When a customer requests a refund for her inconvenience after the shop replaces a damaged gas tank … … What would you do?

The following scenario was sent in by Andy Daniels of Frank’s Automotive in Tulare, Calif.

“A first-time customer had her 2008 Hyundai Sonata V6 towed in for a no-start condition. We ran several tests and determined that the fuel pump needed to be replaced.

“After 125 miles, the vehicle was towed back to our shop, and we determined that the new fuel pump we installed had failed. We replaced it with another new pump. One week later, the customer returned with a check engine light on. We tested it for free and found an EVAP code, so we suggested that she replace the gas cap before we got more involved with testing fees.

“The following week, we got a call from the customer stating that she took her car to another shop and that they found we had damaged the gas tank while installing the fuel pump. She told us the reason she took it elsewhere was that she had lost trust in us. We agreed to pay to have a used gas tank installed, but then the customer wanted a $200 cash refund for her trouble.”

What would you do?

Tom & Mary Steele
United Auto Parts & Service Inc., Feasterville-Trevose, Pa.

We need to start by saying this shop owner boxed himself into a corner on multiple fronts. We also need to add that in the 10 years we’ve owned our shop, we cannot remember ever refunding money to a customer just for their trouble.

The bottom line is that she was a new customer who only the shop owner or the service writer had the opportunity to interact with and build a relationship with. From T.J.’s description, she doesn’t seem like she’s unreasonable or just looking for something for nothing.

We think there was a breakdown in the shop’s standard operating procedure. When the car returned with the check engine light on, the shop owner had the opportunity to fix both it and the relationship. He chose instead to dodge the bullet with a let’s-try-a-gas-cap approach.

We wouldn’t give her the $200 in cash. We would, however, offer her a credit toward future services. At the end of the day, the shop didn’t make a dime. Unless the relationship and trust can be repaired, he has no way to make her a repeat customer. If he can’t repair the broken trust, he has lost her as a customer forever.

We think training the front counter people and technicians would go a long way in this scenario. After all, she did come back twice and give the shop the opportunity to make it right. The shop let her down.

Sherri Stock
InMotion Auto Care Inc., Lincoln, Neb.

With the exception of offering the customer a no-charge loaner vehicle, through the second visit, we would have handled this situation very similarly. By the third visit – and having only a few hundred miles driven – I would’ve offered to diagnose the EVAP code at no charge and more than likely paid for the gas cap as part of the diagnostic process. The customer would again be offered a loaner.

It’s not clear what level technician was doing the repair. But in several similar situations, we’ve had a more-experienced diagnostic tech review the repair history, the previous repair work and the current diagnostic trail.

At this point, the damaged tank might’ve been found. If the customer declined the offer to have us diagnose the check engine light and left with her vehicle, she would’ve received a text message within two days asking how the visit went. At this point, we’d be initiating contact rather than having the customer call in.

In the event that it did end up at another shop, I would’ve also agreed to reimburse her for the fuel tank repair – after speaking with the shop to find out what happened.

I believe in doing whatever it takes to repair a vehicle or a relationship with the customer when we’ve made an error. However, I draw the line at paying a “pain and suffering” charge when we’re honestly trying our best to correct the situation.

What the shop owner did

Andy Daniels contacted the customer and asked why she felt that he should pay her the $200. The customer explained about her inconvenience caused by his shop not installing the fuel pump correctly.

Andy then explained to the customer that the technician who worked on her vehicle had been fired because he didn’t meet the company’s quality standards. He also apologized for the situation and offered her a $250 in-store credit. The customer said that she was sad the technician had lost his job, but she accepted the in-store credit.

T.J.’s thoughts

I think the customer had a responsibility to take the vehicle back to the shop that had installed the fuel pump. I don’t know of any other store that would reimburse the customer for a warranty claim that she had taken somewhere else, when she could have brought it back to the original seller.

That being said, I believe your reputation definitely has a price on it. I’ve said this before, I believe that you have to look beyond what is right or wrong and do what’s best for your business. This is a business decision, not a personal decision. I would write the customer a check.

The shop owner found a way to engage the emotions of the customer so that the customer could see beyond her own situation. This enabled her to regain trust in the shop. The in-store credit for more than the requested cash amount showed her that the shop owner really cared and gave her a reason to continue to do business with the shop. This was definitely a win-win situation.