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  Management Feature

'What Would You Do?'

Posted 6/10/2010
By T.J. Reilly, AAM

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

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 for 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 such a dilemma. How would you handle the situation? What would you do?

The scenario:

"I had a customer, we'll call him 'Bill,' request a 30,000-mile service on an older Honda Accord. Bill had been doing business with me for more than a year. I quoted him a price for that service and he signed the estimate.

"When Bill returned that evening to pick up his car after the repairs, I went over the repair order line by line. When I got to the part about flushing the brake fluid, Bill objected. He said he didn't want the brake fluid flushed.

"I tried to explain that flushing the brake fluid was part of the 30,000-mile service and that it was even listed as such in his owner's manual. He continued to insist that he didn't want to pay for the brake fluid flush."

Dilemma: What would you do?

Leo MacalusoLeo Macaluso, owner, Encinitas Foreign & Domestic Auto Repair, Encinitas, Calif. - "I would ask Bill why he does not want the manufacturer's recommended service.

"He may not believe in the benefits of replacing the brake fluid or perhaps the fluid had been changed as part of previous brake work.

"If Bill doesn't believe in the necessity for this service, then from here on out, he will require an explanation of all the work being performed prior to starting any job. Any exclusion of scheduled maintenance items should be documented as 'declined by customer' and initialed by the customer.

"In the second case, where the service had already been done, did the technician check the condition of the brake fluid?

"Bottom line is that you communicate to the customer the importance of this service and apologize for any miscommunication and credit him back for the brake fluid flush.

"P.S. Be genuine with your offer."

Chris EvansChris Evans, general manager, Dowdy's Automotive, Boise, Idaho - "The most important thing in this situation is being able to retain our customer's continued confidence in the work we are performing on his vehicle.

"Keeping that in mind, I would take the opportunity to re-explain to Bill the importance of such fluid services and how they can help his vehicle last longer and perform better. I would kindly remind Bill that this was included in the quoted price that he had previously signed and authorized. We would also make sure that he was aware that it is a recommendation by the vehicle manufacturer.

"I would offer to split the difference with Bill on the cost of the brake fluid flush. If this still was not acceptable to him, I would tell him that as a goodwill gesture, we would not charge him at all for the brake fluid flush. Hopefully, we would keep Bill as a customer.

"Customer satisfaction is key in keeping our business growing. Referrals from a satisfied customer are the biggest compliments that can be made."

How T.J. Reilly, AAM, handled the situation:

"This incident happened 25 years ago when I was managing another repair shop. I was quite arrogant back then and would have normally thrown the customer out and asked him to never return. For some unknown reason, I acted differently that day.

"When Bill returned that evening to pick up his car after the repairs, I went over the repair order line by line. When he objected to the brake flush, I told Bill that I should have explained what was included in the 30,000-mile service when I first quoted the price so that he would have known what he was getting. I then apologized for the misunderstanding and removed the charges for the brake flush.

"In so doing, I gained a customer for life! He has spent thousands of dollars with me.

"Bill was in my shop just last week spending his money. He's been a great customer for the past 25 years and has sent me many customers over the years.

"I still believe Bill was wrong and that he should have paid for all of the service work that day. I also believe I was correct in removing the charges. I've learned over the years that right or wrong isn't as important as good business.

T.J. Reilly T.J. Reilly, AAM – the author of this feature – is the owner of Same Day Auto Service, an ASA member-business in Clackamas, Ore. His e-mail address is


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