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When Things Go Wrong

Customer service in the transmission and auto-service business begins when something goes wrong. If nothing ever did, there would be no need for it. So you have to figure that in virtually every after-sale customer-service situation, somebody didn’t get what they either wanted, needed or thought they were entitled to. That means that emotions are running high in every one of these instances. People range from being mildly upset to fighting angry. Often an otherwise calm, friendly individual can turn into a monster before your very eyes.

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When Things Go Wrong

It’s Your Business

Subject: Dealing with customer-service problems
Essential Reading: Shop Owner, Center Manager
Author: Terry Greenhut, Transmission Digest Business Editor

It’s Your Business

  • Subject: Dealing with customer-service problems
  • Essential Reading: Shop Owner, Center Manager
  • Author: Terry Greenhut, Transmission Digest Business Editor

Customer service in the transmission and auto-service business begins when something goes wrong. If nothing ever did, there would be no need for it. So you have to figure that in virtually every after-sale customer-service situation, somebody didn’t get what they either wanted, needed or thought they were entitled to. That means that emotions are running high in every one of these instances. People range from being mildly upset to fighting angry. Often an otherwise calm, friendly individual can turn into a monster before your very eyes.

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Did you do anything wrong that created the problem? Maybe, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever the problem, you’re stuck with and have to deal with it. Exactly how you handle these situations will determine whether you still have customers once they’re resolved.

Just fixing a problem doesn’t necessarily mean you are making a customer happy. The way you do it is far more important. Keep in mind that the customer is inconvenienced to at least some degree when something has gone wrong. Even if they don’t have to pay any additional money out of pocket, they do have to give up some of their valuable time to get the problem resolved. They may even lose money if taking care of this eats into their work time. They may have to owe a favor to someone for going with them to drop off or pick up the car. So don’t take the attitude that it’s under warranty so they shouldn’t have anything to complain about because you are fixing it for free. It is still costing them in one way or another.

Learn to recognize (and truly understand) your customer’s situation. Provide an individual-care approach for your customers. For example, someone with children will have very different concerns from a busy businessperson, and vice versa. One may need only a ride home, but another may need a car for the day. Therefore, you must learn to recognize these key differences and adjust your responses accordingly.

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Teach service employees to understand the context of a situation and to sympathize with customers. For example, many of your customers are under time constraints. They have to be somewhere at a certain time to accomplish whatever task. That in itself is nerve wracking. Add to it the stress of not having their vehicles ready to go when they are and it becomes an intense moment.

Don’t lie. In an effort to make customers think that you won’t be tying them up too long it’s easy to make a much shorter time estimate than what it’s really going to take. If anything, stretch the estimate. If you think it’s going to take an hour, tell them two. If you get it done quicker you’re a bit of a hero. If not, you’re right on time.

Make sure what you say is happening really is. Get out there and check. Talk with the technician and anyone responsible for securing the parts. Make sure that everyone is following through with the promises you’ve made. In other words, supervise this project to its conclusion. Don’t drop the ball somewhere in between. It’s bad enough that this problem exists; let’s not compound it by screwing up what you’re trying to make right.

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Be very careful with the customer’s vehicle in a comeback situation. That’s when most of them seem to get damaged. Maybe it’s because everybody has been thrown out of their normal routine so they do things a bit differently. Everyone in the shop should treat customers’ cars the same way all the time – as if they were their own – and they should think of every car that rolls into the shop as a brand-new pay job, no matter how many times it’s been there.

Be very specific about how the problem will be handled. When taking care of a customer-service issue, let the customer know what is going to happen and when. The more information a customer has, the less anxious he or she feels.

Keep in touch with the customer throughout the process. Don’t ever let them think you have forgotten about them. Update them as to what stage the repair is in and when it should be done.

Anytime you receive complaint No. 2 about the same problem, treat it like an emergency; lights and sirens. Most people are fairly forgiving after one mistake, assuming you address it promptly and courteously, but when you get a second complaint – well, it’s time to go into emergency mode. At that point there’s no room for further delay or error. It’s time for all hands on deck.

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Throw all your available resources at the problem. If you want to keep your customer, you must make sure the problem is taken care of immediately and properly this time. This is your last shot; make it a good one if you want to do further business with this customer.

Road-test the car yourself this time. Don’t take anyone’s word that it’s right. This is your customer and your business we’re talking about, not anyone else’s. Although technicians work very hard to solve problems, they hate looking at the same car over and over again. They can get bored or frustrated with it. If they get tired enough of it, or feel pressured to move on to another job, they might accept a fix that we’ve nicknamed in the trade “good enough for government work.” Remember that good enough never is. Perfect is the only acceptable result, especially after the customer has been inconvenienced.

Put yourself into loss-control mode whenever you have a comeback situation. The fact that the comeback occurred is usually enough to cause most, if not all, of the profit from the job to be dissipated. All there is left to do is salvage the customer so you can get another opportunity at some later date. So forget about making money at this point; just see how much you can keep from losing while maintaining a relationship with the customer.

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Apologize once, not several times. I don’t know about you, but when someone keeps telling me they’re sorry I believe it’s just an insincere act. Sorry doesn’t mean anything if the problem isn’t resolved. Be pleasant, act as if you are totally interested in helping to solve the problem; then make sure you solve it. That’s your best shot at keeping the customer.

Make sure everyone understands the gravity of the situation. Customers are hard to find and easy to lose. Work out a customer-service plan that everyone is well versed in and make sure all involved employees are pulling in the same direction to solve customer problems. Your attitude and that of your employees during one of these crisis situations mean as much if not more to the customer than the actual fix.

If there are internal issues or employee problems, never let customers see them. As far as they’re concerned everything is wonderful in your business. Keep your dirty laundry hidden in the back room.

Don’t assume your customers will give you a second chance. Think about it this way: If a customer has taken the time to call you about a problem, you are already getting lucky, so you’d better take care of it immediately. You don’t always get a chance to make it right. Often, customers will just move on. Remember, your competition is continually trying to sell the same product or service cheaper, faster and better than you. Don’t make it any easier for them by providing inadequate customer service.

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Here’s a new concern: In an age of social media, it takes only one dissatisfied customer to create a PR disaster for a company. In fact, lately several national stories have cropped up featuring blogs and YouTube videos that customers have created for the sole purpose of sharing their tales of bad service with the world. The Internet has really amplified the customer’s voice; it’s increased their power exponentially. If someone were to post a negative story about your company, you might lose a lot more than one customer.

You can create and keep loyal customers in today’s economy, but only if your customer service and attention to detail convince them that there is truly a difference between you and your competitors.

Terry Greenhut, Transmission Digest Business Editor. Visit www.TerryGreenhut.com.

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