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  Guest Editorial

‘What Would You Do?’

Posted 6/1/2008
By TJ Reilly, AAM

Every shop owner runs into ‘situations.’ How they handle them is important.

Editor’s note: Shop owners run into “situations” all the time – situations that leave them scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to resolve the issue fairly to everyone concerned. They want to make the right decision in solving a dilemma, but things are not always black and white. Sometimes there are gray areas.

This is a situation that happened to my shop many years ago:

A customer came in with a 1989 Honda Accord for a head gasket replacement. The Honda had obviously been worked on by a “backyard mechanic.” Many of the vacuum hoses were not routed properly, and the vehicle had cheap tuneup parts.

A few days after the work had been performed, the customer returned to complain that her right headlight would not open and her radio would not work. Both had worked fine before the repairs.
After inspecting the vehicle, we found a screwdriver had gotten lodged in the headlight retractor mechanism and broke it. The screwdriver did not match any of the screwdrivers that our technicians used. We also found that the removable faceplate for the radio was defective. The radio would work if you pressed on the faceplate, but would stop working when you removed the pressure. We did not have the faceplate when we originally worked on the vehicle (the customer had removed it), so there was no way we could have damaged it.
We explained the situation to the customer, but she insisted that both items worked before the repair so therefore we needed to fix or pay for both of the items. The customer would not budge on her demands and eventually sued us.

Would you pay for a new radio and fix the headlight, or would you go to court?
That’s the question AutoInc. put to three ASA members. Their replies follow:
• Chris Lechman, service manager, Tapp’s Garage, Denver – “In the spirit of customer service and because I cannot prove that it was not one of my technician’s screwdrivers, I would repair/ replace the headlight door mechanism.  Because our technician was working under the hood during the head gasket repair and in the general vicinity of the headlight door, I would have to give the customer the benefit of the doubt.
“In regard to the radio repair, I would explain to the customer that our technicians are instructed not to operate customers’ stereo equipment except to turn it off (so we can hear noises and other concerns) and since she had the faceplate with her during our repairs, there would have been no reason for us to operate the radio. Additionally, as the repairs we performed were not related to or in the vicinity of the radio, I could not see how we could have even accidentally caused damage to the faceplate that was in her possession. If she still felt strongly that we had caused the damage, I would ask her to visit the car stereo shop of her choice and have them inspect it. If they were to determine that we caused the damage, then I would cover the replacement costs.”
• Mike Buckridge, AAM, owner, Sun Automotive, Springfield, Ore. – “When we know we are innocent of wrongdoing, our typical response is that we have been wronged and will defend our reputation no matter what the cost. Of course, many situations call for varied responses – such as the cost to make a customer happy, the damage to our reputation, and, of course, whether or not the customer owns a gun.
“These are always tough situations, and I can honestly say my response today would be much different than it would have been even 10 years ago.
“We need to ask ourselves whether the emotional drain, the preparation for court, the time away from the business, damage to reputation, and waking up in the middle of the night, stewing over the situation, are worth defending ourselves.
“In the situation with the Honda, I would take care of the customer and get a good night’s sleep. A point to remember is all good will from granting the customer’s demands is lost if we go about it grudgingly and under duress. If you are going to pay anyway, be sure to smile while doing so.”
• Don Meeks, AAM, owner, Don’s Import Auto Service, Vero Beach, Fla. – “I would go to court. It has been my experience that people like this tend to be like the ‘school bully.’ They try and get their way by intimidation and threats. Usually, when you stand up to them, they back off.
“On those rare occasions when a court appearance is required, I have found it is of great benefit to go dressed professionally and take all records.
“Since this is an ASA shop, I am confident that everything was done professionally and proper documentation was listed out on the repair order.
“We have found that if it is a new customer or the first time we have seen a vehicle, we try and go overboard to put details on the invoice to protect ourselves and inform the customer. Such things, in this case, as: Car has been worked on previously, radio is missing in the car, etc. By doing this, we greatly reduce the agonizing conversations and confrontations of ‘It wasn’t like that before.’”
How did Reilly handle the “situation?” Following is what he said.
“We did go to court. The judge ruled that the screwdriver was not ours and we were not responsible for the headlight, but that we had to replace the radio.
“In retrospect, we should have fixed the car and moved on. The time we spent preparing for, and being in, court by far outweighed the cost of just taking care of the situation. We have had other similar situations since then, and now we just take care of it. Our response is, ‘Mr. Customer, we really don’t think we’re responsible for this, but you are such a valuable customer that we’re going to take care of it anyway.’
“The positive customer relations it creates is much more valuable than ‘being right.’ There is a saying that goes, ‘If you convince a man against his will, he’s of the same opinion still.’ The customer still thought we were responsible for the headlight even though the judge said we were not.
“I believe we make a mistake if we believe that human beings are more like Spock of Star Trek than Captain Kirk. We are emotional beings, and when we fully realize this, we are better able to respond appropriately.”

Editor’s note: T.J. Reilly, AAM – the author of this feature – is the owner of Same Day Auto Service, an ASA member-business in Clackamas, Ore.
Since the above feature has so much to do with ethics, we would like to remind readers that ASA has a Code of Ethics to which all members agree to adhere. To review it, go to the ASA Web site, Click on “About ASA,” then “Code of Ethics.”

Reilly is also our guest editorialist this month. He talks about ethics in the automotive service and repair industry. His guest editorial is on page 48.
If you have an ethical dilemma you would like to share with readers, please send an e-mail to Your “situation” may be spotlighted in an upcoming issue.


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