Customer requests a refund after paying a diagnostics fee and later claims the shop should have known what the problem was…

… What would you do?

An electrical specialty shop sends in the following situation:

I had a regular customer call requesting us to fix an electrical problem with their motor home. The complaint was that the house batteries would not charge when the motor home was plugged into a 110-volt socket or when the generator was on. It would only charge when the engine was running.

I explained that we could definitely trace the problem. My technician spent three hours diagnosing the wiring and relays. It was a pretty involved process because we had to remove a lot of panels to access wiring, etc.

I called the customer and explained that it needed the 110-volt converter replaced, and we would have to order it. The customer came in and paid the $375 diagnosis charge and left. The following week I received a letter from him requesting a $300 refund.

The customer stated that he had called a local RV dealer and asked for an estimate to fix the problem. The RV dealer supposedly told my customer that they should just replace the $150 converter because that’s usually what’s wrong, but if the customer wanted it diagnosed, it would cost, say, $75. He went on to state that a simple Google search came up with the same diagnosis and that we should have tested the converter first because we were the “experts.”

What would you do?

Pete Rudloff
Pete’s Garage Inc.
Newark, Del.

Pete Rudloff
Pete’s Garage Inc.
Newark, Del.

Call the vehicle owner and explain that a check for $375, plus a gift certificate to a local restaurant, is in the mail. Meeting their expectations is not enough. Write off the cost as training, and pay for it from the shop’s annual training budget. In this case, the shop’s technician lacked the training to diagnose the issue efficiently.

The phone call would sound sort of like this:

“You’ve been a great customer for a long time, and we pride ourselves on good service. I’m embarrassed by how we handled this, and I really appreciate you giving me a chance to make it right. Good people like you are why I’m in business and why I’ve been around so long. Will you accept a full refund and a steak dinner for you and your significant other as an apology, from me?”

I do not agree with shot-gunning the converter, not over-testing. The RV shop is correct that the first shop employed unnecessary steps. The 110-volt converters are not complicated devices to diagnose. There are two checks to get to a solution of a faulty converter: check AC power into the converter and check to see if it is outputting DC voltage.

All those are easily accomplished within an hour in most any scenario. Pulling additional panels or chasing wiring is not a sound approach, unless testing at the converter has proved it’s either not receiving AC power or was outputting DC voltage. At this point, a shop can sell additional time for disassembly (separate from testing).

That they only asked for a refund for the excess testing time, not the full amount, should have been a strong indication they are reasonable people. Exceeding their request shows genuine intent and integrity, and because they are reasonable people, it is probable they will recognize the intent.

I’ve handled similar situations, and almost always the result created customers who became long-term clients and strong advocates for my shop’s honesty and integrity.

Pam Oakes
Car Care for
the Clueless
Fort Myers, Fla.

Pam Oakes
Car Care for
the Clueless
Fort Myers, Fla.

I’m sure that most of you reading this gave a nod toward the power converter. But guessing and professional diagnosis are two different things, and what separates the weekend mechanic from the professional, ASE Automotive technician: proficiency.

The consumer: When anyone is out of their comfort zone, we reach for reassurance and support. And, what’s in our hand? A smartphone, conveniently equipped with Google. We want facts, and we want them fast. The internet has hundreds-of-millions of automotive entries, so something will match up the same symptoms our car has, good or bad.

On the flipside, co-workers, friends or, my favorite, “over-the-phone diagnostics” will crop up. Some shops try to make themselves the hero, telling customers they would have diagnosed it quicker or replaced the part cheaper.

I have just one word for this shop owner: document. You take off a panel, write it down and say why. Write down electrical values at connection points. If you have to clean corrosion off a connector, note it. This shows the customer how precise and meticulous your technicians are and indicates the value the vehicle owner receives for the money they spend.
If something happens later to the vehicle, you can prove past procedures, diagnosis and repair and create a cooperative customer.

Tim Davison, AAM, Chumbley’s
Auto Care
Indianola, Iowa

Tim Davison, AAM, Chumbley’s
Auto Care
Indianola, Iowa

This comes down to the value of a repeat customer vs. the shop’s loss of revenue for unbilled (refunded) time. What is worth more? I was always advised it costs roughly $100 (and this figure is 10 years old) to acquire a new customer. Retaining your existing customer base is the most affordable.

I think we would all agree positive vs. negative reviews hold some serious value, as well. So the question is: Is this customer worth salvaging?

What has not been disclosed is, how informed the RV owner was kept along the diagnostic journey? Was a dollar amount discussed at the drop-off or appointment time? We can refer back to the ASA Code of Ethics, which reads:

“To offer the customer a price estimate for work to be performed.”

If this was done, and the RV owner agreed, then he does not have a strong case. After all, he took it to an electrical diagnostic shop to begin with, not an RV parts-changer shop. On the other hand, if an estimate was not agreed on, then I side with the customer.

Keep him happy and cheerfully refund his money. Chalk up the loss as an advertising expense. Then, implement some new policies in the shop.

What the shop did

The shop refused to give the customer a refund because his technician did the work that the customer contracted for.

T.J.’s thoughts

My first thought is to wonder if the customer actually signed off on an open estimate? Did the shop call the customer after the first hour of testing?

I seriously doubt if the customer would be asking for a refund if the shop had called and asked for additional money for more testing. The fact that this charging problem easily comes up on Google (I checked), tells me that the technician was not experienced with motor home diagnostics. If the shop wasn’t experienced with motor homes, it probably shouldn’t have taken on the job.

I believe that this customer basically paid for “employee training” and that the shop should refund the requested $300. A customer should never have to pay for on-the-job training. I have personally discounted many repair orders over the years for this exact same reason.

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