Ever fire a customer? You shouldn’t lose good ones because of bad ones…

Becky Witt

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

The end of the day is closing in and it’s apparent not everything will get done.

So, who do you call to get a car held over? Do you call Louie, the holy terror of the customer world, who will make your life miserable if his car doesn’t get done? Or, do you call Susie, who never complains about anything, is a great customer and will understand?

Sadly, the wrong one gets called. Do this enough and you very quietly lose Susie, who doesn’t want a confrontation. She just wants to be treated well. She will soon find a shop that will.

You just got rid of the wrong customer.

Every shop gets their fair share of customers who complain about everything, insist your price is too high and leave poor reviews. Eventually, these people are making a scene at your front counter when a good (or potentially good) customer comes into the office.

First lesson: They are NOT a customer

Here’s the first lesson. I called them a customer. They are NOT a customer. They are a consumer with a broken car. A customer seeks to have a great relationship with you, treats you well and pays the bill. Customers want you to be there for them next time. A consumer with a broken car does none of these things.

One very critical step in this analysis is to carefully evaluate the consumer’s concerns and consider how they were treated.

Is there an issue with your shop’s process?

Do you have people on the front counter who are grumpy or fall short in their people skills?

The problem may be yours.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you get a lot of very favorable reviews, you’re attracting referral customers and life is good.


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Until it’s not, when a consumer shows up.

Those nasty people, who brighten an entire room when they leave, need to be addressed. These people are getting rid of your customers. And the more of them you have, the greater the chances that they are getting rid of more customers than you want.

Your choices…

You can take them aside and address their behavior directly. Everyone has a bad day once in a while. Personally, my time of greatest risk is when I’m tired and hungry. If you have consumers who might be OK sometimes and not OK others, this strategy can work. It’s critically important to separate behavior from the person.

“Mrs. Jones, when you behave in a manner overly critical of our employees, it doesn’t make them want to work harder to please you. In fact, it makes them want to avoid you. I need your help to save our relationship. We are always courteous and businesslike when you come in. It’s only fair that you return the favor and do your best to act pleasant. Fair is fair. Thank you for your understanding.”

Those who ‘darken our doors’…

We have found that about 1 percent of those who “darken our door” act like jerks. For these people, too much is never enough and their actions should be sufficient to get them quarantined to a Home for the Terminally Unpleasant.

At our shop, we remove the address in the data base and add *****NO SERVICE**** in its place. This tells anyone and everyone in the shop that this person has crossed a line. If they ever call again, our instructions are to inform them that we aren’t able to help them. That they’ll have to talk to Becky.

I pull up their service history, so I’m fresh on what’s happened. One comes to mind. I recited the details of the most recent service visit and said, “We didn’t make you too happy that time.” He agreed and said that was true. The details of the next time he wasn’t happy brought more agreement and the third time was the charm.

I said, “We’re not making you happy. You need to find another shop that can, because we’re just not getting the job done. This is like marrying the same person for the third time. It’s not working. Thank you for your understanding.”

That’s the end.

My father’s lesson…

My Dad taught me a very important life lesson at an early age.

“If you believe in a person’s character, give them anything you’ve got. If you don’t believe in them, don’t give them a thing.”

Once you cross that line at our shop, it’s over forever. It’s about one in a thousand, but this is the best way to handle this situation. This is a complete morale boost for the employees and it helps maintain a great work atmosphere.

How to lose customers that don’t let you make any money

The next situation is the customer who only comes in for the cheap oil change and never buys anything else. Also included in this category are those who only come in for inspections or diagnostics, but get the work done elsewhere.

If these people are nice and pay the bill, then they aren’t the problem. You are the problem. You own or manage the place. You made the offer, all they did was to say yes.

Never ever should complex diagnostics be performed at giveaway prices. Set time restraints for the techs for different operations.

Naturally, there will be times that learning is done in the process of the work, but that shouldn’t be a frequent occurrence. For example, a check engine light includes certain steps and there’s no promise that will fix anything. It’s just a fixed set of steps in a process. That’s where it stops with a price.

It’s not advisable to dictate to a seasoned tech exactly what to do, but you get the idea.

The time you invest and the price you charge should enable these jobs to be done all day long at a nice profit. Cheap shops can’t compete, because they can’t do the work at all.

A little advice…

It’s time to eliminate cheap oil changes altogether. Graduate to the future of auto service by using premium synthetic oils rated for extended service intervals. At that point, you can perform a “scheduled maintenance, which includes an oil change.”

Don’t do “just an oil change.” Cars need more than that, and you shouldn’t have to see a vehicle more often than about 7,000 miles anyway. That’s when the tires should be rotated and the brakes inspected.

This is how you eliminate “consumers” who won’t let you make any money.

Doing this, while getting rid of the undesirable consumers means your staff now has more time to take care of your great customers.

Service is better, customers and employees are happier and everything is better, all because you got rid of the right customers… I mean consumers.

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