What Would You Do? – November 2013

Every shop owner runs into ‘situations.’

How they handle them is important … do you agree with these fellow ASA members?

The following scenario came from a customer who asked not to be named: “An existing customer had his vehicle towed in for a no-start condition. My adviser quoted him a certain amount to diagnose the problem. After we had finished with the diagnosis, my adviser called the customer and told him the starter needed to be replaced and that it would be about $295.

“When the customer picked up the car, he didn’t want to pay for the diagnostics because, he said, my adviser told him it was only going to cost $295. My adviser says that because he had already quoted the customer ‘X’ amount for the diagnosis when he had the car towed in, he assumed the customer realized the starter was one price and the diagnostics was another price.

“I tried explaining that to the customer, but the customer still doesn’t want to pay anything more than the $295.”

What would you do?


Joshua A. “Josh” Ingram, AAM, Colchin Automotive & Diesel Inc., Arvada, Colo. – “Communication is and always will be the key to these types of situations. When our service team is in the ‘heat of the battle’ with the customer present, we would comp the diagnostic costs.
“First and foremost, take care of the customer, making certain their repair experience is a good one. The cost to acquire a new customer is much higher than the lost revenue from the diagnostic sales.

“After the customer has left, this is a great time to get your service team together and have a discussion on the importance of crystal-clear communications with the customer. Professional service advisers provide an experience for every customer; it is up to us to make it a positive experience for our most valued asset – our customer.”


Steve Louden, AAM, Louden Motorcar Services Inc., Dallas – “Customers normally only remember what they want to. We call it ‘selective memory.’ Not being part of the conversation makes it difficult to second-guess what was actually said. The customer normally only remembers the last number quoted.

“When the service adviser called back and quoted $295 to replace the starter, he or she should have also said: ‘The total cost will be $295 plus the diagnostic charge of $xyz.

“Take this as an educational situation, charge $295, keep the customer and go down the road.”


How T.J. Reilly would handle the situation – First of all, I have a real problem with the word “diagnostics.” A diagnosis involves a thought process and most customers don’t want to pay for your “thought process.” A better word that will show a lot more value is “testing.” Most customers realize that testing takes time, whereas a “diagnosis” is a simple thought process. It’s a lot easier to charge for each test you perform than it is to present your customer with a huge “diagnostic” charge.

That being said, it’s important to always quote the final price or total price for all repairs and testing. If the adviser had said, “To replace the starter, including the testing, it will cost ‘X’ amount,” there would not have been any argument. If there are multiple repairs being performed, then the final quote should always include the price of all repairs combined.

In this instance, it’s better to waive the “testing” fees and learn from your mistake. If you force the issue, you will end up losing the customer, and that will cost you a lot more in the long run.

T.J. Reilly: Our Ethics Guru


Do you know T.J.Reilly, AAM, the man behind one of AutoInc.’s most popular departments: “What Would You Do?”

T.J., owner of Same Day Auto Service, an ASA member-shop in Clackamas, Ore., has been leading the charge when it comes to tough ethical situations that shops confront daily. Since 2007 – when the feature was first introduced to AutoInc. readers – T.J. has been coming up with situation after situation and asking readers, “What Would You Do?”


Following are some questions and answers that will help you get to know T.J. better:

AutoInc.: How did the idea for “What Would You Do?” originate and evolve?

T.J.: Several years ago, when my wife was taking a quilting class in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I decided to visit ASA’s national headquarters, which is based there. I toured the office, and during the tour, met the magazine’s staffers. They asked me if I had any ideas for AutoInc. At first I said, “No.” But then, I told them my idea for “What Would You Do?” Later, they asked me to write the column, and I obliged.


They tell me now that readership surveys indicate it has become the best-liked feature in the magazine.

AutoInc.: Josh Ingram, one of the participants in this month’s article, recently said about the column: “This is what I truly appreciate about AutoInc. – real-world situations that everybody in this industry faces.” Do you think the column is popular because of what Josh calls “real-world situations?”

T.J.: Yes, I do. We’ve all taken management classes that teach us how to better our business, but this column is “real world” with “real people and real customers.”

I think it’s easier to learn from real situations. My goal
for this column is to help shop owners improve their business and reduce their stress levels.

AutoInc.: How do you come up with your ethical dilemmas?

T.J.: Some of them are from my business and others are from my friends in the automotive industry. We’ve even published a few from some of our readers. I look for situations that most of us can relate to, and that all of us can learn from.

AutoInc.: As a shop owner, how have you benefited from your “WWYD?” experiences?

T.J.: I enjoy hearing what other shops have to say about the situation. I am always impressed by the wisdom shared. Most readers are probably not aware that I don’t get to read the other responses until after the article has been published (neither do the other participants). Also, the respondents’ thoughts are their own. Their responses are not “doctored.” I think this gives the column an added bit of transparency.
– Photos courtesy of Caitlin Hooper