Customer was quoted a price for three jobs, but afterward claimed she had only authorized one of them…

… What would you do?

The following story came from an ASA member with multiple stores.

A customer dropped off her late-model Volkswagen Bug, claiming it needed a heater core. On inspection, it was determined that it did need one. The technician also found coolant leaking under the timing belt cover.

The service adviser gave a quote to the lady for the heater core and a timing belt/water pump job. When the customer picked up the vehicle, the customer said she did not authorize the timing belt/water pump and didn’t want to pay the additional $750 it cost.

The adviser had made notes on the computer with the exact time the customer authorized the repairs.

What would you do?


Mike Harlan, owner, Harlan Automotive, Murray, Ky.: “It’s important to always put the needs of the customer first. Therefore, our primary goal would be to communicate to the customer that her needs are more important than ours. After reassuring the customer that her needs are our main priority, we would begin the process of explaining how we make repairs based on customer approvals only.

“We would reprint all notes, documents and estimates and review them with her. To make the customer feel valued, we would make sure to get her side of the story. We would want to know how she viewed our approval process and what mistakes she believed we had made. From there, we would begin explaining the systematic process of how we handle our repairs, which includes the diagnostics from the technician, the phone call to the customer for approval and the exact time when the parts were ordered.

“Hopefully, this conversation would help us determine where and when the miscommunication occurred. However, if this fails to resolve the problem, we would seek to find a fair agreement that met the needs of both parties such as offering a discount, or seeking outside financing or even removing the part from the customer’s vehicle. Ultimately, our company would be prepared to take a loss because, in the end, we take care of people and the cars they drive.”


Seth Scott, co-owner, K&S Automotive, Elgin, Ill.: “When presenting a customer with an estimate via telephone, accurate communication and documentation is a must. I would review and show the customer our records confirming the phone call in which she authorized repairs at the stated amount. The customer would be required to pay the invoice in full before the vehicle would be released.

“As we all know, written consent is the best practice. Face to face is not always possible or practical. In the current age, this may be done through fax, email or text message. Informing customers that phone calls for repair authorization may be recorded for training, quality control and accuracy is also an option.”

What the shop owner did:

Fortunately for the shop owner, he had installed a voice recording system. After listening to the recording, it was determined that the service adviser told the customer that he would call her after they had the timing cover off and were able to verify the water pump leaking. The service adviser had, in fact, quoted the price, but he forgot to call the customer for final authorization.

When the shop owner told the customer what had happened, the customer was extremely gracious and just asked to be given the parts at cost.

What would T.J. do?

I’m probably going to side with the customer, unless I can prove with 100 percent certainty that the customer is wrong. Unfortunately, with social media and online reviews being right can cost you thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

The worst thing you can say to someone is, “You’re wrong.” Not only does it destroy interpersonal relationships, you will lose a customer. It’s also disrespectful and rude. If you think you’re right, it’s much better to say, “You might be right, but that’s not what I remember.” If you think about it long enough, you will remember times when your memory has failed you. We’re only human.

A few years ago, I encountered a similar situation in my store. An older gentleman claimed that he didn’t authorize several hundred dollars in repairs. My adviser documented the exact time that he spoke with the customer over the phone and the amount authorized.

Fortunately, I had installed an automatic phone recording system. I asked the customer to meet me in my office so we could settle the situation. Before I played the recording I asked the customer to tell me what my service adviser should have done differently.

After listening to the recording, my customer shook his head in disbelief. He had clearly authorized the repairs and the estimate. His reply was, “I’m sorry. I don’t remember authorizing the repairs, but I obviously did.” I treated this customer with respect during the entire process even though he was wrong.