Running a Shop Shop Culture Leadership

Never Lose Sight of What You Stand For

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It’s never good when your manager tells you that a customer insists on speaking with you. “It’s Mr. C calling again and he’s relentless,” my manager Bill told me. “He says he wants to speak to you, and will not take no for an answer.” 

First, a little background. Mr. C and his wife own two cars and have been customers for about a year now, recommended by his son who is a loyal and longtime customer. But Mr. C is not like his son. From the start, we could spot the classic warning signs: “Wow, you guys are expensive, I think the dealer is cheaper than you, no other shop charges for diagnostic tests.” And the all-time classic, “Give me a good deal, I know a lot of people in this town.”

The other day, Mr. C arrived with a check-engine light. He told Bill that he wasn’t paying a dime because he is sure that it has something to do with the work we did last time. Bill explained that it’s unlikely that the work we did is related to the check-engine light, but if it is, we would take care of it.

After running our tests, we determined that the catalytic converter had failed and would need to be replaced. The cost for the job: $1,100. Bill called him, told him the problem and gave him the price.  This is when Mr. C lost it. He became confrontational and said that he could not believe it could cost that much and hung up the phone. He called later to tell Bill that he found a catalytic converter online for $230 and that he would order it and have us install it. Bill told him flat out, “No.”  At this point, Mr. C demanded that he speak to me.  

After four or five more phone conversations with Mr. C, Bill couldn’t take it any longer. This is when he came to me. After Bill got me up to speed on the issue, I agreed to call Mr. C, even though I didn’t think it was the right decision. I let Bill know that he is the manager and that he needs to take care of situations such as these. I also let him know that there will be more difficult situations in the future and to remain diligent, never losing perspective of all the loyal customers we have, our company’s 34-year history, the fact that we have great people working with us, and to never lose sight of all the positive things we do. He understood, but I could see that battling with Mr. C left a few internal scars.

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I let Bill remain in my office as I dialed Mr. C. The moment I introduced myself, Mr. C went into his tirade. His voice was borderline yelling. He went on and on claiming that we were higher than the dealer, that he could get the same part online and that because he spent a lot of money last time, we had to give him a break. After five minutes of this, I interrupted him. I had to. I now understood why Bill was so distraught.

I wanted to tell Mr. C to stop acting foolish. I wanted to tell him that the part online is not the same part, that there is no way we are more expensive than the dealer, and if we were, I really didn’t care. I also wanted to tell him what difference does it make what you spent last time? Mostly I wanted to tell Mr. C to please stop treating my people so offensively. But, all I said was this: “Mr. C, don’t have the job done here. If price is your only concern and you are sure that we are too high priced, get the job done somewhere else.” There was silence on the phone. His entire demeanor changed. What he was hoping for was for me to cave, something I would not do. To go against my manager would have been the worst thing I could do. I stood my ground reinforcing who we were, why he chose us and the benefits of what we do. At the end of the conversation, Mr. C said he would think about it. 

Don’t let situations such as these make you rethink how you conduct business. Stay true to who you are and never compromise your core beliefs. Think about all the customers that don’t complain, those who are loyal to you. This is where your focus needs to be. This is what will give you the greatest return.

The other day, I noticed Mrs. C at the service counter. She authorized the catalytic converter job. I walked over to her and said, “How’s your husband Mrs. C?” She replied, “Oh you know my husband, as grumpy as ever.” I gave her a smile, and simply said, “Great to see you.”   


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 jmarconi@ratchetandwrench.com.

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