'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 following story comes from Murrieta Auto Repair in Murrieta, Calif.
“We had a first-time customer come in with a 2001 Chevy Tahoe. The Tahoe’s air conditioning was not working, so we quoted the customer a price to recharge the system. After recharging the system, we found the compressor was seized. We then quoted the customer a price for a couple of different compressors. The customer chose the compressor that came with the best warranty.
“After the customer approved the repair, we removed the compressor and found there were fine metal shavings inside the A/C lines. We then called the customer and explained that every component in the system really should be replaced, since flushing the A/C system would probably not remove every contaminant, especially considering that the customer had rear A/C. We then explained that if the customer chose to have us flush the system instead of replacing the entire system, there would not be any warranty on the compressor.
“Because of the age of the vehicle and the cost associated with replacing the entire system, the customer chose to have us flush the system and install the replacement compressor.
“One month later, the compressor failed due to contamination that was still in the system. The customer is claiming we didn’t tell him there wouldn’t be any warranty, even though we clearly stated it on his invoice.
“What would you do?”
• Amanda Clements Mooney, vice president, C&C Automotive, Augusta, Ga. – “If contamination of the A/C system is suspected due to compressor failure, we will normally remove the system’s orifice tube, if present, to inspect it for contamination prior to giving the customer an estimate. If debris is found in the orifice tube, we will not install the compressor without replacement of the accumulator, orifice tube and condenser as well as flushing of the evaporator lines.
“We normally do not recommend replacement of the evaporator because the receiver dryer and orifice tube usually filter the refrigerant enough to spare the evaporator. However, the condenser does need to be replaced because its cross-flow design prevents it from being flushed.
“If, for some reason, our normal procedure was not followed and we were faced with this decision, we would replace the compressor, receiver dryer, orifice tube and condenser at no charge. I would then call a shop meeting immediately to discuss our operating procedures for A/C system diagnostics and how the same situation could be prevented in the future!”
• Bruce J. Howes, owner, Atlantic Motorcar Center, Wiscasset, Maine – “I always try to approach these things from the customer’s standpoint. To begin with, you have a first-time customer, so the trust level has not already been established, and it is necessary to proceed very carefully to build that trust.
“Our workshop has a protocol with new customers – what we lightly call ‘show and tell’– in which we encourage new customers to stay for the initial checkout, and then invite them into the workshop to review the service needs of the auto. The customer then gets to interact directly with the service adviser and technician working on their vehicle, and often the customer can see, touch, hear and smell the problem.
“The more senses they can use to interact with the problem, the more real it becomes. In addition, they are now hearing the same information from two different people, and they now feel they have become a partner in the repair process.
“Establishing a high level of trust is crucial to successfully presenting service needs, as well as dealing with thorny issues that may occur later.
“As far as the repair, and the unfortunate outcome, I would agree with the repair strategy, and it’s great that the shop with the problem noted the possible problems on the invoice; hopefully, they had the customer sign to acknowledge. As far as legal liability, I’d say that you are in the right, and really don’t owe the customer anything. You informed him of his options; he made the decision; and he is responsible for the outcome.
“With that said, here’s where the trust thing works the other way, if you’ve done the “show and tell” well, you’ve likely gathered enough information to determine if this person has the potential to become a good customer. For example, does he have additional cars you might service in the future?
“What I often do at this point is review the situation with the customer, mentioning the disclaimer, then ask the customer what they think is fair. Often – times, you might be surprised, the customer will want less than you might be inclined to give.
“Perhaps taking care of a few hours of labor on replacement of the A/C will do the trick, or maybe a future credit. I always try to have the customer leave with a positive experience, viewing such goodwill as an investment or ‘marketing expense.’
“Another suggestion, if you are a AAA service facility, is to get your AAA rep involved to mediate the situation. Oftentimes, a call from a neutral party will go a long way toward bringing your customer around.”
• What Murrieta Auto Repair did – “The owner, Chris Christianson, went the extra mile and replaced the compressor. The customer chose once again to not replace the entire system and was given no further warranty. Chris is now looking into a phone recording system.”
• What T.J. would have done – “I tend to believe that customer probably thought there would be no warranty for the A/C system to continue working, but that the compressor would still be under warranty.
“In addition, I’ve learned that every customer is connected with several other customers, so if you don’t go the extra mile you will lose many more customers.
“I would have flushed the system one more time and replaced the compressor free of charge with the renewed understanding that if the customer chose not to replace the entire system, that the compressor and everything else in the A/C would have no further warranty.
“I’ve had similar situations, which is why I now record every customer conversation. On a similar situation I actually invited the customer into my office to listen to the recorded conversation, and then asked him to tell me what we should have said or done differently. After listening to the conversation, the customer admitted that we did explain it properly, but that he just didn’t remember it that way. Problem solved!”
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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