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Staying in Touch with Customers

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We’ve all had a nightmare experience at a restaurant. You know, when everything goes wrong from the moment you walked into the place. I had such an experience recently. But what really got me ticked off was when the waiter came over to my wife and me, and asked, “Do you know how much longer you’ll be? I have a few people waiting for your table.” I looked down at my half-eaten apple pie and said, “Bring me the check.” As we were walking out, the hostess asked, “How was everything?” Without looking at her, I replied, “Fine”. When I stepped outside, I turned to my wife and said, “We’re never coming back here.”

I consider myself a typical consumer. I am loyal and look to build relationships. I don’t judge everything by price. I look for value and attach importance to the experience. If the experience was exceptional, I might tell a friend or two. If I had a bad experience, I will definitely tell everyone. When faced with controversy, I will avoid confrontation. And when something upsets me to the breaking point, I don’t say a word; I just don’t come back. 

Sounds cruel? It is, but it’s also reality. It should also shake you up a bit. Have you ever lost a customer due to a bad experience? Is it possible that something went wrong during a customer’s visit that was so upsetting, the customer left, never to return? The sad fact is that you may never know. Most people would rather avoid confrontation. It would be better if they came to you and spoke about what happened. Some will, but most won’t. That’s why, in the rare case when a customer comes to you with an issue, listen to that customer, and thank the customer. It’s an opportunity to salvage the relationship.

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About a year ago, I attended a chamber of commerce meeting. Seated at the new member’s table was a customer I had not seen in a while. He opened a new business in town and recently joined the chamber. I walked over to him, and after a little small talk I asked where he’s been. He paused for a moment and replied, “Well, Joe, the last time I was in your shop, I was sold brakes, a tie rod and an oil change. I have no issue with that. But then your service guy said I needed tires. Those tires had only 10,000 miles on them. When I questioned him, he sounded annoyed and told me I was wrong. It upset me so much; I decided not to come back. I am sorry, maybe I should have spoken to you.”

I didn’t know what to say. I apologized over and over. I never tried to defend myself and said I would look into it. He asked me not to. Do you know why? As I said before: Most people would rather avoid confrontation. I gave him my business card and told him if he ever needed anything, I would sure appreciate a call. A week later he actually called me. We service all his cars again and it’s like nothing ever happened.

This got me thinking about other customers. I know for the most part we do a great job. But, maybe, just maybe, are there times when we dropped the ball? We now have a policy to keep in contact with our customers. We have always done follow-up phone calls, but never really tracked lost customers. We now search our database for customers we have not seen in a while. We send “We Miss You” postcards and some we call. What have we found? A lot!  Many customers moved away, some passed away, many purchased new cars and some, I am sad to say, had a bad experience. 

This has taught us that the customer experience is everything. It’s not the fancy Snap-on tools or the hi-tech scanner or even the pads and rotors we install. What really counts is what the customer sees, and that’s how we treat them. 

I really don’t know how many who have had bad experiences would consider coming back. I wish they all would. Maybe some will find in their heart to forgive us.

I think this Saturday night I’ll take my wife out to dinner. Let me see, what restaurant should I take her to? Oh, I know. 

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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