'What Would You Do?'Posted 3/2/2009
By T.J. 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. Following is a good example of just such a dilemma. What would you do?
A customer brought in a 1987 Nissan V-6 pickup with a severe driveability problem. After extensive testing and research with iATN and Identifix, it was determined that the injectors were not firing properly. Initial tests revealed a problem with the engine control module (ECM). After replacing the ECM with two different rebuilt units (a new ECM is no longer available), the same problem persisted. The technician has already spent many more hours on the vehicle than what can be billed for. Finally, the technician suggested that the injectors could still be the problem even though they tested fine.
The customer was then sold a set of injectors and the original ECM was re-installed. The vehicle ran great until the following day, then it had the exact same problem.
The customer does not want to pay for the injectors or any of the work that was performed because it didn't solve the problem. What would you do?
AutoInc. asked two ASA members how they would handle the situation. Their replies follow:
• Greg Buckley, Buckley's Auto Care, Wilmington, Del. - "First off, we are unlikely to see a 1987 anything come through the doors. But if one did, we would very carefully consult with the client, telling him or her that due to the age of the vehicle, the type of repairs required or requested, or due to the overall condition of the vehicle, standard labor times may not be applicable and parts may be difficult to procure. We would inform the customer that there may be limited diagnostic information readily available, especially if the repair is electrical in nature.
"All of this would be done beforehand to not only inform the client that their 20-plus-year-old vehicle is not a 'standard' vehicle any longer (no matter what make or model) and that an expectation of difficulties should be understood - and more importantly - accepted.
"However, in some cases, no matter what precautions you take or no matter how many times you consult with the client, things just go south and you're hung out on a line like wet clothes.
"In these cases, you still have to negotiate yourself out of the bad situation. When we are faced with this scenario, what has worked is this: We inform the customer that we still have an interest in making the repair (this is if we are really interested and can make the repair) and by allowing us the privilege of continuing, we will keep the labor time capped at the present charge and any additional parts (or sublet) necessary will be charged to them at cost only.
"This strategy produces several results. First, it demonstrates to the client that you are willing to make good on the repairs, you're being fair and reasonable by promising to cap your rate and time and - for the shop's sake - you're protecting the bottom line.
"But, all of this is for naught if the shop owner or tech doesn't wish to continue for one reason or the other. Whether it's a case of being over your head with the repair, or the client isn't one who will ever be satisfied, or you're just fed up with it all, then let the client walk away with your parts, time and money. You'll at least turn the situation into an education. Just do yourself a favor and remember the lesson."
• Rick Hughlett, Rick's Automotive Inc., Springfield, Mo. - "Regarding the malfunctioning truck, I see what I feel is a lack of policy on the part of the shop.
"I don't agree with the statement that 'the technician has already spent more hours on the vehicle than what can be billed for.' That statement should never be used in our industry - the shop owner should have a policy in place to handle that type of diagnostics and the service adviser must explain that policy to the customer before the job is started. I feel a shop should have a minimum diagnostic labor charge, which can include whatever is necessary to check components that routinely cause the type of problem the customer is experiencing. It should have a given amount of time associated with it that the tech is not to exceed without reporting to the adviser first.
"The shop should explain to the customer what is included in the diagnostic fee, and the customer should be required to sign off on that part of the repair order. The adviser should also explain that the time spent on the vehicle may not reveal the problem they are experiencing, but will rule out the most common components normally associated with their symptom.
"The customer should be told of the findings and what it will take to repair the vehicle. Or, if diagnosis is not achieved, the customer should have the option to go into Phase 2 of diagnostics (whatever the shop includes in Phase 2).
"We as shop owners have been our own worst enemies for years because we often give our technicians' diagnostic time away just to get the parts and labor profit from changing the failed component. But on an older vehicle, diagnosis is often the biggest part of the repair. We must charge for our technicians' time.
"To answer the original question, I would not charge for any parts that did not repair the problem unless they needed to be replaced for other reasons - such as leaking. I would ask the customer if we could have the truck back and I would stay with it until it was repaired, no matter how much time it took - because, at the very least, whoever is working on it will be learning something that will help them with the same problem in the future.
"Once the truck is thought to be repaired, I would ask if I could drive it for a couple of days to ensure it is repaired completely (that also shows the customer the concern you have for the situation). I would then determine a price that is fair to the technician, the customer and me - even if I only broke even."
How would Reilly handle the "situation?" Following is what he says:
"The issue with this scenario is not with the repairs that were performed, but with the way the job was sold. Your customer is your boss and is paying you to repair his or her vehicle. Imagine having a part-time job and working several hours without your boss's approval or authorization and then presenting your time card to get paid. This is what we do when we spend additional time working on a customer's vehicle without authorization.
"Customers must be educated that the repair process involves testing and replacing parts according to factory-established testing procedures, and that the replacement of certain items are part of testing procedures and may or may not correct the problem.
"The second problem is that injector replacement was sold on an educated guess. If the customer had been communicated with properly along the way, all the time the technician spent could have been billed regardless of whether or not the problem ended up getting repaired. This takes a lot of extra time and expertise on the part of the service adviser. The end result would have been a customer who was unhappy with his or her vehicle but not unhappy with the repair shop.
"That being said, the challenge now is to save the customer. The first thing I would do is to re-explain all of the testing procedures to the customer and then ask the customer what he or she thinks would be a fair adjustment to the bill. Saving the customer should be your highest priority at this point. You don't want to win the battle and lose the war."
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