pull back or stop pushing.

All too often in the professional world with business colleagues and co-workers, an offer of help is mere lip service that is given to cast the wanna-be-helper in a different light. As you and I know, help begins with action. It can be the development of a plan, passing of knowledge from one person to another, physical work, a process or series of steps, a commitment of time, etc. Merely saying you want to help someone does not mean that help has been rendered. And helping someone does not automatically infer that a payment or opportunity will develop from these actions. This is true in business as well as personal relationships.

As a good customer service representative, Sherry did not make the sale about her. She made a quick assessment of the problem, proposed a workable solution, and made herself available to execute the solution if it was needed or desired. She also respected the needs and boundaries of her customer.

Isn’t it amazing what you can get at AutoZone? I am definitely planning to shop there more often.


First time landing here? If this is your first time reading a post on this blog, A Bridge for Business & STEM, thanks for stopping by! If you liked what you read, will you follow me here? I write frequently on topics related to business and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and attempt to show the relevancy and relationships between these two topics as often as I can.

Some other posts that I have written include:

Earning the Right to Call the Shots

Managing Conversations, People and Subterfuge, Part 1

Beer Brewing and Delivery Meets Big Data

Interested in working with me and/or my team?

Connect with me by one of the methods listed under Contact Us on the home page of this blog, A Bridge for Business


About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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