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A Bad Review Ends Up a Boost in Morale

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KEYWORDS Joe Marconi

I was finishing my lunch the other day when an alert was sent to my phone informing me of a bad online review. If you’re like me, you cringe when this happens. As I read the email, I could feel my blood pressure rising. Here’s the review: “Place was clean, people polite, but sold me way too much work for the first time at their shop, claiming that it would not pass New York State Inspection. I will not go back and I will not recommend this place.” He gave us one star. My blood was boiling. There are times when my hot-headed Bronx Italian comes out, and this was one of them.

Now, I need to tell you, I do live by the creed that the customer is always right—most of the time. I also make it a rule to get to  the bottom of every customer complaint. After all, bad reviews can kill your business, right? Well, not really. It’s always best to settle down, examine the facts, before we completely side with the customer.

I printed the invoice and gathered the technician’s work order. I reviewed the information and went over to Mike, the advisor who took care of the customer, and showed him the review. He was stunned. I could see by his expression that he had no idea that this customer was unhappy. I asked Mike if he could tell me anything that I can make sense out of. He replied, “Joe, this guy was fine. In fact, he came to us because he went to three other shops, and no one could fix his check engine light problem. We did. We also found a bad steering rack, but he was OK with it. I don’t know what the problem is.” I sat silent for a moment, and said, “You do realize that I need to call the customer.” Mike just stared at me.

It took five tries before I could make the call. Finally, I dialed the number and got Mr. Bad Review on the phone. I told him who I was and why I was calling. I asked him to please tell me his side of the story so I can better understand what went wrong and how we could resolve the issue. This is what he said, “Let me first start by saying that your place is great; it’s clean, the people are so nice, the estimate was right on the money and the car was completed on time.” Is this the same guy that posted the ugly review? I went on to say, “Well, thank you for those kind words, but can you tell me why you gave us one star and wrote what you did?” He said, “Sure. I’m in sales, and the first rule of sales is that you don’t bang someone over the head the first time. You gotta wait a little bit, build the relationship, then hit him with the big ticket.” 

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Bang someone over the head? Wait a little bit before we hit him with the big ticket? Is this guy for real? If you thought my blood pressure was high before, it was off the charts by now. I remained calm and said, “Are you referring to the binding steering rack we found during the inspection?” He said, “Absolutely, you know what that cost me? Your guy Mike didn’t give me an option; he strong-armed me, telling me it wouldn’t pass the state inspection.”

At this point I heard enough. “Sir, let’s start from the beginning. You came to us because no one could fix the check engine light, right? You were recommended by your friend and found our place amazing. In addition to solving your check engine light problem, we identified a dangerous condition with your steering. The price was fair, we stuck to the estimate and it was done when promised, right?” He said, “Yes, but you hit me on the first visit.” My voice went up a few more decibels. “Listen,” I said. “I don’t know what type of business you’re in, but we’re in the people business. When it comes to safety, we take it seriously, end of discussion. If you can’t see that as value, then maybe you shouldn’t come back to us.”

At the end of the day, I asked Mike, and Bill the manager, to come into my office. They sat there tense, waiting for me to unload on them, but I did the opposite. I said, “Mike, Bill, let me tell you how I feel and how unhappy I am over what happened. I am unhappy because this guy will never appreciate people like you, he will go through life never truly knowing the outstanding level of service you provide. I want to thank you Mike for all you do for us. Bill, I want to thank you too for doing a great job at leading our service advisors.” 

The next day Mike and Bill were on cloud nine. The bad review is behind us. Will we get more? Probably. Will it really hurt our business? Not really sure. One thing I am sure of: The customer is always right—most of the time. 

Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of Reach him at

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