'What Would You Do?'
Every shop owner runs into 'situations.'
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?
The shop owner who told us about the following dilemma asked that his name not be used. But the problem is interesting, and we wonder how you would have handled it.
A regular customer had her 1994 Toyota Camry towed in because it had no brakes. The left front brake hose had burst. Because the vehicle had more than 200,000 miles on it, the shop recommended doing both front brake hoses.
The very next day the customer called and said her son was driving the car when the brakes seized up again. She said her son was going to be late to work.
The service adviser told the customer that the information he received from her yesterday was that the brakes went out and were smoking, not seized, and that a brake hose had burst, which is a different problem, and that she would need to bring the car back in. She hung up on him, then called back and asked for the owner.
She told the shop owner that the service adviser had been “flippant” toward her regarding her vehicle’s brake problem. When the owner reviewed the recorded phone conversation, it was evident that the adviser had not been disrespectful or flippant, he just hadn’t shown any empathy for the vehicle breaking down again. He also didn’t offer to have the vehicle towed or send the shuttle driver out to pick up her son.
After the vehicle was towed back in, it was determined that the brake master cylinder was intermittently not releasing, causing the brakes to overheat and fade. The master cylinder probably caused the old deteriorated brake hose to burst when the fluid got hot and pressurized.
So that is what the shop owner was facing! What would you do?
• Tad Lucas, general manager, Hubbard Woods Motors, Winnetka, Ill. – “Unfortunately in the service business, when dealing with machinery and humans, something is going to fail. We have all experienced situations like this in some way. When these sorts of issues occur, I try to look at where the system failed so we don’t make a similar mistake in the future. I also try to look at it from the customer’s point of view. Whether or not there was an error in handling the customer or the repair process makes no difference. The customer’s perception is the rule.
“This Toyota had 200,000 miles on it. There are two parts on that car, those that have failed and those that are going to fail. We cannot, as a business, replace every part on a vehicle because of this aged condition. We can spend a little more time advising our customer of the ramifications of having an older vehicle and the costs and risks associated with that (if they didn’t already know).
“In this instance, we would have reimbursed any cost the customer incurred with the tow. We would have installed the replacement master cylinder at no labor cost to the customer and asked them to pay for the replacement parts needed. We also would have diplomatically reminded the customer of the age of the components on their high-mileage vehicle.
“The master cylinder was likely compromised when the brake hose failed. If their paying for the part were met with any verbal or non-verbal dissatisfaction, we would have absorbed the cost of the part also. We would do this only to ensure our customer was not left with any ill feelings about what was already a difficult situation.
“Fortunately, no one was injured in a situation that could have been much worse. The cost associated with the retention of a customer could be accounted to advertising or a continuing education program, i.e., the ‘school of hard knocks.’ Even if no mistakes are made, remember: ‘the customer’s perception is the rule.’”
• Steve Geiling, AAM, owner, Geiling Service Inc., Metairie, La.; and member, ASA Mechanical Division Operations Committee – “First, I don’t think the vehicle was properly inspected in the beginning. Had the complete brake system been checked, evidence of the overheating caused by the seizing of the brakes may have been noticed and evaluated.
“Second, I don’t think the car was properly test-driven after replacing the hoses. I know sometimes we don’t have much time to test drive a vehicle for any longer than a few minutes, but seeing as the problem reoccurred so soon after the customer picked up the car, it may have happened on a more thorough test drive.
“At my shop, after any brake work we will raise the vehicle up to check for any possible overheating or binding in the wheels. To address the problem with the customer, I would have apologized and offered to tow the vehicle in at no charge. Upon finding the master cylinder, I would have asked the customer to pay for the part only and I would have covered the labor.”
• What the shop owner did – After apologizing for the car breaking down and for the way the customer had been treated, the shop owner sent his parts driver to pick up the son and arranged to have the vehicle towed to the shop at no charge to the customer. Because her conversation with the service adviser had not been handled properly, the shop owner also replaced the brake master cylinder free of charge to the customer.
• T.J. Reilly’s thoughts on the dilemma – “I’ve made the same mistake many times in the past that this service adviser made. It’s so easy to get into the fix-the-car mode. We forget that when a customer is upset, the very first thing that needs to be ‘fixed’ is the customer’s emotions. To remind myself and my employees, I developed the following company policy:
Under all warranty situations, real or conceived, employees are to:
“For additional help, Margie Seyfer offers an AMI-approved class called ‘Calming and Retaining Angry Customers.’ You can also read her article on this subject at www.autoinc.org/archives/2007/march2007/manage.htm.”
Would you like to participate in an upcoming “What Would You Do?” feature by saying how you would handle the problem? If so, just email your name and the name of your shop and its location to Levy Joffrion, assistant editor of AutoInc., at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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