WWYD: Should customer receive free battery?

Owner has tough decision

A customer had her ’95 Nissan pickup towed in to our shop and said, “The truck sits a lot, and it won’t start. Just let me know what it needs.” We performed a charging system diagnosis and determined that the battery was dead and its positive clamp was broken.

After charging the battery for more than four hours and testing it again, the battery passed. The customer was called with the results and information from the inspection. She was glad to hear the battery was OK and that it was just a clamp. She approved the clamp repair along with some other needed repairs (valve cover and lube, oil and filter), which totaled $650.

The next day, when she was at a Wal-Mart, the battery did not turn over the engine. We sent a tech to the store, jumped the battery and followed her back to our shop. We then re-tested the battery and found it had a shorted cell and needed to be replaced.

The customer was mad and thought we should give her a free battery, even after the adviser offered her a battery at cost. We installed the battery, and just when the adviser started to swipe the credit card, the customer said, “I’m not happy with the service here, and I’m going to give you a bad review.”
What would you do?

Jason Malo
Advanced Automotive Performance
Uxbridge, Mass.

These situations are always tough. However, when properly handled, they can often turn an unhappy, frustrated customer into a long-term, loyal client – if you approach the situation as an opportunity to shine.

It sounds like there may be an issue with the testing equipment if the “shorted cell” didn’t show up during the original testing. That being said, hindsight is always 20/20, so you have to deal with the situation at hand: an upset customer who is threatening to write a bad review.

The first thing I would do is determine if the person is a customer your shop wants as a long-term client and if the vehicle is one your shop wants to work on. From the information given, this appears to be a new customer with an older vehicle. However, she was willing to spend $650 on the truck. That’s a fairly healthy ticket, especially for a first visit.

Plus, she approved additional repairs that were not related to the reason she brought in the truck. That shows she is willing, and financially able, to maintain and repair her vehicle. If there are no other negative details about the customer and/or the vehicle, it sounds as if she is a person that the shop might want as a long-term client.

Assuming that is the case, I would do whatever is necessary to turn her frustration into joy and use it as an opportunity to build a strong relationship with a new, loyal client.

Whenever I’m faced with a situation like this, I remind myself “The customer is always right.” This doesn’t mean that the customer is necessarily correct about the facts. What it means is that the customer is right in their mind and with their emotions.

So how do you successfully change their mind and their feelings and turn them from an unhappy, frustrated customer into a fan?

The first step involves understanding that arguing with them is going to fail miserably. Suck up your pride and set aside your ego. Then, genuinely apologize and assure them that you truly care and are going to resolve the issue in a way that meets their satisfaction. If you are genuine and honest during the first step, most people’s anger will subside quickly, and you can work together to find a resolution.
I usually ask the customer how they would like to see the situation resolved. Their solution is often less drastic than what you might imagine. But even if it’s not and they request something unrealistic, at least you know what they’re thinking.

In this situation, the customer stated that she would like a free battery. If I feel her temperament has improved after my apology and I feel confident that I can make her happy with a less-expensive solution, I might try to negotiate by appealing to her sense of fairness. But if I’m not confident that she’ll be 100 percent happy with an alternative solution, I’ll agree to give her a free battery and use it as a starting point to build a long-term relationship.

Obviously, the solution will cost the company $75-$150. But when you consider that it costs $200-$300 or more to attract a new customer, it’s a no-brainer to spend half of that to keep a customer who has shown a willingness to do business with you and is financially able to take care of her vehicle. Also, a bad review could do irreparable damage to the shop’s reputation and deter other prospects from giving you a shot.

We train and empower our service advisers to handle these situations so they can diffuse and resolve the issue quickly. They are allowed to use up to 1 percent of their weekly sales as a “service adviser discretionary fund” without needing to get management approval.

Once the situation has been handled successfully and the customer is a fan, I would review all of the processes that led up to the situation to determine if it was just bad luck or if there is something in our processes or equipment that needs to be fixed so a similar situation doesn’t happen again. Customer satisfaction is similar to automotive repair. If you do the proper maintenance on your processes, you can avoid unnecessary breakdowns and headaches.

Randolph Jordan Sr.
Auto Stop Limited Inc.
Baltimore, Md.

Nobody likes a comeback or a return job, or to confront the customer with “Well, let’s recheck the car and see what happened.” A lot of times, we look to sell other things that the car needs and overlook something that is minor. And this could cost you a customer.

Sometimes, we just don’t think because we’re caught up in the day – the customer could return at 4:45 p.m., when you’re trying to close for the day, or catch you in the morning when you’re trying to have your coffee. But you have to take time to listen and tell the customer if you made a mistake. You have to make the customer feel that you tried.

As to the situation with the battery, it should have been failed because of age. A lot of times, we just have to make a judgment call and look past the actual diagnosis. But in this case, the customer has threatened you with a bad review. Sot before you go on the defensive, just explain that you’ve been in business for X amount of years, you’ve got certifications, you take pride in what you do and you sell quality items. Don’t just give away your money or a product just because they ask for it.

While doing that, keep your composure so the customer doesn’t do something that would hurt your business. Make the customer feel good by telling her that there could have been a mistake and you want to own up to it by offering a credit. At the end of the day, you’re going to feel good that you didn’t just give the product away.

Let me tell you, social media can be worth more to your business, or it can put your business in the doghouse. That’s all customers look at now: “This business has 4 out of 5 stars.” They don’t look at anything else. They want satisfaction. And when a customer is told after a job is done that we stand behind your work 100 percent, they’re going to remember that.

I’ve had several situations over the years of customers claiming that they had a scratch on the bumper. I saw nothing that we did on the cameras, but I fixed it or had it fixed because of social media.

You have to remember those words: social media. Social media is almost like a cannon going off and you’re standing next to it. When a customer threatens you with a bad review, remember to say, “We take care of our customers 100 percent. We guarantee our services 100 percent,” because that’s going to make your customer feel good and come back to you.

What the shop did

The service adviser offered the customer a free battery. The customer said thanks, and the following day left a one-star review anyway.

TJ’s thoughts:

I believe this shop should have charged the customer full price for the battery, and then, if the customer was still unhappy, offered an in-store credit for future repairs. Unless we have done something wrong, I rarely give away a repair at cost or for free.

We have blank, pre-printed customer vouchers for situations such as this.

Presenting the customer with a voucher for future repairs will give them a reason to give you another try.

We’ve all had times when batteries have tested well, only to have them fail next week or next month. When this happens, the customer naturally thinks that we didn’t properly test it. It’s especially common when the battery is past is its 36-, 48- or 60-month in-service date. Here is a sample policy: “Anytime a vehicle as a cranking problem, and the battery tests OK either before or after charging, but it’s beyond its warranty (36-, 48- or 60-months), recommend that it be replaced. As a battery gets older, the internal plates can sometimes shift, causing intermittent cranking issues.”

Training your service advisers on policies and procedures will decrease your warranties and make your customers happier.