'What Would You Do?'Posted 3/11/2010
By T.J. Reilly, AAM
Every shop owner runs into ‘situations.’
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. It comes from Lee Rector of Black Forest Werkshop, an ASA member-shop in Austin, Texas. How would you handle the situation? What would you do?
"We had a 1995 BMW 740 towed in with a failed water pump. The vehicle had severely overheated, so we recommended that our customer replace all the hoses and other cooling system components, based on the high past.
The female customer did not want to fix the car properly, so we politely suggested that she take it elsewhere because we didn't want the liability. At that point (this was on a Friday) we told her we could get the work done that same day if she would agree to let us fix it properly.
"Our female service adviser and my wife explained in great detail what we were going to do, why we were going to do it and how much it was going to cost. She was then given the estimate, which she approved. The finished job actually was completed for less than what we had quoted.
"On Tuesday, the customer returned with her boyfriend and complained that she was forced against her will to have the work performed.
"After filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general's office - both of which ruled in our favor - the customer filed against us in small claims court. The customer asked for $650 (the extra amount of work authorized beyond replacement of the water pump)."
Dilemma: What would you do?
Mitch Schneider, owner, Schneider's Automotive, Simi Valley, Calif. - "I live and work in a state that demands that no vehicle can be serviced without a signed and written repair order. That means we cannot work on a vehicle without written authorization and the estimate for the work to be performed must be exact. Exact equals exact: no 10 percent 'wiggle room' or 'fudge factor.'
"The lady with the BMW could not leave our shop without a signed and written repair order (legal and binding contract) itemizing all the repairs to be performed and their associated costs. If the vehicle was towed in without the owner being present to sign the estimate - we would have created a complete and accurate repair order and faxed or e-mailed it to her if we could, requesting a return fax or e-mail with the appropriate documentation (signatures). If that was not possible, we would have to call and then document the results of the call: when we called, who we talked to (must be the registered vehicle owner), the method of communication (cell, home phone, work numbers, email, fax), an itemization of what they authorized, and, the dollar amount associated with the repairs.
"The normal kinds of increases associated with additional repairs must also be documented on the repair order. Consequently, there is a paper trail to substantiate every detail of every transaction.
"It sounds like a monumental pain, but it virtually eliminates the kind of 'he said/she said' confrontations you are likely to encounter.
"If you have to go to small claims court, go with every scrap of documentation you have. And, bring anyone involved in the original transaction who can be sworn in and testify on your behalf."
How Rector handled the situation: "I ended up going to small claims court. I even took copies of the verdicts from the Better Business Bureau and attorney general's office stating that no wrongdoing had been detected, so I felt confident the judge would rule in my favor. Unfortunately, the judge ruled that I owed the lady $650 plus court costs."
How Reilly would have handled it: "I believe that in business the customer is your boss.
"I know a lot of shops might disagree with me on this issue, but refusing to repair a car because the customer doesn't want everything fixed, is like telling your boss you won't work today unless you can do it your way.
"The only time we will refuse to repair a car is when there is a potential safety issue to the customer and/or other vehicles.
"As auto shop owners, we always have the option to reduce or remove our warranty. If the customer wants a used part, cheaper part or just to have the car patched up, we can always reduce or remove the warranty.
"The most important thing is to communicate, communicate, communicate and then document. Sometimes we will even have the customer sign a disclaimer before we work on the vehicle if we feel strongly enough about the issue.
"Because it was Friday and the customer wanted her vehicle back, she probably did feel undue pressure when the shop said they wouldn't fix the car without doing 'everything.'
"The customer was obviously swayed by her boyfriend (her 'knight in shining armor') to believe she was 'cheated,' which ultimately made for the biggest problem. Had both the woman and her boyfriend been a part of the initial negotiations, I doubt there would have been issues after the repairs."
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