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  Management Feature

'What Would You Do?'

Posted 05/01/2012
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?

The following incident comes from Dan Guy at Yorba Linda Auto Service in Placentia, Calif.

Guy said, “We had a 1990 Toyota 4Runner come in, with 204,000 miles on it, that was losing coolant from the radiator. After pressure testing the system, we found that the head gaskets were blown and we recommended a teardown and inspection. The customer declined.

“When the customer came to pick up the 4Runner, it wouldn’t start. My adviser and technician then determined that coolant had gotten into the cylinders, preventing it from starting.

“The customer said, ‘It wasn’t like that before,’ to which my adviser replied: ‘We told you a couple weeks ago that you needed to have this problem checked out. It doesn’t get better with age; that’s why we recommended a teardown and inspection of the cylinder heads.’

“The customer left, and the next day had the 4Runner towed to another repair facility to get it repaired.

“After the repair, the customer wrote a lengthy and negative review to AAA about his experience.

“I then contacted the customer and offered an in-store credit of $221 for the inspection and tow to another shop. The customer requested we do some under-the-dash electrical work instead of giving him the $221 credit. Since the electrical work could cost anywhere from $100 to $900, I stood firm on my $221 offer. The customer then accused me of ‘bait and switch.’

“What would you do?”

• John Francis Jr., AAM, manager, Francis Automotive Services, West Chester, Pa. – “My first concern is that the customer does not want repair and you have to charge to check out the problem. The problem with the head gaskets is a common one. It was a recall a long time ago.

“If I had this car and the customer came in to get it and it would not start, I would do all I could to get it started. I think if you pulled and cleaned the plugs, it would most likely start. And the problem would be solved. If you cannot get it started, I would – as a sign of good faith – have it towed by your company and send him on his way, charging him nothing. That way, he cannot say anything bad.”

• Steve Geiling, AAM, owner, Geiling Service Inc., Metairie, La. – “Nowhere in this scenario was it stated what actually repaired the vehicle. The first thing would be to find out what the repairs were and if our preliminary diagnosis was correct, then I wouldn’t feel any obligation to offer the customer any refund of the inspection and tow. If it turned out that it was something else and we were wrong in our diagnosis, then I would offer a refund of the inspection. No one likes to receive a bad review, but if you respond to it promptly and make an effort to resolve the problem, even though it may not work out with this customer, other potential customers will see that at least you made an effort.”

• What Dan Guy did – He turned over all the information to AAA and is letting that organization handle it.

• T.J. Reilly’s thoughts on the matter – You can’t fix an upset customer’s problem, until you first fix his or her emotions. I think every service adviser should be required to memorize this statement!

It is obvious that the customer was insulted and felt disrespected by the adviser’s statement. What the customer needed to hear was, “I am so very sorry your car is doing this! Yes, of course you’re right, it wasn’t this way before. Can I give you a ride home? We can certainly start the repairs tomorrow if you’d like.”

If the customer continues to accuse, buy yourself some time by letting the customer know you will have the owner look at it in the morning. Never, never get defensive with a customer!

When the customer asked for the electrical problem to be repaired, the customer was really asking for his or her emotions to be fixed. The customer needed to feel in control and validated as being important. When an employee of mine offends a customer, I will do almost anything to make them happy.

Additional training on how to handle angry customers would certainly be appropriate for this service adviser. Margie Seyfer, an AMI-approved instructor, has a great course on just this subject! Check it out at

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

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




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