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  Management Feature

'What Would You Do?'

Posted 3/9/2011
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?

'What Would You Do?'This is a situation that happened to a nearby shop several years ago. A customer had a Nissan that was only running on three cylinders and burning lots of oil. The customer had located a used 30,000-mile Japanese replacement engine (imported from Japan) and requested that the shop install it. Because the customer relied heavily on the car for daily transportation he requested that it be installed as quickly as possible.

The customer dropped off the car on Monday and signed the written estimate for the installation. The engine was being delivered on Tuesday, so the shop removed the engine from the car on Monday. On Tuesday, the engine arrived and the shop discovered that it would not fit that application. The shop then called the Japanese engine supplier and discovered that there was not any other option available except to purchase a local used engine (with a lot more miles).

Neither the shop nor the customer was able to find a low-mileage engine, so the customer declined the repairs and demanded that the shop reinstall the engine at the shop's expense, so that he could drive it home. The customer was unwilling to pay anything for time the shop spent removing or reinstalling the engine.

What would you do?

How the shop owner handled the situation: The shop owner tried to sell a different engine to the customer, but because the engine had a lot more miles on it the customer refused. The shop owner then tried to negotiate a reduced price to reinstall the original engine. Because the customer would not agree to a compromise and the customer was also an attorney, the shop owner decided to cut his losses and reinstall the engine at no cost to the customer.

John Stern
John Stern

John Stern, owner, Sparks Computerized Car Care, Omaha, Neb. - "To start with, the shop performing the work placed itself in a bad position. A restaurant would never let you bring your own steak, so why would a shop allow a customer to provide his own parts? If my shop were to install a customer-supplied part, we would clearly spell out in writing and in careful discussion with the customer, language to cover this scenario. But being as the shop didn't do this, I see this as a no-win situation.

"This is probably not the quality type of customer a good shop is looking for, but sending any customer away with a bad feeling may do the shop extensive harm in public relations. If I were unable to negotiate a suitable arrangement with the customer or talk him into a rebuilt engine, I would probably eat the job and chalk this up to one of life's lessons learned, placing procedures in my shop so this type of situation would never happen again."

Donny Seyfer, AAM
Donny Seyfer, AAM

Donny Seyfer, AAM, co-owner, Seyfer Automotive Inc., Wheat Ridge, Colo. - "First, I love the situations that T.J. comes up with.

"We do quite a few custom engines so we are pretty familiar with customers wanting to supply their own parts. By doing so, this gentleman should also be willing to assume the risk we assume every time we work on a car. He should have been informed that if the engine is removed and the new one is wrong, any work necessary to resolve his problem would be his responsibility. Colorado law is written that way as long as estimated reassembly costs are provided at the time of estimate.

"This problem never had to happen. It would be good customer service to not accept this kind of situation to begin with.

"The more you change your standard procedures developed from years of hard knocks to accommodate a customer who clearly can't afford your services, the higher your risk becomes. All the rest of your customers, who pay for their repairs and adhere to the policies you have created to protect the commerce you do with one another, are not well served when you take on work that will tie up your resources and lose money for you. These people and your employees need to be your focus, not the person who offers to bring you work in exchange for more than your profit margin."

How T.J. Reilly, AAM, would handle it: "It's always easier to come up with the right answer after the fact. The truth is, I probably would have done the exact same thing as the shop owner who encountered this situation.

"However, the shop should have refused to do any work on the vehicle until the engine had arrived and they had a chance to verify that it would work.

"One of my current shop policies is based on this very situation. My technicians are required to verify that they not only have the parts, but also that they have the correct parts, before they begin working on a vehicle. If they choose to disassemble a vehicle before having the correct part, and the vehicle has to be put back together for any reason, then they don't get paid for their time.

"This has solved many problems over the years. Today my technicians very seldom, if ever, disassemble a vehicle unless they have the correct parts.

"One option often overlooked in these situations is to offer to purchase the vehicle from the customer. The shop might have been able to purchase the vehicle, install an engine, then resell the car at a profit."

T.J. Reilly, AAM

T.J. Reilly, AAM, is the owner of Same Day Auto Service, an ASA-member business in Clackamas, Ore. His e-mail address is TJ@SameDayAutoService.com.

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