'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?
I have a customer who has three older vehicles. Because we accept competitor coupons, the customer always manages to find the cheapest oil change coupon for us to honor. The problem is that he never – and I mean never – purchases anything else from my shop, not even wiper refills.
In addition, this customer insists on standing in the shop so he can watch the work being done. He has stated in the past that he wants to make sure we are actually changing the oil like we say we would. The customer also questions the quality of our parts while the technician is servicing his vehicle.
Since we don’t really make a profit on oil changes (especially when we honor a coupon), I’m feeling extremely taken advantage of.
I am thinking about installing a sign in my office that says, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” so that the next time this customer comes in, I can refuse to service his vehicle.
What would you do?
• Gary Keyes, AAM; owner/manager, E & M Motors Inc., Stuart, Fla.; and ASA general director – “By advertising that you accept all competitors coupons, you have selected a business model that will always attract cheap customers, and worse yet, they will send all their cheap friends to you.
“This customer will never become a loyal customer, and will be the first to blame you when something goes wrong.
“I would suggest you quit advertising that you accept all coupons and deal with coupon clippers on a case-to-case basis; that way, you can decide what services you want to discount.
“The next time this customer comes in, explain to him politely that you can no longer accept coupons that are priced below cost, but would be happy to provide the same high-quality service on his vehicles for a fair price.”
• Jim O’Neill, AAM; owner, Chino Autotech Inc., Chino, Calif. – “We’ve all run into this customer. What character facet causes this distrustful and condescending behavior? Whatever it is, I certainly do not want that kind of customer in my shop on a regular basis. We are a AAA shop and are driven by AAA’s, as well as our own, high internal standards. We try to cultivate knowledgeable and appreciative customers in our marketing programs.
“However, in this economy, which frustrates the consumer who is trying to stretch a dollar, we sometimes have to bend our policies – but we do so only in situations where we think we can benefit by making loyal customers out of the sometimes miserly and skeptical.
“In this age of online reviews, we also have to think before we speak or act with someone like this! I’ve learned that lesson the hard way, trying to eradicate an undeserved bad review written by a consumer who merely requested pricing information and became angry when he perceived that we were actually going to make a profit on the repair. We had never even seen or touched his vehicle!
“As an automotive aftermarket sales and service professional, I consider these special customers a challenge, or at least a learning opportunity. We’ve turned a few around over the years, and some have moved on to the next shop without any unnecessary confrontation.
“My suggestion is a sign, such as we have in our service reception area, that states: ‘Our insurance policy forbids us to allow anyone except employees in our work area.’ Perhaps if he can’t watch and comment on the technician’s work, he will find someone else to torment. I think that in our business lives, as well as our personal lives, proactive is a better approach than reactive.”
• T.J. Reilly’s thoughts on the dilemma – It’s always frustrating when you have customers unfairly take advantage of you. We all know that doing inexpensive oil changes and nothing else all-day-long cannot possibly generate enough income to pay all of our shop expenses.
That being said, you just never know what kind a situation your customer might be in. There is almost always a “rest of the story” that you might not be aware of. In addition, most of your customers are connected to other customers who are connected to other customers and so on. Telling any customer to not come back can often translate into losing quite a few other customers.
My suggestion would be to change your coupon policy and stop honoring competitor coupons for oil changes. You could still honor coupons for other repairs that are profitable.
It would also be perfectly appropriate to change your shop policy to only allow customers to watch from outside the shop (you can always alter this policy for special circumstances).Treating every one of your customers with understanding and respect will always pay off in the long run.
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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