The Comeback Crisis
A few weeks ago a customer arrived at our service counter complaining of a noise while turning the steering wheel of his SUV. After a careful diagnosis, we isolated the problem in the steering rack, which we installed six months prior. We informed the customer that the rack is the reason for the noise and that we would install another unit at no charge. This was a comeback that would turn into a nightmare.
Later that afternoon, we had our lead tech perform the job. He’s also our quickest tech, and minimizing our labor time loss on a comeback was important. The job was completed and given to the foreman to road test. During the road test, the power steering stopped working. We brought it back in and performed a few tests, only to find that the rack we just installed was no good. Keep in mind, the complaint was a noise on turns, not loss of power steering.
With a lack of confidence in the part supplier, we opted to get a steering rack from another company. And guess what? We started the car up and no power steering. Now we began the mental torture of second guessing ourselves. How could two racks from two different companies be defective? So, we went back to basics. We ran our tests again on the rack, the power steering pump, rechecked the screen in the reservoir, checked all online services for known problems and even removed the lines for inspection. We even installed another power steering pump to see if it made a difference. No luck. The entire shop was involved, and everyone was on edge trying to solve this issue.
I finally made the decision to order another steering rack from yet another company. I trusted my techs and foreman that the problem was not us, but with the part. We installed the third rack, started up the car and all was fine. Two steering racks from two different companies did not work. A comeback is bad enough, but this ordeal tested everyone’s resolve.
Obviously, the comebacks I am referring to today are with part failures. To maintain objectivity and civility, I am going to leave part companies and supplier names out of this article. Also, assigning blame serves no purpose. However, this is an issue we need to address.
Comebacks kill in many ways. Loss of labor time, loss of profits, loss of morale, loss of confidence in the eyes of the consumer. But, the biggest loss is the damage to the relationships we, as independent repair shops, have with our suppliers— relationships that we need to survive.
Part quality is a big issue. In many cases, it’s also a matter of safety. We, as independent repair shops, put our trust in suppliers and put our reputation on the line whenever we install any part. And when it comes to customer satisfaction, we take care of the problem at any cost. We step up to the plate and take care of the customer first, and worry about our wallets second. And while my part store is willing to help me, we need more of a collaborative effort from the part companies and manufacturers.
We all have opinions on why we are plagued with part failures: global competition, the need to improve the bottom line, shops owners and consumers demanding lower prices. At this point, the reasons are secondary to the real issue, and that’s finding a way to improve quality. Quality may mean increased prices, but it will also mean increased value. When quality goes up, comebacks decline and customer satisfaction and profits improve.
In fairness, I have contacted a few part companies and voiced my concerns and they have begun to listen. I will continue to do what I can. The companies that produce and supply the automotive repair industry do realize one very important fact: We are their customers and without us, they don’t survive. The flip side is without them, we cannot
survive. We are all in this together. My hope is that we can start strengthening the relationships we have with part companies and manufacturers. What we can’t do is to put up walls, or draw a line in the sand. Open and honest dialogue is needed. Let’s check our egos and find solutions. Let’s all get involved. Give constant feedback and voice your opinions to your suppliers and part companies on part quality issues.
Comebacks may be an industry problem, but it’s also our problem. And ultimately our customer’s problem. If we, as an industry, don’t accept responsibility, who will?
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 autoshopowner.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.